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The Greek Anthology: And Other Ancient Greek Epigrams (Penguin Classics) Paperback – May 27, 1982

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (May 27, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140442855
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140442854
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #838,402 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Peter Jay's selection from the Greek Anthology is, to me, an almost inexhaustible book. The some 4000 epigrams, short poems, inscriptions, and epitaphs of the original collection have been whittled down to about 860, organized by era, and then again by ascribed author. The translations, from a wide variety of translators, are a mixed bag: most modern and witty, some definitely more literal than others, some still a little precious in their attempts to duplicate the effect of the original verse. I favor the earlier entries, in particular the epitaphs, and the stark unrhymed renditions, but these little bite-sized poems cover the whole of the human condition, often presented with a straightforwardness that disarms us. Fans of the memento mori will find the greatest examples here, along with the usual range of realistic bitchiness, snide satire, and heart's longing. This is a book to nibble at. It will last you many years.
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First published in hardcover in 1973 by Oxford and then republished in a revised (and edited) paperback edition in 1981 by Penguin, Peter Jay's The Greek Anthology is still the best one-stop source for these ancient poems in English. The only thing close to it quality-wise is Kenneth Rexroth's 1961 collection "Poems from the Greek Anthology" (and some of Rexroth's poems from that book are included in this one), but Rexroth only covered a handful of poems, compared to the 861 poems contained here. And instead of just one poet handling the chores, this book features a wealth of translators. Just to list a few of them: Peter Jay himself, Tony Harrison, Alan Marshfield, Peter Porter, Andrew Miller, Peter Whigham, Fleur Adcock, Teddy Hogge, Guy Davenport, Alistair Elliott, and even my favorite writer, Christopher Logue, who contributes one poem. Jay also includes work from previous translators of the Anthology, among them Andrew Sinclair, Dudley Fitts, and Robin Skelton.

Most readers are familiar with the Iliad and the Odyssey, but those epics only give a glimmer of the Greek condition. The lyric and epigrammatic poems of the Anthology shoot straight through to the soul's core; they were written by people who had hopes, dreams, and desires much like yours or mine. There are no immortal heroes here, no mythic exploits of semi-divine characters. These are poems about life, about lust and hunger and death, about prostitutes and priests and priestesses, about drinking and athletics and philosophy. And when the Hellenic gods do appear, they're usually the butt of some joke.

Please note that the Penguin edition is edited.
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The contents of this book is only a small portion of what is called the Greek Anthology which consists in about 4000 Greek epigrams (short poems) from the period approximately 600 BC - 600 AC. They are collected for the first time in a manuscript of the 13th century.This work is divided in sixteen books each with a different subject.You don't have to read all 4000 epigrams, you just chose a book with a subject you like. The most popular are book V about love, book VII about death and funeral, book XI about Bacchus and satires and book XIV with problems, riddles and oracles. You can learn a great deal about daily life in Antiquity just by reading these short poems (some of them no more than two lines). We read about prostitutes and courtisanes, sailors and fishermen and-for example-about three girls, shy and giggling, offering flowers to the statue of Aphrodite, goddess of Love. If you don't like the rigid books like 'Daily life in Ancient Rome', buy a book with poems of the Greek Anthology.
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This large selection from the famed Greek Anthology is a treasure. Filled with sharp, honest, unvarnished poems that brim with powerful feeling, without being the least bit sentimental or mawkish, they provide a window into the soul of Greek culture & civilization.

Drenched in Mediterranean sunlight & harsh shadows, these poems depict a world where life & death, passion & loss, nobility & satire, are all delineated in bold, clear lines, and seen with an unclouded eye. There doesn't seem to be much self-deception, or comforting but empty illusion, in that world. And if it does start to creep in, it's just as swiftly & scathingly dismissed.

Covering several centuries, translated by a wide range of poets, this collection offers a worldview that never flinches from death, or the unpredictable whims of fate. It is, after all, a world which advised, "Call no man happy until he is dead." At the same time, it embraces the pleasures of life, never confusing sex & love, making room for both without apology or regret.

For the most part, you'll find short, to-the-point epigrams in these pages. The occasional reminder that (for example) only 4 or 5 poems survive of a poet's entire body of work, some of them mere fragments, is sobering. That in itself is testimony to the worldview presented here, one that essentially says, "We cannot choose what we are given, we can only choose how we face it." And the Greeks faced it head-on, without blinking.

Most highly recommended!
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