Covering James Joyce

Yes! Our James Joyce podcast episode smashed our record for one-day downloads.  A reminder that you can get the History of Literature Podcast for free on iTunes and Stitcher.

Question for the Day: Which James Joyce cover is your favorite? (Or is your favorite not here?)  Let me know in the comments!

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St. Augustine in Translation

We’re getting a lot of great feedback on our latest History of Literature episode, #44 – The Confessions of St. Augustine. One of the great things about Augustine is how readable it is: even though the arguments are deep, the prose is never dense, especially in a very good translation.

Several of you have asked which translation I would recommend. I’m not an expert, but I’m happy to offer my thoughts. I’ve previously relied on the Penguin editions, and those are usually pretty safe bets. This time I looked at several before deciding on the one I did, which is by Maria Boulding.

(Clicking the image will take you to the Amazon page.)

Translations can be excellent in different ways. Boulding’s is fresh without being anachronistic, readable without losing the Latinate rhythms and flavor. I think it does Augustine justice. I read a few passages yesterday on the podcast, but for those of you who want to examine it on the page, here’s an excerpt to see what you think:

Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise; your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning. And so we humans, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you—we who carry our mortality about with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. Yet these humans, due part of your creation as they are, still do long to praise you. You stir us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.

Good, right? And here’s a simpler one, leading up to the famous “pear-tree incident”:

Beyond question, theft is punished by your law, O Lord, and by the law written in human hearts, which not even sin itself can erase; for does any thief tolerate being robbed by another thief, even if he is rich and the other is driven by want? I was under no compulsion of need, unless a lack of moral sense can count as need, and a loathing for justice, and a greedy, full-fed love of sin. Yet I wanted to steal, and steal I did. I already had plenty of what I stole, and of much better quality too, and I had no desire to enjoy it when I resolved to steal it. I simply wanted to enjoy the theft for its own sake, and the sin.

That’s a simple, workmanlike paragraph. But those are the ones that need to get you through. Think of a translation as a trip to the Himalayas: yes, you can expect the peaks to tower above you, but you also should pay attention to the way the valleys are going to connect one base to the other. Boulding’s translation gave me the full, rich landscape, and I was happy to spend some time there.

Links:

Listen to Episode #44 – The Confessions of St. Augustine: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 47:54 — 33.2MB)

Augustine and the Art of Not Yet

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“I had been putting off the moment when by spurning earthly happiness I would clear space in my life to search for wisdom; yet even to seek it, let alone find it, would have been more rewarding than discovery of treasure or possession of all the world’s kingdoms, or having every bodily pleasure at my beck and call. I had been extremely miserable in adolescence, miserable from its very onset, and as I prayed to you for the gift of chastity I had even pleaded, “Grant me chastity and self-control, but please not yet.”

Good news! Tomorrow we’ll release our long-awaited podcast episode on St. Augustine and his amazing book, The Confessions. You can prepare by revisiting our episode on The New Testament or our episodes on Greek tragedy.

Greek Tragedy? Yes indeed. It turns out that St. Augustine was a great chronicler of tragedy. He went to see them, wept and mourned, and then agonized over what it all meant.

I have to say, I recalled reading Augustine with interest many years ago, but this time I was simply blown away. His intellectual honesty, his precision in describing his struggle, his humor, his humility…it’s a great, great book.

A fun episode – make sure you subscribe on iTunes (or Stitcher) so you don’t miss a thing!

The History of Literature Episode 41: Reading The New Testament as Literature (with Professor Kyle Keefer)

Charles Dickens called the New Testament “the very best book that ever was or ever will be known in the world.” Thomas Paine complained that it was a story “most wretchedly told,” and argued that anyone who could tell a story about a ghost or even just a man walking around could have written it better. What are the New Testament’s literary qualities? What can we gain from studying the New Testament as a literary work? Professor Kyle Keefer, author of The New Testament as Literature – A Very Short Introduction, joins host Jacke Wilson to discuss what it means to read the New Testament as literature.

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Looking Ahead to Another Good Week!

Hello! I hope everyone has recovered from Thanksgiving and is looking forward to the rest of the holiday season and the new year. It’s a time to rejoice (or read-joyce, as we had going last year) and to not be lonely.

It looks like another busy week here in Jackeland!

On Monday, we’ll have an episode on Greek tragedy on the History of Literature podcast. Why did so many people in ancient Greece go to these things? How did tragedies work? What (if anything) do we gain from tragedy today? We’ll take a look!

(The podcast is up to #4 on iTunes list of New and Noteworthy literary podcasts. Onward and upward!)

On Tuesday, we have a special tribute to the criminally underrated Edward Gorey.

On Wednesday…oh boy, Wednesday is going to be fun. I’m not going to say anything else: just a surprise. It’s a post that would put a smile on Scrooge’s lips. Skip everything else if you must, but don’t miss Wednesday.

On Thursday, Gar returns from his vacation to help with another Restless Mind Show. (That’s another show I do on the same podcast feed as the History of Literature podcast.) You’ll be able to stream it right from here, of course.

On Friday, we take a look at Alfred Hitchcock and Adele (yes, the two of them are analyzed together), and on Saturday, we’re running a tribute to classical scholar Mary Beard. Jeez. Sometimes I have to scratch my head and think, Jacke, what the hell are you doing? Is there any other blog who has a schedule like this? No wonder I have a small but devoted band of followers. There are only so many crazy people in this world. Well, not crazy. Eclectic.

Okay, that’s enough for now! Go see Creed, it’s a good movie, we need more movies like it.

Have a great week, everyone!

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Sappho’s Ghost in Western Washington

Courtesy of WikiCommons
The Poet, as depicted on a wall in Pompeii

Hello! We’re hard at work getting ready for the Sappho episode of the History of Literature podcast, which we’ll release on Monday. Brilliant reader MAM posted this comment:

Did you know that Sappho influenced the name of what is now a ghost town in Western Washington in the late 1800’s?

Whaaaaaat!?

There was a community of people reading Sappho in Western Washington in the 1800s? Not just reading her, but naming their town after her?

I would have guessed Shakespeare or Plato. Maybe even Ovid. Dante, okay, right. The Bible, of course. Homer. Or the nineteenth-century greats: Dickens, Eliot, Austen, Trollope, Thackeray…

But Sappho? Who’d have guessed? This required more investigation!

As it turns out, the guy behind all this is exactly as you’d expect: a little crazy, a little passionate, somewhat charming, somewhat roguish.

The town [of Sappho] was founded by Martin Van Buren Lamoreux, who left St. John, Kansas in 1889 with 8 of his 10 children, his second wife and her 3 children from a prior marriage. Arriving in Seattle, some of the party settled on Lake Union, but Lamoreux, thinking that land worthless, set out for the Olympic Peninsula.

The land around Lake Union was worthless? Okay…he got that one wrong. In a pretty huge way.

But admiring Sappho? He got that one right!

Stop back on Monday to find out why!

Restless Mind Show #6 – The Trial of Shrimp Boy

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Jacke and Gar take a break from the history of literature to discuss the development of Jacke’s new play, The Trial of Shrimp Boy, which has attracted interest from Bryan Cranston’s agent(!). Also: Gar builds fences and is not a good neighbor.

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Is This What Sappho Sounded Like?

Next Monday on the History of Literature podcast, we’ll be taking a look at Sappho. (It’s very interesting to contrast her with her near contemporary Homer, whom we looked at last time.)

One of the great tragedies of literature is how much of Sappho we’ve lost: not just the poetry but ALL of the accompanying music.

What did Sappho sound like? We don’t know. We can’t know.

But we can guess.

Here’s one version, courtesy of youtube:

That’s Sappho’s poem set to music by Eve Beglarian, sung in ancient Greek by Andrea Goodman, who is accompanying herself on a 7-string lyre. The clip comes from a production of the New York Greek Drama Company in 1987, directed by Peter Steadman.

Beautiful? It is to me. As beautiful as Sappho’s actual songs? Alas, we’ll never know.