When looking for this book, I settled on the Penguin Clothbound edition as I had some Amazon credit and naturally when I signed up for the classical readalong, I had to have a pretty edition to read. I didn’t bother to look at the better translations, I just went for the book that would look prettiest on my shelf. I don’t care.
So, as I bought and read this for the classical readalong, I was naturally going to compare it to The Odyssey as I read it. Firstly, unlike The Odyssey this is a verse translation – though it was more free verse and, as someone who doesn’t find poetry the easiest thing to read, it seemed like some deconstructed sentences to me. I did however find myself easily falling in to the pattern of the writing and I became very easily lost in it for much longer than I thought I had been. I found the style of this much more like a short story collection, or maybe a poetry collection.
Also, unlike The Odyssey, this book ‘had me at hello’ .
As a child, I had a couple of favourite myths of Roman origin but my favourite was always the story of Echo and Narcissus. I don’t think that changed in this book, I still love that myth. But I’ve found a few more to love too.
Sadly, I’ve not much been in the mood for reading lately but this book was just one that I could happily dip in and out of at any time and read one ‘story’ and move come back to it. Sometimes I sat and read a couple of ‘books’ in one sitting, but that didn’t happen much with this book which, I feel, made me appreciate each story as an individual as well as a part of a whole.
My main problem with this book is simply that the word ‘rape’ was thrown around so unabashedly. I understand when this book was written, things were different – it was just “part of the culture” and “part of the myth” with somewhat different connotations from the original use of the word to the use of it today, but it does make me as a reader, and as a woman, quite uncomfortable. Sentences that were pretty much “… and so he raped her” actually made me cringe. I won’t go on a long ramble about how I feel about this because there are many people who have done a discussion on the feminism (or lack thereof) in The Metamorphoses and the presence of rape as a continual theme and a way to assert masculinity throughout in a much more concise and coherent manner than I could provide.
Even with the above being a bit of an issue to my slightly sensitive nature, I really enjoyed this book. The flow being more like a short story collection suited the mood I was in and I think it will be one that I may well dip in and out of again in the future. There were a few myths I really enjoyed and think that I would like to read again as ‘standalones’.
As I said in the intro, this book had me from the first lines. I was hooked. I could scarcely put this down even though I wasn’t much in the mood to read. Each story had beauty, and I wish I could read Latin simply to read the words as they were written and intended to be conveyed. The translation was good though, the beauty was there and… yes. Ultimately I’m very glad I read this.
Overall, I’m not certain which of the two readalong books I’ve enjoyed the most. Homer was hard to get in to but mighty good at the end, in some ways I preferred it. But this was a book that gripped me from the beginning, kept me interested because it was constantly evolving and starting fresh with new stories and I just loved it. Of course, with any short story collection, there will be bits you don’t like, stories that just don’t interest you, and that was the same here but on the whole, I loved it. I loved it because of the history and the mythology.
Greek and Roman religion and polytheism is something that actually really interests me. I like the idea that there isn’t just one sole God and that there are simply deities that are God of a few specific things; sort of professors of life that you bow down to. That Gods walk among people and aren’t so untouchable and out of reach. That’s what appeals to me in both this book and in The Odyssey. Albeit it’s sort of more subtext, but it’s there and as someone who finds that aspect of the culture very interesting, I feel I maybe notice it more.
But that was a tangent and after a bit of debate, I decided to give this book 4/5 stars on Goodreads because – I know I was a bit sensitive to the roughness of words but on the whole, I loved this book. Truly.