27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2011
It's becoming clear that Amazon needs to separate the Kindle reviews from the other reviews. A previous reviewer noted that line numbers were not included in his/her edition, but if you are a potential buyer of a hard copy of this book you can rest your worried mind because the page numbers are indeed included in this edition, the only problem being that they are listed only at the top of the page so one has to count up or down to obtain a specific line number. It's not particularly important though, since there are only some 30 lines per page so it's fairly easy to guess your line if you are referring to the notes, which are helpful. Or if you are constantly flipping back and forth, you could always pencil the numbers in by, say, 10s. The translation itself is the best contemporary prose translation into English that I am aware of. In my opinion it does an excellent job of handling the language with a good amount of precision while maintaining its readability. Just my 2 cents.
on February 13, 2015
[Note, February, 2015: This review was originally posted in 2003 with Martin L. West's translation in the Oxford World's Classics series, but, as noted in the first paragraph, its reviews were mixed with reviews of another translation. At some point in the intervening years, Amazon "corrected" the problem by assigning the whole set of reviews to the other ”Penguin Classics” translation, and that translation only. Now that I have (at last) noticed this, I have decided to repost on the page originally intended. I have made a few revisions in order to make the review more up-to-date, but have not otherwise tampered with it.]
Some of the other reviews offered with M.L. West's translation of Hesiod's "Theogony" and "Works and Days" for the Oxford World's Classics actually refer [or referred] to Dorothea Wender's verse translation of the same works, plus a charming version of the collection of lyrics attributed to Theognis, published in the Penguin Classics. That is a worthwhile version -- although the joining of the peasant-oriented Boeotian Hesiod to the mainly aristocratic, and partly Athenian, "Theognis" corpus of songs and aphorisms is a little odd.
West's version of the two main Hesiodic poems is, however, in prose, and offers the latest in textual and historical scholarship -- although this is not very obviously on display. West, who has edited much (perhaps by now all) of the "Hesiodic" corpus, with substantial technical commentaries (along with a good deal of Homer and the "Homeric Hymns"), offers here his best reading of the two long poems which seem most firmly attributed Hesiod. (Although some, including Wender, would prefer two poets, in addition to the problem of interpolations).
West's commentary, although useful, is surprisingly sparse, given what he could have offered; a lot of detailed argument has been converted into the translation itself.
"Theogony," for those not familiar with the work even by reputation, is the story of the origins and struggles of the gods of Classical Greece. Although the meter and basic style are those of the Homeric epics, and the gods are mainly the same, many details are different (Zeus is a younger son, not the eldest, for example), and the struggles between various generations are the foreground story, not a long-concluded background to the reign of Zeus. We meet Heaven, and his sons and daughters, culminating in the rebellion of the Titans, then the Olympians, who wage war against their father and his fellow-Titans, and so on. It is an extremely violent story, full of abusive parents, mutilations inflicted by rebellious offspring, divine cannibalism, and a whole succession of other behaviors the Greeks themselves considered repellent. The philosophers had real problems with this work -- one can understand from it why Plato wanted to ban poets from the ideal state.
Interspersed through the action are a number of catalogues of nature-deities, which are variously regarded by critics as interpolations or key structural elements. Many readers simply find them boring; it helps if you are using a translation which interprets the Greek names, which are usually charmingly appropriate for the natural element being personified.
"Works and Days" contains several important mythological passages, expanding and altering "Theogony," but is in the main a sort of sermon on how to be prosperous and righteous. It is packed with details of daily life, which readers will find either fascinating or tedious. and are sometimes rather opaque. West does a good job in making readable this combination of a sort of pagan equivalent of an Old Testament prophet with an Iron Age Farmer's Almanac, and his notes do help with some of the knottier passages. (Note that there is one recent translation-with-commentary of the "Works" by Tandy and Neale, which is dedicated almost entirely to making detailed agricultural and ethnographic sense of it; West clearly offers a more literary approach.)
The latter part of the twentieth century has seen a number of translations of the main Hesiodic poems, by Apostolos N. Athanassakis, R.M. Frazer, Richmond Lattimore, and, as noted above, Dorothea Wender (Penguin Classics), to join the old Evelyn-White bilingual edition for the Loeb Classical Library edition, with numerous attributed fragments. (New Loeb editions of the Hesiodic material have appeared.) There are also translations of single poems, by Norman O. Brown and by Richard S. Caldwell (both of the "Theogony") and Tandy and Neale ("Works and Days"). West offers a substantial alternative to the others, based on an exceptionally close knowledge of the textual problems.
on January 26, 2014
It's not my favorite, by far, when it comes to works related to Greek or Roman Mythology. In truth, it's a bit of a tricky read, and downright tedious at times. Still, the two works do serve important purposes within that area of literature, so I can definitely appreciate them even if I don't truly enjoy them. The good notes helped with that as well.