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Thank You, and Your Feedback Is Requested March 7, 2010

Posted by Heather J in Challenge Info.
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Now that the Really Old Classics Challenge is over, Rebecca and I would like to say THANK YOU! to everyone who participated. We are so happy that you gave these old classics a chance.

We’d also like your feedback on the challenge so we can make it even better next time around. Please click here to go to the seven survey questions. It will only take a few minutes to answer them and your input will really help us out. Thanks!


Review Round-Up #2 March 4, 2010

Posted by rebeccareid in Reading and Reviewing Classics, Reading and Reviewing Retellings.
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You’ve been busy reading. Here are some of the reviews you submitted to us from your challenge reading!

Ancient History

Jenny Loves to Read discusses The Epic of Gilgamesh, which she says “it was a quick read and it certainly piqued my interest in ancient texts or stories.”

It’s Greek to Me

Heather at Word Trix wrote about Aristotle’s brief Poetics, which she calls “the first book for writers.” She enjoyed it and says “how little the “rules” of writing have changed over the centuries.”

Roman Holiday

Heather J. at Age 30+ A Lifetime of Books discussed her attempts to read Aupelius’ The Golden Ass. She says it was the old translation that made this a “did not finish” for her.

Olde English

Rebecca at Rebecca Reads finished Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I said, “I enjoyed reading Sir Gawain for the language” because it really is beautiful.

Asian Traditions

Rebecca at Rebecca Reads finished The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon. I really enjoyed it because she was like a blogger: I say, “I think she was born 1000 years too early, because she loved finding something, be it funny, annoying, or ironic, in the ordinary events of the day.”

Extra Credit

Megan at Working title reviewed The Palace of Illusions, a retelling of some of the events in the Indian classic Mahabharata. She says, “This is an absolutely lovely story, filled with beauty, and utter despair, and everything in between. I highly recommend it to anyone that wants to sample the literature of India, with a modern twist.”

Rebecca at Rebecca Reads read Moses, Man of the Mountain by Zora Neale Hurston, a retelling of the story of the Hebrew Exodus. Although it had some faults, I’m fascinated by the story of the Exodus so I loved the premise: “tell the story of Moses and the Hebrews basing it on African-American folkloric practices (hoodoo and magic).”

And there you have it! The second round-up of reviews. If you have also reviewed something in the second half of the challenge, let us know and we can add it here. Thanks for reading and reviewing these greats of antiquity!

Link to Your Reviews March 1, 2010

Posted by rebeccareid in Challenge Info.
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I’m working on the link round-up post. If you’ve post a link to a REally Old Classic or a Retelling, leave us a link, either on this post or on the Reviews page!

Thanks. We hope you enjoyed reading Really Old Classics!

4 days left! February 24, 2010

Posted by Heather J in Uncategorized.
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There are just 4 days to finish up your Really Old Classics Challenge reads!

I hope you have all enjoyed the challenge. Watch for our recap posts coming next week.

Really Old Classics Challenge Ends on 2/28 February 4, 2010

Posted by Heather J in Uncategorized.
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Just a quick reminder that there are only 24 days left in the Really Old Classics Challenge.

Have you read your one book yet?  There’s still time!

Maybe you’re finished your book and want to read more?  There’s still time!

Any book you complete by 2/28/10 will count, so get reading. (I have to do that myself; my current book is taking me longer than I expected….)

Where are you now? January 15, 2010

Posted by Heather J in Uncategorized.

Hi ROC Challenge participants! I hope you all enjoyed your holidays/days off. Things are finally settling down for Rebecca and I – hope the same is true for you.

How are you doing with this challenge?  Are you finding your reading difficult or easy? Let us know in the comments:

  • how many books you have read so far,
  • what you are reading now,
  • what you plan to read before the end of February,
  • and anything else you want to share.

How am I doing?  I’ve read two things so far: MEDEA (the Greek tragedy), by Euripides, and VOSLUNGASAGA (the Norse epic).  Right now I’m working on THE GOLDEN ASS (Roman era stories), by Apuleius.  I hope to also to start THE ULSTER CYCLE (series), by Randy Lee Eickhoff, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Rebecca is moving right along with the challenge.  So far she has read three things: AUCCASSIN ET NICOLETTE, MEDEA, and THE PILLOW BOOK.  Before the challenge ends she hopes to get to read SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT, maybe BEOWULF and maybe Sapphos’ IF NOT, WINTER. We’ll see how long it takes, she says.  She also wants to read Zora Neale Hurston’s MOSES, MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN which is a “retelling” of the Biblical story and WAR MUSIC by Christopher Logue, which is a poetic retelling of parts of the Iliad.  Rebecca says: “So much I want to read, I love them, it’s just always hard to make them a priority”

Now it’s your turn … please let us know how you’re progressing with this challenge!

Reviews Round-Up (Through January 11) January 11, 2010

Posted by rebeccareid in Uncategorized.
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The challenge is more than half-way over. You’ve been busy reading! Here’s a round up of what you’ve been reading thus far. Also, check out our November round-up, which had a few reviews to report.

Ancient History

Zee from Notes from the North read The Epic of Gilgamesh (trans. by Andrew George). She thought the story had potential but was disappointed by the translation. Her bottom line? “Good story, bad book.”

It’s Greek to Me

Book Pusher at The Genteel Arsenal read three Theban plays by Sophocles. She was struck by the emphasis on age in Oedipus at Colonus and enjoyed the feminist role of Antigone.

Heather J. at Age 30+ Books (and co-host to this challenge) read Medea by Euripides. Although she didn’t love it, she was delighted by how easy it was to read: “If you are looking for an easy dip into the Really Old Classics, this play might be a good place to start. I expected it to be difficult to read but it was not at all.”

I (from Rebecca Reads) read Medea by Euripides as well, and I enjoyed Medea’s strong (yet extreme) reactions.

Roman Holiday

Richard from Caravana de Recuerdos read The Satyricon by Petronius.  Despite some unfortunate failings, he says it still lives up to the hype, and says in the end it’s a “A ‘naughty’ classic.”

The Middle Ages

Heather J. at Age 30+ Books read The Volusungasaga, a Norse epic. Although there were aspects that irritated, confused, and horrified her about the historical aspects in this epic, she did find it worth reading and enjoyed making some familiar connections.

Eva from A Striped Armchair reread Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (trans by Simon Armitage). She loves the story and only has good things to say about this translation: “Armitage decided to prioritise that alliteration: the result is a delicious rendition that just begs the reader to read aloud. … It’s got a little bit of a Dr. Seuss for grown-ups feel to it, with the word play, but of course the story itself has an actual plot.”

Sari from The View from Sari’s World read some medieval tales for the challenge, including stories that were originally 11th century oral tales and three of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  She says, “Once again I started a book only to put it down after I finished it.”

Sari from The View from Sari’s World read Ywain The Knight of the Lion, an Arthurian Romance. While she enjoyed it, she did think it was a little over the top at times. Besides, she asks “when did lions roam medieval England?”

The Renaissance

Megan at Working Title read a selection from Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio.  She read about twenty of the stories and says “Having whetted my appetite on a few of the stories, I will definitely go back for more at some point.”

Anni at Almost Insider read The Prince by Niccolo Machievelli. She was surprised it find that it was “an analysis, than a guide for princes.”

Sari from Sari’s Reading Room read Dante’s Divine Comedy and Joseph Gallager’s Modern Guide. She loves Dante, but the guide fell short for her.

Arabian Classics

Eva at A Striped Armchair read The Travels of Ibn Battutah (edited by Tim Mackintosh-Smith), one of the first travel memoirs ever written. Unfortunately, she found it “a huge let-down” because of the racist issues; although it has historical value, it should not be read for “the pure entertainment or armchair travel level.”

Eva from A Striped Armchair read The Arabian Nights (trans. by Husain Haddawy). She says, “I seriously loved this book: I loved being transported to the streets of old Baghdad or Cairo or to somewhere in the desert. Almost all of the stories had my attention, and while the characters have that stock feel of all fairy tales, I still enjoyed them.”

Non-Western Classics

Mel U from The Reading Life read The Tales of Ise by Arihara no Narihara. A tenth century Japanese collection of “Dans” (prose and poetry interactions between men and women), she says it is “very useful and will deepen my appreciation for older Japanese novels” in how it portrays Japanese court life, although it may become repetitive and boring to some readers.

If you have recently reviewed something for the challenge, leave a link on the Review page and we’ll add it to the next round up.

Retelling A Classic: An Author’s Perspective December 4, 2009

Posted by Heather J in Reading and Reviewing Retellings.

Please welcome Terence Hawkins, author of The Rage of Achilles, with his thoughts on retelling a classic story.  You can learn more about this book and the author at www.terencehawkins.net.

The Rage of Achilles is a novelization of the Iliad. If you’re going to retell a classic, this is Everest: the founding document of Western literature, the ur-book.

Why the Iliad? Couple of reasons. First, Homer’s way too dead to sue me. But there were a series of coincidences that led me to the subject as well. I had been reading Christopher Logue’s War Music, which is a verse account of several books if the Iliad employing modern language, at the time I saw Saving Private Ryan for the first time. So I started to wonder what the Iliad might look like if told with cinematic realism.

Retelling a classic is easier than writing a novel from the ground up in one obvious and important respect: you don’t have to invent as much. The characters and plot are there for you. That, however, leads to a significant issue—how much fidelity does the original demand?

In order to tell this story with any degree of realism, I had to deal first with the question of the gods. In the original, they appear not only as motivating forces, but actual combatants on the battlefield. This, clearly, would not do. A solution was supplied in the form of Julian Jaynes The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Brain, a book that Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion called either a complete crock or the greatest idea of the twentieth century. Jaynes’ hypothesis is that consciousness in its modern form didn’t evolve until language achieved enough complexity to compel the brain hemisphere containing the language center to dominate the other—the right-brain/left-brain split. Until that time people perceived the hemispheres communicating as the voices of the gods, in the same way modern schizophrenics have auditory hallucinations. So in Rage, the characters—with the notable exception of Odysseus, the first modern man—are driven in part by gods whom they experience as voices or visions.

The next question was conformity to characterization and plot. As to the former I thought I had a pretty free hand—while Homer’s warriors aren’t cardboard figures, neither are they distinctly individualized. For that reason I thought it was acceptable to depict them as people we might recognize—by turns cunning, stupid, drunken, brutal, or even occasionally noble. Achilles was naturally the biggest challenge. As the book proceeded I realized that the original essentially concerned his evolution, so he begins as a monster of vanity and ultimately joins the human race.

Finally, in order to make the story work as a realistic account of war, I had to add characters; the Iliad describes kings and princes, but war is fought by infantrymen. Similarly, I had to invent passages that I thought were consistent with what little we know about the nature of Bronze Age warfare.

All that said, writing the book brought me back to a story that is as rich and deeply human as anything ever composed. I don’t think it’s possible to do it full justice, but I hope that at least I did it no harm.

Thank you, Terrence, for sharing your thoughts with us here at the Really Old Classics Challenge.

Now we’d love to hear from our challenge participants.  Is this book on your reading list?  Does the author’s strategy for retelling make sense to you?  Do you find it appealing?  Why or why not?  Is there another way this retelling could be approached?  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

November Reviews Round-Up December 2, 2009

Posted by rebeccareid in Reading and Reviewing Classics.

Although the challenge still has three months remaining, we already have three reviews to share with you!

Book Pusher at The Genteel Arsenal shared thoughts on the Greek play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles as a crime/mystery story.

Sari from The View from Sari’s World shared her thoughts on the English medieval story Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, saying “The words flowed and the language was easy to understand. I found myself so absorbed in the story I finished it in one sitting. … Why don’t they write books like this anymore?

On my blog, Rebecca Reads, I wrote about Aucassin et Nicolette, a medieval French song-story. I say, “I think Nicolette is such an awesome heroine, going beyond the stereotypes of Medieval France.”

If you have reviewed something for this challenge on your blog, leave a link to it on the Reviews page so we can include it in a future round-up.

Classics in Translation November 23, 2009

Posted by rebeccareid in Reading and Reviewing Classics.
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A translation can make a big difference in how a story is portrayed. Older translations may have an older feel to it, and authors may have inserted their own insights into a text.

Most classics in translation have a note at the beginning before the text begins. I’d highly suggest you figure out what you are looking for in a translation before opening a classic work.

For example, consider the following questions:

  • Do you want a literal translation?
  • Does it matter to you if the text you read is exactly as the author wrote it (except in your language)?
  • Are you reading for the language, or for the story, or for both?
  • Which translation would be most accurate and yet readable for you?

Your needs in reading a really old classic might change. At one point, you may be reading for a story. At another point, you may be reading to get a feel for the author’s poetic intent. Below, I’ve compared a few translations of classic works so you can see just what a different a translation can make in reading really old classics. (more…)