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Culture

Poetry, History, Myths to Add to Your Reading List

January 21, 2018

Winter is a great time to curl up with a good book. No need to feel cabin fever when Greek writers can transport the reader to the milder shores of the homeland or to remote antiquity. Whether in poetry or prose, there is something for every reader to enjoy.

Greek poet Athanasios Christopoulos was born in 1772 in Kastoria. He studied at Buda (the western part of what is now Budapest, Hungary) and Padua, Italy. He then tutored the children of Alexander Mourouzis, Prince of Wallachia. After the fall of that prince in 1811, Christopoulos was employed by Prince John Caradja, who had been appointed hospodar of Moldavia and Walachia, in drawing up a code of laws for that country. On the removal of Caradja, Mourouzis retired into private life and devoted himself to literature. He wrote drinking songs and love songs which remain popular in Greece. He also authored a tragedy, Politika Parallela (a comparison of various systems of government), translations of Homer and Herodotus, and philological works on the connection between ancient and modern Greek. His Hellenika Archaiologemata (Athens, 1853) includes an account of his life. Christopoulos passed away on January 19, 1847 in Bucharest, Romania.

Christopoulos’ translation of the first book of Homer’s Iliad into demotic Greek is beautiful and available online through Project Gutenberg. French Hellenist Emile Legrand, writing in 1870, called it “remarkable for its elegance and accuracy; the poet endeavored to render the original text word for word, and he succeeded perfectly.”

Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood: The Rise and Fall of Byzantium, 955 AD to the First Crusade by Anthony Kaldellis is a must read for those interested in medieval history. As noted in the book’s description, “In the second half of the tenth century, Byzantium embarked on a series of spectacular conquests: first in the southeast against the Arabs, then in Bulgaria, and finally in the Georgian and Armenian lands. By the early eleventh century, the empire was the most powerful state in the Mediterranean. Yet this imperial project came to a crashing collapse fifty years later, when political disunity, fiscal mismanagement, and defeat at the hands of the Seljuks in the east and the Normans in the west brought an end to Byzantine hegemony.”The book includes new interpretations of critical topics concerning the era in a well-researched narrative that brings one of the most fascinating periods of history to life.

Kaldellis is Professor of Classics at Ohio State University. His other books include The Christian Parthenon: Classicism and Pilgrimage in Byzantine Athens and Hellenism in Byzantium: The Transformations of Greek Identity and the Reception of the Classical Tradition.

Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece by Stephen Fry is an entertaining version of the myths by the English actor, television presenter, and author, perhaps best known for playing Jeeves in Jeeves and Wooster, the popular television adaptation of the P.G. Wodehouse novels. Fry fell in love with these stories as a child and retells the myths of Athena- born from the cracking open of Zeus’ head, Persephone in the dark realm of Hades, Prometheus after his betrayal of Zeus, and Pandora opening her jar of evil torments. As noted in the book’s description, “The Greek gods are the best and worst of us, and in Stephen Fry’s hands they tell us who we are.”

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