Monday, July 18, 2011

Two for Four

Alas, I didn't do so well on the second go-round of the Pre-Printing Press Challenge. My lack of accomplishment in no way reflects the excellent efforts of Elena at All Booked Up to encourage us all to read books published before 1440 (when the printing press was invented).  Thank you, Elena!

Instead, my poor showing was due to the deadly combination of two books that just didn't do anything for me (Heroditus's Histories and Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People) and a time crunch. Laziness and disorganization may have also had something to do with it, but I intend to gloss over that.

I was surprised that I didn't like historians Heroditus and Bede better, but it didn't take me too long to start hearing that little voice in my head, saying "Life is too short to read books you don't like."  I could have read on, but I chose not to.  As far as I'm concerned, one king's pretty much the same as another. 

The two books I finished, though, were worth reading, one much more than the other.

First, Old English Poems and Riddles.  I love this material, having read quite a bit of it before.  However, it really fell flat in this translation. Could the translation have made the difference?  I have remembered a certain stirring speech all the way from sophomore Anglo Saxon Literature class (a heartthrob course that has encouraged my starry-eyed love of Tolkein and Beowulf ever since, not to mention all those hours I spent playing Dungeons & Dragons).  But even that very speech wasn't anything noble here. Color me disappointed.   

Next up, The Art of Horsemanship, an oldie but goodie that I should have read back in the day, when I ate/breathed/slept nothing but horses and horseback riding.  This one has held up surprisingly well.  It seems that a person who understands horses understands horses, period. Even if they and the horses both are from circa 350 BCE. And it doesn't hurt Xenophon's resume to see that he was a student of Socrates. 

This is a good translation that gets all the equestrian vocabulary right, but I suspect the original (the earliest known work on horse and riding, no less) is a beacon of clarity, too.  I found it particularly interesting that although the horse is clearly being trained as a vehicle of war here (there is a whole section devoted to teaching the horse the best ways to maneuver while being pursued by an armed enemy), the emphasis is the same as in the modern day: a horse that is a responsive, supple, well-mannered and willing partner, all set out in clear, precise prose. Good riding and good writing will both withstand the test of time. 


The one great precept and practice in using a horse is this, -- never deal with him when you are in a fit of passion. A fit of passion is a thing that has no foresight in it, and so we often have to rue the day when we gave way to it. Consequently, when your horse shies at an object and is unwilling to go up to it, he should be shown that there is nothing fearful in it, least of all to a courageous horse like him; but if this fails, touch the object yourself that seems so dreadful to him, and lead him up to it with gentleness. Compulsion and blows inspire only the more fear; for when horses are at all hurt at such a time, they think that what they shied at is the cause of the hurt.


  1. Mind telling me who the translator is for that Xenophon? Sounds like something I'd like to read some day.

    Congratulations for finishing the challenge.

  2. I second the question about the Xenophon translation. Xenophon is on my list but I don't know what Xenophon translations are good and what ones are crap.

  3. This version (as pictured) is translated and edited by Morris H. Morgan. I can't vouch for his accuracy, but his result is outstanding. Even more to his credit, the endnotes were nearly as fascinating as the text. I read every one.

    I'd love to hear your reactions, when you get there!


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