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A Loeb Classical Library Reader (Loeb Classical Library), edited by Jeffrey Henderson. Oxford University Press, 2006; 234 pages; $9.95 (paperback).


This selection of lapidary nuggets drawn from 33 of antiquity's major authors includes poetry, dialogue, philosophical writing, history, descriptive reports, satire, and fiction -- giving a glimpse at the wide range of arts and sciences, thought and styles, of Greco-Roman culture. The selections span 12 centuries, from Homer to St. Jerome. The texts and translations are reproduced as they appear in Loeb volumes.

The Loeb Classical Library is the only existing series of books which, through original text and facing English translation, gives access to all that is important in Greek and Latin literature. A Loeb Classical Library Reader (Loeb Classical Library) offers a unique sampling of this treasure trove.

A complete list of works in the Loeb Classical library is available from Harvard University Press and at www.hup.harvard.edu/loeb .


Los Angeles Times: The ancient bards, the scene suggests, are out of place in the modern world, their language too stilted and gilded to be of any use. But A Loeb Classical Library Reader begs us to reconsider, begs us in the same way Homer begged for inspiration from the muses. Here are 12 centuries packed into 234 bilingual pages: Short passages extracted from all those exquisite little red and green hardbacks that only a scholar -- or an interior designer with bookshelves to fill -- ever used or needed.Until now.

Ignore the bad rap the ancients might get from traumatized former high school Greek and Latin students. Jump in. Feel the shift in energy and tone from Aristophanes on sex to Xenophon on stranded mercenaries in Babylon. It's a little like reading the sexual encounter with a piece of liver from Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint followed by a page from David McCullough's biography of John Adams. It's that same abrupt change between subjects and voices, a sense of diversity and velocity that is everywhere in this book.

The Times (London): Here you will find old friends; Odysseus planning to dangle underneath a ram as he escapes the Cyclops or Plato (this translation from 1914) reporting Socrates' last words in an Athenian jail hours before the "corrupter of the youth" drinks hemlock at the state's behest: "Socrates sat up on his couch and bent his leg and rubbed it with his hand, and while he was rubbing it, he said, 'What a strange thing, my friends, that seems to be which men call pleasure! How wonderfully it is related to that which seems to be its opposite, pain, in that they will not both come to a man at the same time, and yet if he pursues the one and captures it, he is generally obliged to take the other also, as if the two were joined together in one head...when one of them comes to anyone, the other follows after.'"


This paperback Loeb reader indeed does fit in pocket or purse. I asked Professor Henderson, the Loeb Library's editor and also editor of Aeschylus's Lysistrata, how Oxford University Press happened to put this small volume together. He said, describing the volume, "We were looking for something for the trade, something that bookstores might want to stock with other Loeb volumes, to familiarize readers with the series. The press said, 'Why don't we just publish it and sell it for a very nominal fee? Just so people don't think that it's not worth anything. And see what happens?' So far, it's been a bit of a hit among the people that like classical literature and want to know more about it."I said, "This must be a fairly new translation of Aristophanes's Lysistrata. I can't imagine young boys at prep schools with that translation in their jackets."

"The Aristophanes was done between 1998 and 2002, I believe. And, it's the first straight translation ever of the comedies. We had an earlier edition, by Benjamin Bickey Rogers, who was a very, very brilliant Victorian translator, but of course, he couldn't translate it straight. The Rogers had been in print for oh, about 75 years. Until the new one came along.

"You don't get the raucous, obscene, colloquial, sexy kinds of stuff in the older translations. It was illegal to publish a straight translation of Aristophanes until the late 1960s. When the Supreme Court decision -- the Potter-Stewart obscenity -- distinguishing artistic obscenity from pornography, there was that famous line of Justice Stewart, that he couldn't establish a 'standard differentiating the two, but I know it when I see it.'

"The Loeb Library in the 1970s began to replace some of the older translations with modern ones that could be straight translations. And there's quite a lot of sexy, classical literature, explicit classical literature that needed to be replaced in the old editions and we've been doing that along the way, as we can. It always depends upon finding the right author for these things because not everybody is a good translator, and not everybody can do the Latin, or Greek text and the English translation at the same time. We don't split the tasks. It's always the same person that does both the Latin or Greek and the English. So, sometimes it takes decades to find the right person to do one of these."

"Did you do one of these translations?"

"I did the Aristophanes. I'm going to do a couple more in the next few years, if I can find the time. We want to finish up Greek novels. There are several wonderful novels."

"I didn't know that."

"Yes. People don't know that the novel actually began among the Greeks, and we have half a dozen really good ones. They, again, are a genre that hasn't been translated, or it wasn't considered very important for classical literature for a long time. They were in the Renaissance when people imitated them to create picaresque novels and romances. But classical scholars sort of shied away from them as being trivial kinds of literature. I'm doing a volume of two of them; that'll be fun."

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