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Greek Classic Disappearing from Shelf

June 17, 2012

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Experienced Tutors Stoke On Trent welcome, once again, our guest blogger Professor Serendip.

As a classicist the prof has a knowledge that is fast disappearing. Private English tuition and home tutoring in Sociology is a world away from that of translation Greek and Latin and mixing with gods such as Neptune and Poseidon on a daily basis.

For this post Prof Serendip chooses to look at his speciality and bemoans the disappearance of a particular ancient classic from the open shelves of our libraries.

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Excerpts from

Books that have been unnecessarily culled by libraries

Books that have been serendipitously encountered

Books that need to be saved for browsers


Propertius / Elegies (ed. & trans. G.P.Goold, Leob Classical Library, Harvard U.P., rev. ed. 1999)

Nowadays even large libraries do not have the volumes of the Loeb Classical Library on open shelving. A scholarly browser who is not a classicist might never encounter the books of this great series with Latin or Greek text on the left-hand page and a translation facing. The entire Loeb series is being digitised so that for some a shelf display will not seem relevant.

So many poets have quarried the Greek and Latin classics that some efforts must be made to make translations easily available. Ted Hughes used the Loed Oedipus of Seneca to produce a successful version for the National Theatre. Indeed there is a whole book, Ted Hughes and the Classics (Oxf. U.P. 2009) and remaindered by 2011. It would be rather twee to suggest the publication of a library of texts likely to be poetically nutritious for poets without a knowledge of the ancient tongues. But you will see the problem.

Imagine an encounter with Goold’s volume on the part of a scholar who recalls the Propertius (a Roman poet obsessed by Cynthia, a difficult girl to tangle with) fascinated Ezra Pound. He published a ‘homage’ to Propertius which was far from a word-for-word translation. Our hypothetical scholar will see that Pound concentrated on the earlier books of the Elegies and might not venture further into Book Four where, for example, there is a poem called the curious god called Vertumnus. The Romans went for a wide range of gods and godlings, many with homely specialities such as a god of Manure (Stercutus and Sterculinus). Vertumnus is presented by Propertius as a god who enjoyed using disguises. Folk-etymology is made to link Latin vertere, to turn, with the name Vertumnus. How far the god here presented by Propertius differs from a folk-original is a matter for the learned to sort out. Here you will be serendipically delighted by the god’s shape-shiftings as translated by Goold. Here are a few snippets:

‘. . . clothe me in silks, and I will become a none too prudish girl. . . wearing the toga, I am a man. . . Give me a scythe and bind my forehead with a wisp of hay: you will swear that my hand has cut grass. . . I once bore arms. . . with a heavy basket on my back I was a reaper. . . With nets on my shoulder I hunt. . . Wearing a felt-hat I shall catch fish with a rod, and a trailing garb I will step abroad as a spruce pedlar. . . ‘

The Latin sometimes not easy to interpret ans some scholars might look askance at Goold’s bright effort with the ‘spruce pedlar’. The Latin is et ibo | mundus demissis institor in tunicis – the image in the eyes of some is of a shop-walker in tails at Fortnum & Mason!

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It is not often that we receive Latin lessons today. In fact, I can safely say that we here at Experienced Tutors did not even receive Latin lessons ‘yesterday’. As a private English tutor I often wish that I had received an education into Latin. Looking at an online dictionary I find the following for ‘tutor’:

1350–1400; Middle English  < Latin tūtor  protector, equivalent totū-  (variant stem of tuērī  to guard; see tutelage) + -tor -tor

Even the name of our profession we owe to Latin!

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