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Pure Pagan: Seven Centuries of Greek Poems and Fragments (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – October 11, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Despite being highly fragmentary, the corpus of classical Greek literature includes enough first-rate lyric poetry to justify a steady stream of new translations. Among them, these are outstanding, and not only because they are versions of poems less often translated. In a "Translator's Preface," Raffel says the Greeks speak with a voice "like no other . . . that has ever sung on this earth" but refrains from more specific characterization. Instead, he helps sixth-century B.C.E. Alkaios sing with gusto and rue, seventh-century B.C.E. Alkman celebrate sensuality, the famous and controversial third-century B.C.E. poet Callimachos carp about death, and sixth- and fifth-century B.C.E. Simonides pithily limn the distinctions of men and gods. The spirit that resounds in the lines of those and the other named and anonymous poets Raffel translates is as volatile as childhood, as wise as dotage, as honorable as sturdy adulthood, as folly prone as any time of life, as essentially human as poetry has ever expressed. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"The old Greek poetry has a freshness and immediacy about it that is partly a witty irony, partly a commitment to speaking only about the core concerns of humanity, partly a strange dazzling down-to-earthness, and partly the tragic bite of the Greek conceptual language.  Who better to introduce us to the lesser-known voices of that tradition than Burton Raffel and Guy Davenport?" --Frederick Turner, author of The Culture of Hope and former editor of The Kenyon Review

"This superb gathering of ancient Greek lyrics, pungently translated by Burton Raffel, could not be more timely or more timeless. The poems are by turns hilarious and heartrending, erotic and elegaic, as fresh as the morning and shadowy as the dusk, yet always living, inescapable, and wise. Guy Davenport contributes an arresting introduction to this very welcome collection.” --Robert Fagles, translator of The Iliad and The Odyssey

"Burton Raffel has added titles and translated with great translucency--real panache!--a marvelous array of lesser known poems and poets from ancient Greece. These brief and entrancing lyric intensities ("drink, and get drunk with me," Alkaios insists) are perennially fresh and inviting, surprised by time, quick with life.” --Edward Hirsch, author of How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry and Lay Back the Darkness

"The ancient Greek anthologists collected many of the world's funniest, and saddest, raunchiest, and wisest poems, which Burton Raffel, a guardian angel among American translators, has delivered breathtakingly alive into our own idiom. If poetry ever mattered, which we know it did and does, this book reminds us why." --Brooks Haxton, author of Uproar and translator of Dances for Flute and Thunder

"These are the Greek poets who have endured through the millennia. Burton Raffel's wonderful translations capture their poetry in all its originality, freshness, and rhythm." --Peter Constantine, winner of the 1998 PEN Translation Award and the 1999 National Translation Award

"These epigrams, epitaphs, fragments, and short poems of the Greek lyricists are witty, wise, and elegant, and they demand of a translator an almost impossible range of humanity and fastidious craftsmanship that I delight to see demonstrated, over and over in Burton Raffel’s splendid English versions." --David R. Slavitt, co-editor of the Penn Complete Greek Drama series and of the Johns Hopkins Complete Roman Drama series


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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Classics
  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (October 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812969626
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812969627
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,291,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Burton Raffel is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Arts and Humanities and emeritus professor of English, University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His other translations from the French include Stendhal's The Red and the Black and Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, winner of the French-American Foundation Translation Prize, 1992.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Menachem Rephun on June 19, 2006
Format: Paperback
"I hate poems that go on & on", writes Callimachus, an ancient Greek whose poetry has been translated and compiled in this anthology, along with the work of other bards both familiar and obscure, and his is a credo which the Greeks seem to have lived up to admirably: the poems here represented possess an extraordinary power and descriptive beauty despite their extreme, often jarring brevity. Take the poetry of Alkaios:

Boy:

Boy:
Wine

and

Truth

Or Alkman:

The thread runs thin

The need runs hard

Hard.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Greek's lyrics are their timelessness and universality. The Greeks were a people evidently much preoccupied with death, and the transitory nature of all things: thus a large number of their poems and fragments are comprised of poignant elegies and "epitaphs".

Plato:

I am a drowned man's tomb/there is a farmer's.
Death waits for us all/ whether at sea or on land.

Anonymous:

"I'm dead, but waiting for you/and you'll wait for someone/the darkness waits for everyone, it makes no distinctions"

Yet the writing of the Greeks could also be marvelously comic and erotic:

A boy bent to drape flowers on his stepmothers grave/thinking that death had changed her/but the stone toppled and killed him/Stepsons! Be wary even when they're dead!

"We'll be four, each with his woman/eight's too many for one keg of wine/Go tell Aristus the keg I bought/is only half-full, a gallon short, maybe two...hurry!
They're coming at five.

Many of the Greek's poems are also heartbreakingly human.

Alkaios:

Friend's? My friends are nothing/And I weep for them, and for me.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ian Shumaker on August 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book of epigrams and fragments of poems did more towards helping me to understand and appreciate the ancient Mediterranean peoples than anything I've ever read. I constantly found myself empathizing with the poets. Many of the poems are about drinking, sex, war and women. All of them are entertaining. All well chosen for this collection. The introduction by Guy Davenport is interesting and a must read. If studying ancient peoples is your cup of tea you need this book in your library.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Joe Kenney on September 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
First of all, this book has the greatest title ever. Guy Davenport didn't seem to like it, though; in his otherwise fantastic introduction he subtly pokes fun at it. But I find it a great choice for the collection. Burton Raffel is one of my favorite translators; his "Don Quijote" and "Gargantua and Pantagruel" translations are the only ones for me. So I was very happy to discover this, a collection of Raffel translations of ancient Greek lyric and epigrammatic poetry spanning from the 7th Century BCE to the 1st Century CE. I'm sure there are some dilettantes out there who will quibble that some of the poems are not "exactly" translated, but I'm not one of them. Raffel makes it clear in his preface that he did not want to produce a literal translation, and so much the better for the poems themselves. The effect is, rather than a stuffy tome of exact translations, a little book filled with the wit and wonder of these long-forgotten bards.

Several poets are spotlighted, most represented by a few lines of their surviving poetry. The depressing part is that the majority of their work is lost. Raffel has a brief bio for each poet in the back of the book; most of the bios state either "No reliable data" or "Such and such was a famous poet. None of his work survives." And that's the heart of it. The deeper one gets into the study of the ancient world, the more fully one understands how MUCH has been lost. It's not only sad, it's despicable. And I'm sure we all know what religious group to blame for the loss...

"Pure Pagan" is filled with lines that stick in your brain.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jordan M. Poss VINE VOICE on January 16, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This volume of Greek poetry is a great find. If you have even the slightest interest in ancient Greece, this book is indispensible. Essentially a collection of short poems--mostly epitaphs, inscriptions, and fragments of otherwise long-lost authors--Pure Pagan is moving, hilarious, and always enjoyable.

My only complaint is a very small one. In the introduction, Guy Davenport makes note of the hundreds of fragments left over from the Hellenic world--so why is this collection so short? What's here is so enjoyable I was left wanting much, much more.

Highly recommended.
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