Sample Essay from Brooker Prize Winner

 

 

 
Homer and His Students

Donna Zuckerberg

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Previous Prize Recipients

 

Collecting books about Greek mythology might seem initially to be a relatively simple task: grab the nearest copy of Graves' Greek Myths and possibly the Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion and call it a day. The only problem is that the way reference volumes like these present the framework of myth is completely disconnected from the literary and social culture that produced it. The ancients didn't categorize, file, and cross-reference their folk stories; they retold them repeatedly, changing the nuances of the story as time passed on and the values of their culture gradually shifted. Orestes, once the brave and blameless son of Agamemnon who avenges his father's betrayal and murder by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, becomes a witness to the birth of Athenian democracy and later a raving madman. Agamemnon himself, the very picture of royal pride in Homer's account, is later made into the sniveling servant of the Achaean mob by the playwright Euripides. In epic and lyric poetry, plays, private performances, dialogues, and even international relations, the Greeks continually spun newer and newer yarns to suit their purposes, but they frequently found their thread in the same places. Their principal sources were Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.

The first important piece of information I learned about Greek mythology was that it wasn't a fixed set of tales, as the collections of myths I'd read as a child suggested. To the Greeks themselves, myths were far more fluid and adaptable. Consider, for example, the curse of the House of Atreus. Few would contest that such a curse existed; family murders were taboo then as now, and Clytemnestra's murder of her husband and Orestes' murder of his mother are both horrific crimes. The origin of the curse is, however, in dispute. Some say that it began when Agamemnon and Menelaus' father Atreus, angered at his brother Thyestes for seducing his wife, decided to take a particularly grisly revenge on him. Feigning reconciliation, he invited Thyestes into his home, then served him his own children in a stew. When the severed hands and feet were brought out on a platter, and Thyestes realized what had happened, he laid a curse on his brother, that all his descendants would perish by similar treachery. But some say the curse began earlier, with Pelops, the father of Atreus and Thyestes. Pelops could only win his wife Hippodameia by getting the help of a stable boy; in return, the boy, who loved her, was promised a night in her bed. But after he and Hippodameia ran away, they went back on their pledge and pushed the boy who helped them off a cliff. As he fell, he cursed all the descendants of Pelops. Finally, some say the curse began earlier with Pelops' father Tantalus, who frequently had the gods as dinner guests. Overcome by his own arrogance, he decided to trick them by feeding them his own son in a stew. Of course, Zeus was not fooled, and he laid a curse on Tantalus' family and sentenced Tantalus himself to an eternity of hunger and thirst in the underworld. These three stories all represent the curse of the House of Atreus. There is no 'right' version.

The second important piece of information I learned about Greek mythology was that, if there was in fact a 'right' version of the myths, it was Homer. It is a cliché of classical scholarship that Homer was the Bible of the Ancient Greeks, and as with many clichés, it has a grain of truth. The Greeks did not frequently peruse Homer's works, since many could not read. The text of the Homeric epics was passed down orally, and by the classical era it was recited on special occasions and by rhapsodes. The Greeks were very familiar with the stories in the Homeric epics, and believed that, if not literally true, they had an essential wisdom. Furthermore, writers, especially poets, composed entire works based on stories mentioned only briefly in Homer, such as the story of Agamemnon's return to Mycenae or of Oedipus' misfortunes. Almost every ancient writer who uses mythology in his or her works is, therefore, in an essential way, a direct literary descendant of Homer. My collection is based around this essential principle: Greek mythology is not a unified idea but a complicated web of tales, at the center of which lies the two most important works in all of ancient literature, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.

My collection has had three phases. The first and earliest phase occurred when I was in elementary school and my interest in Greek mythology was sparked by posters walls of my fifth grade classroom that had pictures of the Olympian gods, their Greek and Roman names, their special powers, and a few of the most famous stories about them. During this period I obtained several collections of Greek myths, including those by Edith Hamilton, Bulfinch, and D'Aulaire. I also bought my first copies of Homer's Odyssey and Ovid's Metamorphoses. The second phase began about four years ago in high school. I took an English elective about modern Irish adaptations of Ovid's tales, including Shaw's Pygmalion, Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray, and Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and I enjoyed the class so much that I began to seek out receptions of the myths which I had come to love as a child. This phase lasted for two years, until I switched concentrations from English to Classics and began to amass a considerable collection of editions of ancient texts, commentaries, translations, and secondary literature.

Except for translations, good books about Classics are hard to find… except near a university. I've been extremely lucky to spend the last four years in Hyde Park, and I've been a frequent customer at the Seminary Co-op, Powell's, and O'Gara's. In fact, except for my copy of Le Nozze di Cadmo e Armonia, which I had to order specially from Italy, all of my most treasured books are from college towns. I bought my first edition set of Grene and Lattimore's The Complete Greek Tragedies at O'Gara's, where the wonderful owner spent over an hour talking to me about how differently the Greek language is used in Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. In a recent, very fruitful trip to Palo Alto I was lucky enough to find beautiful copies of Dryden's translation of the Aeneid, Pope's translation of the Metamorphoses, and, a special treasure, a copy of Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus illustrated with wood engravings.

When I enter graduate school in the fall, I intend to study ancient authors' use and manipulation of Homeric stories, and I know my collection of books on the subject will continue to grow. I've collected a large number of translations over the years, only a few of which are mentioned in the attached bibliography, so I've recently been trying to expand my collection to include more editions and commentaries of the ancient texts. I hope to soon find a good edition of the text of Homer's Iliad (West's new Teubner is a good start, but controversial) and more books concerning the Homeric Hymns and the more obscure, non-Homeric texts in the epic cycle, including the Aethiopis, Little Iliad, Iliou Persis and Telegonia. I also intend to expand the scholarship component of my collection, especially concerning the sources which ancient authors used in composing their works. Finally, in the last few months I've become increasingly enthusiastic about the history of classical scholarship, an interest which led to my purchasing Chapman's Homer, Dryden's Virgil and Pope's Ovid; I hope to add further classic translations of classical authors, as well as the work of distinguished classicists of the nineteenth century, including R. C. Jebb and Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorf. Such books are expensive, but I tend to follow the advice of Desiderius Erasmus, a fellow classical scholar and book collector: "If I have a little money, I buy some books; if any is left, I buy food and clothes."



Ms. Zuckerberg won the 4th-year prize in 2007
for the collection described in the preceding essay.

Her bibliography follows.

 

Benner, Allen Rogers. Selections from Homer's Iliad: With an Introduction, Notes, a Short Homeric Grammar, and a Vocabulary. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001. Condition: Excellent.

Evelyn-White, Hugh G., ed. Hesiod, Homeric Hymns, Epic Cycle, Homerica, Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002. Condition: Excellent.

Homer. The Iliad. Translated by George Chapman. Edited by Garry Wills, Chapman's Homer. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998. Condition: Very Good.
George Chapman's translations of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are classics, written in installments from 1598 until completed in 1616. It was the most popular translation of Homer for centuries, and was famously lauded by the poet John Keats in his 1816 sonnet 'On First Looking into Chapman's Homer,' "Oft of one wide expanse I had been told / That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne; / Yet never did I breath its pure serene / Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold…" (lines 5-8).

---. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1990. Condition: Very Good.
I have in my collection four very different translations of the Iliad. Although many people are fanatic partisans of one translator or another, especially Fagles and Lattimore, I think that each translation has its strengths. Fagles' is the most successful in expressing in English the poetry of Homer, while Lattimore's translation is truer to the Greek vocabulary and grammar but a less enjoyable read.

---. The Iliad. Translated by Stanley Lombardo. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1987. Condition: Good.

---. The Iliad. Translated by Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951. Condition: Good.

---. The Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1996. Condition: Very Good.

---. The Odyssey. Translated by Richmond Lattimore. New York: HarperPerennial, 1965. Condition: Good.

---. The Odyssey. Translated by George Chapman. Edited by Garry Wills, Chapman's Homer. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. Condition: Good.

Greek Students of Homer

Aeschylus. The Oresteia: A New Translation for the Theater. Translated by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty and David Grene. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989. Condition: Good.

Apollodorus. The Library of Greek Mythology. Translated by Robin Hard. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Condition: Like New.

Apollonius of Rhodes. The Argonautika. Translated by Peter Green. Berkeley: University of Los Angeles Press, 1997. Condition: Good.

Aristotle. "De Arte Poetica." In Oxford Classical Texts, edited by Rudolf Kassel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965. Condition: Like New, Hardcover.
Aristotle was one of the first Homeric scholars. In his Poetics, he identifies the features and strengths of epic and claims that Homer's use of metaphor and imagination was unmatched in classical literature.

---. "Poetics." edited by D.W. Lucas. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968. Condition: Good.

---. Poetics, with the Tractatus Coislianus, a Hypothetical Reconstruction of Poetics Ii, the Fragments of on Poets. Translated by Richard Janko. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1987. Condition: Good.

Bacchylides. "A Selection." In Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics, edited by H. Maehler. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Condition: Very Good.

Euripides. "Cyclops." edited by R.A.S. Seaford. London: Bristol Classical Press, 1984. Condition: Good.
Euripides' Cyclops is the only extant example of an entire genre of Greek poetry, the satyr play. Euripides creatively reimagines Odysseus' experience in the Cyclops' cave by tying in a second story, that of a group of satyrs imprisoned by Polyphemus while attempting to rescue the captive Dionysus.

---. "Fabulae: Tomus I." in Oxford Classical Texts, edited by J. Diggle. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984. Condition: Excellent, Hardcover.

---. "Fabulae: Tomus III." in Oxford Classical Texts, edited by J. Diggle. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Condition: Like New, Hardcover.

Gorgias. "Encomium of Helen." edited by D. M. MacDowell. London: Bristol Classical Press, 1982. Condition: Good.
As a rhetorical exercise, orators in Classical Athens would frequently attempt to prosecute or defend Helen. This practice supposedly began with the lyric poet Stesichorus, who wrote a poem abusing Helen and allegedly was struck blind. He later wrote a poem to rehabilitate her, claiming that she never went to Troy at all but was sent off to Egypt by Aphrodite and replaced with a phantom; as the story goes, upon finishing this poem his eyesight was restored. Gorgias' work belongs to the genre of defense-speeches for Helen.

Grene, David; Lattimore, Richmond, ed. The Complete Greek Tragedies. 4 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959. First Edition. Condition: Good, Hardcover.
This first-edition set of the complete works of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides is one of the most prized pieces in my collection. Aeschylus once famously said that the subjects of tragedy were "scraps from Homer's feast." Every playwright composed plays about Homeric subjects, e.g. Aeschylus' Oresteia, Sophocles' Ajax and Philoctetes, and Euripides' Helen, Hecuba, Trojan Women, and two Iphigenia plays. The playwrights also wrote plays concerning myths that Homer mentions in passing, such as the myth of Oedipus, which was the subject of six tragedies: Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes, Sophocles' Antigone, Oedipus Tyrannus, and Oedipus at Colonus, and Euripides' Suppliant Women and Phoenician Women.

Jebb, R.C., ed. Philoctetes. Edited by P.E. Easterling, Sophocles: Plays. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2004. Reprint 1. Condition: Excellent.

Lobel, Edgar; Page, Denys, ed. Poetarum Lesbiorum Fragmenta. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Condition: Good, Hardcover.
The poets of Lesbos, especially Sappho, were concerned with Homeric themes such as the motivation of Helen.

Nisetich, Frank. Pindar's Victory Songs. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980. Condition: Fair.
Pindar is a student of Homer in two different ways: his odes frequently mention Homeric stories, and he even occasionally compares his poetic skill and inspiration to that of Homer, showing a real sensitivity to Homer's role in the Greek poetic tradition.

Pindar. "Victory Odes." In Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics, edited by M.M. Willcock. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Condition: Good.

Plato. "Opera: Tomus III." In Oxford Classical Texts, edited by John Burnet. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1903. Condition: Excellent, Hardcover.
Plato is frequently considered a hater of poetry, because he excludes it from his ideal city in the Republic. However, Socrates frequently quotes Homer throughout the corpus, and a very interesting short dialogue, the Ion, consists of Socrates' discussion with a rhapsode, a professional reciter of the Homeric epics.

Rouse, W.H.D., ed. Nonnus: Dionysiaca. 3 vols, in Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard University press, 2004. Condition: Like New, Hardcover.

Sophocles. "Antigone." edited by Ignatios Salakis. Athens: Ekdosis Pataki, 1997. Condition: Excellent.
I bought this edition of Sophocles' Antigone in Athens last Spring. It is a bilingual edition, with a modern Greek translation facing the ancient text and notes in the back.

---. Oedipus the King: The Greek Text Translated into English Verse by Francis Storr, with an Introduction by Thornton Wilder and Illustrated with Wood Engravings by Demetrios Galanis. New York: Heritage Press, 1956. Condition: Excellent, Hardcover.
This book is the most beautiful one in my collection. Its text is not itself noteworthy, simply a reprint of R. C. Jebb's 1886 edition; the translation, while simple and poetic, is not outstanding either. However, this volume's typeface and bi-tone red and black engravings make it a work of art and a pleasure to read, rather than a particularly valuable scholarly contribution.

Theocritus. "Select Poems." edited by Kenneth J. Dover. Wauconda: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1994. Condition: Very Good.


Roman Students of Homer

Cauchi, Simon, ed. The Sixth Book of Virgil's Aeneid, Translated and Commented on by Sir John Harington (1604). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991. Condition: Good, Hardcover.

Horace. "Epodes and Odes: A New Annotated Latin Edition." edited by Daniel H. Garrison. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991. Condition: Fair.

---. "Opera." In Oxford Classical Texts, edited by H.W. Garrod. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1901. Condition: Good, Hardcover.

Juvenal. "Satires, Book 1." In Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics, edited by Susanna Morton Braund. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Condition: Good.
Although Juvenal does not himself frequently write about mythical subjects, he does satirize epic poets, scholars, and even women who brag about their ability to quote Homer. His satires give readers an interesting perspective on the literary life of Imperial Rome.

Lyne, R.O.A.M., ed. Ciris: A Poem Attributed to Vergil, Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978. Condition: Excellent.

Ovid. "Amores, Medicamina Faciei Femineae, Ars Amatoria, Remedia Amoris." In Oxford Classical Texts, edited by E. J. Kenney. Oxford: Oxford Unviersity Press, 1995. Condition: Excellent. Hardcover.

---. "Ars Amatoria Book 3." In Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries, edited by Roy K. Gibson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Condition: Very Good, Hardcover.
Ovid's best known work is his Metamorphoses, a masterful intertwining of myths from Homer, tragedy, and a few possibly of his own invention. The Ars Amatoria is much less well known. The first two books are a manual for how to get - and keep - the woman of your dreams, and the third book is the reverse, a manual for women. Most of the examples Ovid uses, incongruous though it may seem, are from myth. In book 3, while explaining how women should flatter their best features, he mentions how dark-skinned Andromeda wore pale clothing, and which sexual positions would be most attractive for tall, robust Andromache.

---. "Heroides XVI-XXI." In Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics, edited by E. J. Kenney. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Condition: Very Good.
Ovid's Heroides are a series of letters, written by the wives of epic heroes, including Medea, Penelope, Phaedra, and Ariadne. Some of the most interesting letters, although their authorship is uncertain, are the 'paired' letters, between Hero and Leander, Acontius and Cydippe, and, most interestingly, the letter from Paris to Helen, trying to convince her to leave Menelaus for him, and Helen's response, expressing her willingness to leave and her love for him.

---. Metamorphoses. Translated by Alexander Pope, John Dryden, Joseph Addison, William Congreve. New York: Heritage Press, 1961. Condition: Good, Hardcover.

---. "Metamorphoses." In Oxford Classical Texts, edited by R. J. Tarrant. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Condition: Excellent, Hardcover.

---. "Metamorphoses, Books 1-5." edited by William S. Anderson. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

---. "Metamorphoses, Books 6-10." edited by William S. Anderson. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972.

Propertius. "Opera." In Oxford Classical Texts, edited by E. A. Barber. Oxford: Oxford Unviersity Press, 1960. Condition: Fair, Hardcover.

Statius. "Thebaid." In Loeb Classical Library, edited by D.R. Shackleton Bailey. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003. Condition: Good, Hardcover.

Thomson, D.F.S., ed. Catullus: Edited with a Textual and Interpretive Commentary. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998. Condition: Very Good.

Virgil. "Aeneid 1-6." edited by R. Deryck Williams. London: Bristol Classical Press, 1972. Condition: Fair.

---. "Opera." In Oxford Classical Texts, edited by R. A. B. Mynors. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969. Condition: Very Good, Hardcover.

---. The Aeneid. Translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. Condition: Very Good, Hardcover.

---. The Aeneid: Translated by John Dryden. New York: Heritage Press, 1944. Condition: Good, Hardcover.
Perhaps the most important epic modeled after Homer, Virgil famously began his text with the words "arma virumque cano", to show that he was writing a combination of the Iliad and Odyssey. Dryden's translation is interesting in its own right, as a subtle commentary on post-Glorious Revolution England. This volume has a third attraction, beside Virgil's poetic artistry and Dryden's political and social commentary: the cover, is embossed with a picture of Venus, Aeneas' mother.

Modern Students of Homer

Aligheri, Dante. "Inferno: Canti Scelti." edited by Celestina Beneforti. Rome: Bonacci Editore SRL, 1994. Condition: Good.
Aside from portraying Homer himself as a soul in Limbo, one of the virtuous unbaptized, Dante includes several Homeric characters in the various circles of Hell, including Helen in the circle of the lustful, and Odysseus with the treacherous.

---. The Inferno. Translated by Jean Hollander Robert Hollander. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. Condition: Excellent.

Bate. Jonathan. Shakespeare and Ovid. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. Condition: Very Good.

Cairns, Douglas L., ed. Oxford Readings in Homer's Iliad. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Condition: Like New.

Calasso, Roberto. Le Nozze Di Cadmo E Armonia. Milan: gli Adelphi, 1988. Condition: Very Good.
One of the most important books in my collection, Calasso's The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony is a brilliant retelling of the prismatic nature of Greek myth. Like Ovid's Metamorphoses, each myth flows seamlessly into the next, and some myths are retold in different forms, such as how Teiresias, the blind seer of Homer's Odyssey, came to lose his sight and gain vision into the future. This copy, the first edition in the original Italian, was a rare find and very difficult to come by in the U.S.

---. Literature and the Gods. Translated by Tim Parks. New York: Vintage Books, 2001. Condition: Excellent.

---. The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. Translated by Tim Parks. New York: Vintage Books, 1993. Condition: Fair.

Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. Justin O'Brien ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1955. Condition: Excellent.

Foley, John Miles. Traditional Oral Epic : The Odyssey, Beowulf, and the Serbo-Croatian Return Song. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990. Condition: Fair.

Gaiman, Neil. The Sandman: Fables and Reflections. Vol. 6. New York: DC Comics, 1993. Condition: Very Good.
Although Gaiman incorporated aspects of myth from many different cultures into his Sandman graphic novels, the Greek influence is particularly strong, especially in the chapters concerning his marriage to the muse Calliope and the fate of their son, Orpheus. The story of Orpheus' fateful marriage to Eurydice is told beautifully in this volume, as well as the story of his subsequent murder.

Garner, Richard. From Homer to Tragedy: The Art of Allusion in Greek Poetry. London: Routledge, 1990. Condition: Good, Hardcover.

Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. New York: Penguin Books, 1955. Condition: Good.

Heaney, Seamus. The Burial at Thebes. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004. Condition: Excellent, Hardcover.
A version of Sophocles' Antigone, just as The Cure at Troy is a version of Sophocles' Philoctetes. Heaney does not simply translate, but makes Sophocles' plays into entirely new poems, germane to the political problems of the present day, especially in Ireland.

---. The Cure at Troy. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1991. Condition: Good.

Hughes, Ted. Tales from Ovid. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997. Condition: Very Good.

Joyce, James. Ulysses. New York: Vintage Books, 1986. Condition: Fair.
In James Joyce's most famous work, Leopold Bloom becomes a modern day Odysseus, and his walk through Dublin and reconciliation with his wife match Odysseus' journey back to Penelope in Ithaca.

Kossman, Nina, ed. Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Condition: Good, Hardcover.

Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore. Translated by Philip Gabriel. New York: Vintage International Press, 2005. Condition: Good.
One of Murakami's newest novels, Kafka on the Shore tells the story of a teenaged boy who runs away from home to escape a strange prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother, along with the story of a man who lost most of his intelligence, but gained the ability to talk to cats, during a strange otherworldly encounter at his elementary school. Kafka is especially interesting as a modern-day Oedipus.

Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1623, reprinted 1994. Condition: Excellent, Hardcover.

Terry, Philip, ed. Ovid Metamorphosed. London: Random House, 2000. Condition: Very Good.
A collection of modern stories based on the tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Watkins, Calvert. How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. Condition: Very Good.
Watkins' important and ambitious book has two main goals. The first is, through a close examination of poetic formulae such as the phrase "undying glory", to examine the origins of Indo-European poetry. The second is to trace the lineage of several important, commonly told stories, such as the story of the hero who kills a dragon. Homer is very important to the first part of his theory, especially because of the presence of formulae and epithets; equally important is the Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo, which tells of how Apollo killed the massive serpent Python at Delphi.