Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Metamorphoses Books X-XII

Two great tales in these chapters: Orpheus & Eurydice and the less famous Ceyx & Alcyone.

Book X

Orpheus & Eurydice 

Edward Poynter, Orpheus and Eurydice. 1862.

This story starts with the Hymen, god of marriage, arriving at the wedding of Orpheus and Eurydice. Already there is a bad sign:

Though Hymen came to help him at the feast
And waved his torch, its fires guttered out 
In coiling smoke that filled the eyes with tears.

The morning after the wedding, Eurydice trips on a deadly snake and is bitten. Orpheus sings of his loss so that everyone on earth can hear, and goes to the underworld through the gates of Taenarus. (Taenarus was a real town in the southeastern part of the Peloponnese; a nearby cave was the legendary entrance to the underworld.) Charon, the boatman who transports the souls of the dead, takes him across the Styx, the river that separates Earth from the underworld, and sings before Hades and Persephone.

However much I took her loss serenely,  

A god called Love had greater strength than I; 
I do not know how well he's known down here, 
but up on Earth his name's on every tongue,
And if I'm to believe an ancient rumor, 
A dark king took a princess to his bed,
A child more beautiful than any queen;
They had been joined by Love.

That is a much more romanticized description than the way it came across in Book V. I can see how Orpheus would want to stay on Hadess good side, though. 😏

... Since these pathetic words were sung to music,

Even the blood drained ghosts of hell fell weeping:
Tantalus no longer reached toward vanished waves 
And Ixion's wheel  stopped short, charmed by the spell; 
Vultures gave up their feast on Tityus's liver
And cocked their heads to stare; fifty Belides 
Stood gazing while their half-filled pitchers emptied,
And Sisyphus sat down upon his stone. 

Ixion was king of the Lapiths, the most ancient tribe of Thessaly. He murdered his father in law and was shunned as an outlaw. When Zeus had pity on him and brought him to Olympus, but while there he lusted after Hera, so he was expelled from Olympus.  Zeus ordered Hermes to bind Ixion to a fiery wheel, in some stories a solar wheel in the sky, but in Ovid transferred to the underworld.

Tityus: According to Wikipedia: "Tityos was the son of Elara; his father was Zeus. Zeus hid Elara from his wife, Hera, by placing her deep beneath the earth. Tityos grew so large that he split his mother's womb, and he was carried to term by Gaia, the Earth. Once grown, Tityos attempted to rape Leto at the behest of Hera. He was slain by Leto's protective children Artemis and Apollo. As punishment, he was stretched out in Tartarus and tortured by two vultures who fed on his liver, which grew back every night. This punishment is comparable to that of the Titan Prometheus."

The fifty Belides are also known as the Danaides, the fifty daughters of Danaus. According to Wikipedia: "Ovid refers to them as the Belides after their grandfather Belus. They were to marry the 50 sons of Danaus' twin brother Aegyptus, a mythical king of Egypt. In the most common version of the myth, all but one of them killed their husbands on their wedding night, and are condemned to spend eternity carrying water in a sieve or perforated device. In the classical tradition, they came to represent the futility of a repetitive task that can never be completed (see also Sisyphus)."

Eurydice is allowed to return from the underworld as long as Orpheus does not look at her until they are back in the upper world. He cannot resist the temptation to look at her, and she fades away into the underworld. He tries to cross the Styx again but cannot. He sits in rags and mud for a week, not eating or drinking. Then he goes to Thrace, where he will not sleep with women but teaches the men of Thrace the art of making love to boys. One day he tells a series of stories: the tales that make up the rest of Book X.

Book XI

The Death of Orpheus 

Orpheus is attacked by a crowd of raging women. I think these are meant to be the followers of Bacchus (the Bacchae, aka Bacchante or Maenads) who appeared in the story of Pentheus (Book III). They are attacking him because he has rejected the company of women: "Look at the pretty boy who will not have us!" 

The saddened birds sobbed loud for Orpheus;

All wept: the multitude of beasts, 
Stones, and trees, all those who came to hear 
The songs he sang, yes, even the charmed trees
Dropped all their leaves as if they shaved their hair. 

Orpheus's head lands in the River Hebrus, along with his lyre. His head continues to sing and the lyre continues to play until both are washed up on the island of Lesbos.

The poet's shade stepped down from earth to Hades;

To stroll again the places that it knew,
It felt its way toward fair Elysium.  
There Orpheus took his Eurydice, put arms around her 
Folding her to rest. Today they walk together,
side by side-- or if they so wish, he follows her, she, him, 
But as they move, however they may go, 
Orpheus may not turn a backward look at her.

Hadestown, a musical based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, won a Tony Award for Best Musical this year. I listened to the recording, and I recommend it if you can find it. (I checked it out from the library.)

The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice inspired a Middle English version which I read last year (in translation.)

Ceyx & Alcyone

Ceyx is the son of Lucifer (the morning star) and a friend of Peleus (the father of Achilles). He plans a voyage to Delphi. It is a dangerous journey, and his wife Alcyone pleads with him not to go, or to take her with him. His ship is destroyed in a storm.

Like a siege engines ram in iron against a fort, 
So the waves struck port and starboard of the ship,  
Or as great lions charge at hunters shields, 
So waves that rode the winds crashed the ship's sides,
And mounted at their will. Then decks began
To crack, pitch, wax, and ropes gave way, boards broken,
Sides gaping, while Death's sea poured in the hold.
Rain fell in curtains from black clouds; you'd think 
The very heavens had joined the sea, or that
The sails hung like pale sheets of sea and rain;
The starless night above them closed in darkness,
And from that dark came ragged lightning flashing
Red fires that danced across the waves; then sea 
Poured, rippling over each foot of deck and hull. 

Juno intervenes to help Alcyone and speaks to the god of Sleep for help. Sleep sends Ceyx's apparition to Alcyone in a dream. In the morning, Alcyone decides to take a walk on the beach, where she sees a man floating on the waves and recognizes him as her husband. She runs into the waves and turns into a bird. Then the gods turn both of them into birds. According to Wikipedia, the birds were kingfishers, called halcyon birds after Alcyone (Halcyon being another version of her name).     

Herbert James Draper, Halcyone. 1915.
She stripped herself, then ran upon a breaker
That caught the waves, and leapt as if broad wings
Took her to sea; even her cries were birdlike;
And as she neared the floating man beneath her,
She thrust her growing beak between his lips. 
The story is: he raised his face to hers, 
And I half think Ceyx did--if he had life.
The gods changed both to birds, and both were one, 
Though love had given them a strange mutation. 

I had never heard of this tale before, but I'm guessing that Alcyone was an inspiration for Tolkien's Elwing.

This is definitely one of the highlights for me, maybe because of the vivid descriptions. 

Book XII

the death of Achilles

Book XII includes several stories from the Trojan War and ends with the death of Achilles. The sea god Neptune, whose son Cygnus was killed by Achilles, speaks to his nephew Apollo:

O darling nephew of my heart, 
Best of my nephews and my brother's sons,
Who joined me as we built the walls of Troy, 
(A labor that is now too soon undone)
What of Troy fallen with many thousand dead?

Neptune goes on to say that it is beyond his power to face Achilles and asks Apollo to arrange Achilles's death. Apollo agrees and guides one of Paris's arrows to shoot Achilles. Ovid calls it  a dishonorable death, as Achilles had fallen prey to one whose best performance, timid at the best, was stealing wives of Greeks! 

Book XII concludes by introducing the dispute between Ajax and Ulysses (Odysseus) over Achilles's armor.
Agamemnon called all the Greek leaders together to decide between them. 

His splendor lives; it fills the rounded world,
And that is how the man should be remembered; 
The splendor is himself, son of Peleus, 
And Tartarus is not the place for him. 
His shield still goes to war against the world, 
And in his name all weapons go to war. 

my previous recaps f
Books I-III

Books IV-VI

Books VII-IX

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Book Beginnings #15, Friday 56 #16:The Song of Achilles

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader. The weekly post goes up every Thursday and bloggers can add their links all week. Here is my belated post!

My book this week is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

Synopsis from GoodReads:

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper - despite the displeasure of Achilles' mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

The beginning:
My father was a king and the son of kings. He was a short man, as most of us were, and built like a bull, all shoulders. He married my mother when she was fourteen and sworn by the priestess to be fruitful. It was a good match: she was an only child, and her father’s fortune would go to her husband.

He did not find out until the wedding that she was simple. Her father had been scrupulous about keeping her veiled until the ceremony, and my father had humored him. If she was ugly, there were always slave girls and serving boys. When at last they pulled off the veil, they say my mother smiled. That is how they knew she was quite stupid. Brides did not smile.

I have read a few chapters. I like it so far.

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.

For the Friday 56, here is 56%:

We gained the beach, and pulled the first ships onto the sand. Scouts were sent ahead to watch for further Trojan ambush, and guards were posted. Hot though it was, no one took off his armor. 

Quickly, while ships still clogged the harbor behind us, lots were drawn for the placement of each kingdoms camp. The spot assigned to the Phythians was at the furthest end of the beach, away from where the marketplace wud be, away from Try and all the other kings. I spared a  quick glance at Odysseus; it was he who had chosen the lots. His face was mild and inscrutable as always. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Sunday Post #9

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted at @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news~ A post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things we have received. Share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead.  See rules here: 
Sunday Post Meme

Earlier this month: 

12 Books of Summer 2019!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books From My Favorite Genre: Fantasy

WWW Wednesday June 12

Book Beginnings #13, The Friday 56 #14 & Book Blogger Hop #2: Tigana

Deal Me In: The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman

This past week:

Tigana review -- 4 stars!

Book Beginnings #14, The Friday 56 #15 & Book Blogger Hop #3: As You Like It - just started -- so far I am enjoying this!

Review: Tigana

Tigana Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book I have read by Guy Gavriel Kay. Last year I tried The Lions of Al-Rassan, and despite a great beginning, I did not like it enough to finish it. I think I stopped reading halfway through.

Setting: Set in the Palm, a hand-shaped landmass of rival kingdoms similar to Renaissance Italy. The Palm is divided between territories ruled by two tyrants: Brandin and Alberico. Both are sorcerers.

Plot: synopsis: Tigana is the magical story of a beleaguered country struggling to be free. It is the tale of a people so cursed by the dark sorceries of the tyrant king Brandin that even the very name of their once beautiful home cannot be spoken or remembered. But years after their homeland’s devastation, a handful of men and women set in motion a dangerous crusade—to overthrow their conquerors and bring back to the world the lost brightness of an obliterated name: Tigana.

I am not sure about the element of prophecy in this book. It seems like the plot would have been the same without it, so why bother? I also think the book might have been stronger without the epilogue.

These characters are defined by their past, and that's by far the most emotionally charged aspect of the book, so I would have liked to see it addressed a bit more. This is the real heart of the book, and sometimes the plot shenanigans were a bit boring in comparison.

Style: Generally I liked the writing style, but it is a little overwritten and melodramatic at times; needs to lower the voice a bit. However, there are times when this style really works, like the scene where Baerd shouts Tigana's name.

There seem to be many reviews praising Kay's writing style. I thought it had its moments, but I am hoping for something a little different the next time I try a book by him. Like I said, The Lions of al-Rassan has a great beginning, but the rest of the book... well...

Themes: revenge, nationalism, identity, the costs of revolution.

Characters: I don't want to cover all of them in this review, but most of them were well drawn. I appreciated the moral ambiguity here. The protagonists do some questionable things and almost everyone has some complexity.

Dianora: a woman from Tigana who falls in love with Brandin.

Brandin of Ygrath: The sorcerer who cursed Tigana, driven by revenge. One of the more interesting antagonists I've seen in a while, and somewhat sympathetic, although I wouldn't say that he is redeemed.

Best scenes involving other characters:
ch. 8: The moment Baerd shouts Tigana's name + ch. 15: Alessan's conversation with his dying mother.

Actually, those might just be the best scenes in the book as a whole.

I liked it overall even though I had some reservations. I will definitely read something else by this author, probably Under Heaven.

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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Review: The Histories

The Histories The Histories by Herodotus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an old review, from GoodReads. I wanted it on my blog, so I am posting it here.

“These are the researches of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, which he publishes, in the hope of preserving from decay the remembrance of what men have done, and of preventing the great and wonderful actions of the Greeks and the barbarians from losing their due meed of glory; and withal to put on record what were the grounds of feud.”

Herodotus’s reference to his “researches” (sometimes translated “inquiries”) uses the Greek word historie, from which we get “history.” This is the first recorded use of the word.

The main subject of The Histories is the twenty years (499-479 B.C.E) of war between Greece and Persia. Herodotus begins by presenting the alleged origins of enmity between Greece and Persia in mythic times. He adds Persian and Phoenician accounts that he has heard to Greek ones. These stories have to do with the abduction of women. According to the Persians, the Phoenicians began the quarrel by carrying off the Greek woman Io and taking her to Egypt. The Greeks retaliated by abducting the woman Europa from the Phoenicians, and later they carried off Medea of Colchis, which motivated Paris to abduct Helen. Herodotus says that the Persians trace their enmity toward the Greeks back to the Trojan War. The Phoenicians, on the other hand, insist that Io left willingly.

After summarizing these stories, Herodotus says that he will not discuss further which account is correct, and changes the subject to historical causes more recent than the legendary past: “I prefer to rely on my own knowledge, and to point out who it was in actual fact that first injured the Greeks…” Herodotus traces the beginning of the conflict to when Croesus of Lydia conquered the Greek towns of Asia, but Books I - IV focus on other issues. Most of this part of the book is concerned with geographical accounts, stories of notable people, and ethnographies of the peoples ruled by the Persians. Some scientific issues also come up, such as the cause of the flooding of the Nile. Starting with Book V, in which the Persians suppress the rebellion of the local Greek population in Persian territory (the Ionian Revolt) the narrative becomes more tightly focused.

Herodotus is a moralist; he presents the story of the Persian Wars as a story of how the hubris of the Persian rulers leads to their defeat, and demonstrates how “the god with his lightning smites always the bigger animals, and will not suffer them to wax insolent… likewise his bolts fall ever on the highest houses and the tallest trees” (Bk VII).

The website Livius.org has commentaries that I found really helpful when I was reading this.

The website also has an interesting essay, “The Significance of Marathon” on the historiography of the battle of Marathon, which occurs in Book VI.

“It is often said that the battle of Marathon was one of the few really decisive battles in history. The truth, however, is that we cannot establish this with certainty. Still, the fight had important consequences: it gave rise to the idea that East and West were opposites, an idea that has survived until the present day, in spite of the fact that 'Marathon' has become the standard example to prove that historians can better refrain from such bold statements.”

Some great reviews by other readers on GR:


https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... (this one’s pretty funny)

some highlights:
Bk I: The story of Croesus & Solon & Cyrus - The wealthy king of Lydia, Croesus, urges Solon, the Athenian lawgiver [magistrate] to admit that he is the happiest of men. (Croesus at this point as captured nearly all the Greek towns along the west coast of Asia.)

Solon warns him that no one can be called happy until he ends his life well. “Call him, however, until he die, not happy but fortunate. Scarcely, indeed, can any man unite all these advantages: as there is no country which contains within it all that it needs, but each, while it possesses some things, lacks others, and the best country is that which contains the most; so no single human being is complete in every respect — something is always lacking. He who unites the greatest number of advantages, and retaining them to the day of his death, then dies peaceably, that man alone, sire, in my judgment, is entitled to bear the name of ‘happy.’ But in every matter it behooves us to mark well the end: for oftentimes God gives men a gleam of happiness, and then plunges them into ruin.”

Croesus dismisses Solon’s answer, “since he thought that a man must be an arrant fool who made no account of the present good, but bade men always wait and mark the end.”

Croesus suffers for his arrogance when his son Atys is accidentally killed in a boar hunt. Croesus later attacks Cappadocia, part of the empire of Cyrus the Great (and part of modern Turkey). In the conflict that follows, Cyrus captures the city of Sardis. Croesus's other son is killed in the fighting, trying to protect his father, and Croesus is captured. Croesus tells Cyrus the story of Solon's warning to him years before, and how everything had turned out exactly as Solon had said, although it was nothing that especially concerned him, but applied to all mankind alike, and most to those who seemed to themselves happy... Then Cyrus, hearing what Croesus had said, relented, bethinking himself that he too was a man, and that he was a fellow man, and one who had once been as blessed by fortune as himself, that he was burning alive; afraid, moreover, of retribution, and full of the thought that whatever is human is insecure. So he bade them quench the blazing fire as quickly as they could, and take down Croesus and the other Lydians, which they tried to do, but the flames were not to be mastered.”

Croesus prays to Apollo and a rainstorm extinguishes the flames. Cyrus, “convinced by this that Croesus was a good man and a favourite of heaven” asked him after he was taken off the pile, "'Who it was that had persuaded him to lead an army into his country, and so become his foe rather than continue his friend?' 'What I did, oh! king, was to thy advantage and to my own loss. If there be blame, it rests with the god of the Greeks, who encouraged me to begin the war. No one is so foolish as to prefer war to peace, in which, instead of sons burying their fathers, fathers bury their sons. But the gods willed it so.”

Bk II: Herodotus’s story about Indian burial customs:

“… if one were to offer men to choose out of all the customs in the world as seemed to them the best, they would examine the whole number, and end by preferring their own; so convinced are they that their own usages surpass those of all others. Unless, therefore, a man was mad, it is not likely that he would make sport of such matters. That people have this feeling about their own laws may be seen by many proofs; among others, the following. Darius, after he had got the kingdom, called into his presence certain Greeks who were at hand, and asked -- 'What he should pay them to eat the bodies of their fathers when they died?' To which they answered, that there was no sum that would tempt them to do such a thing. He then sent for certain Indians, of the race called Callatians, men who eat their fathers, and asked them, while the Greeks stood by, and knew by the help of an interpreter all that was said -- 'What he should give them to burn the bodies of their fathers at their decease?' The Indians exclaimed aloud, and bade him forbear such language.”

Bk III: Sosicles of Corinth’s response to the Spartans, who at this point in the narrative plan to reinstate a tyrant in Athens. Sparta’s allies are skeptical of the plan, but only Sosicles the Corinthian argues against it:

“Surely the heaven will soon be below, and the earth above, and men will henceforth live in the sea, and fish take their place upon the dry land, since you, Lacedaemonians [another name for the Spartans] propose to put down free governments in the cities of Greece, and set up tyrannies in their room. There is nothing in the whole world so unjust, so bloody, as a tyranny. If, however, it seems to you a desirable thing to have the cities under despotic rule, begin by putting a tyrant over yourselves, and then establish despots in other states… If you knew what tyranny was as well as ourselves, you would be better advised than you now are in regard to it.”

Sosicles then tells of how Corinth was once ruled by an oligarchy, before it became democratic.

Bk VII: The battle of Thermopylae
“And now there arose a fierce struggle between the Persians and the Lacedaemonians over the body of Leonidas, in which the Greeks four times drove back the enemy, and at last by their great bravery succeeded in bearing off the body. This combat was scarcely ended when the Persians with Ephialtes approached; and the Greeks, informed that they drew nigh, made a change in the manner of their fighting. Drawing back into the narrowest part of the pass, and retreating even behind the cross wall, they posted themselves upon a hillock, where they stood all drawn up together in one close body, except only the Thebans. The hillock whereof I speak is at the entrance of the straits, where the stone lion stands which was set up in honour of Leonidas. Here they defended themselves to the last, such as still had swords using them, and the others resisting with their hands and teeth; till the barbarians, who in part had pulled down the wall and attacked them in front, in part had gone round and now encircled them upon every side, overwhelmed and buried the remnant which was left beneath showers of missile weapons.

Thus nobly did the whole body of Lacedaemonians and Thespians behave; but nevertheless one man is said to have distinguished himself above all the rest, to wit, Dieneces the Spartan. A speech which he made before the Greeks engaged the Medes, remains on record. One of the Trachinians told him, ‘Such was the number of the barbarians, that when they shot forth their arrows the sun would be darkened by their multitude.’ Dieneces, not at all frightened at these words, but making light of the Median numbers, answered ‘Our Trachinian friend brings us excellent tidings. If the Medes darken the sun, we shall have our fight in the shade.’ ”

Bk VIII: Xerxes reflects on the passage of time:
“And now, as he looked and saw the whole Hellespont covered with the vessels of his fleet, and all the shore and every plain about Abydos as full as possible of men, Xerxes congratulated himself on his good fortune; but after a little while he wept.

Then Artabanus, the king’s uncle (the same who at the first spake so freely against the king, and advised him not to lead his army against Greece) when he heard that Xerxes was in tears, went to him, and said: ‘How different, sire, is what thou art now doing, from what thou didst a little while ago! Then thou didst congratulate thyself; and now, behold! thou weepest.’

‘There came upon me,’ replied he, ‘a sudden pity, when I thought of the shortness of man’s life, and considered that of all this host, numerous as it is, not one will be alive when a hundred years are gone by.’

‘And yet there are sadder things in life than that,’ returned the other. ‘Short as our time is, there is no man, whether it be here among this multitude or elsewhere, who is so happy, as not to have felt the wish — I will not say once, but full many a time — that he were dead rather than alive. Calamities fall upon us; sicknesses vex and harass us, and make life, short though it be, to appear long. So death, through the wretchedness of our life, is a most sweet refuge to our race; and God, who gives the tastes that we enjoy of pleasant times, is seen, in his very gift, to be envious.’”

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Friday, June 21, 2019

Review: The Iliad

The Iliad The Iliad by Homer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an old review, from GoodReads. I wanted it on my blog, so I am posting it here.

When I read The Iliad the first time, a few years ago, I read the Samuel Butler translation, alternating between reading and listening to the LibriVox audio recording. (Also, I read Christopher Logue's excellent retelling of The Iliad last year: War Music: An Account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer's Iliad.)

This is the Robert Fagles translation. I took the time to read a few passages out loud, and this translation works really well for that. It was absolutely worth the reread, and I’ll probably read this again eventually. I'm very glad I came back to it; I think I was more emotionally invested this time, since I was more familiar with the story. There's just so much going on that it's hard to fully appreciate the first time around. I might want to try the Alexander Pope translation next time.

My favorite characters are probably Odysseus and Hector. I also want to reread The Odyssey but I’m not sure when I’ll get to it. Probably next year…

from Bernard Knox’s introduction:
"Everywhere in Homer’s saga of the rage of Achilles and the battles before Troy we are made conscious at one and the same time of war’s ugly brutality and what Yeats called its terrible beauty. The Iliad accepts violence as a permanent factor in human life and accepts it without sentimentality, for it is just as sentimental to pretend that war does not have its monstrous ugliness as it is to deny that has its own strange and fatal beauty, a power, which can call out in men resources of endurance, courage and self-sacrifice that peacetime, to our sorrow and loss, can rarely command. Three thousand years have not changed the human condition in this respect; we are still lovers and victims of the will to violence, and so long as we are, Homer will be read as its truest interpreter."

some of my favorite passages:

Book 9:
One and the same lot for the man who hangs back
and the one who battles hard. The same honor waits
for the coward and brave. They both go down to Death,
the fighter who shirks, the one who works to exhaustion.

Book 11:
So under Atrides’ onslaught the Trojans dropped in flight,
stampedes of massive stallions dragged their empty chariots
clattering down the passageways of battle, stallions
yearning to feel their masters’ hands at the reins
but there they lay, craved far more by the vultures than by wives.

Book 21:
So the illustrious son of Priam begged for life,
but only heard a merciless voice in answer: “Fool,
don’t talk to me of ransom. No more speeches.
Before Patroclus met his day of destiny, true,
it warmed my heart a bit to spare some Trojans:
droves I took alive and auctioned off as slaves.
But now not a single Trojan flees his death,
not one the gods hand over to me before your gates,
none of all the Trojans, Priam least of all!
Come, friend, you too must die. Why moan about it so?
Patroclus died, a far, far better man than you.
And look: you see how handsome and powerful I am?
The son of a great man, the mother who gave me life
a deathless goddess. But even for me, I tell you,
death and the strong force of fate are waiting.

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Review: Beren and LĂșthien

Beren and LĂșthien Beren and LĂșthien by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an old review from GoodReads, I just wanted it on my blog so I am posting it here.

This book combines different versions of the story of Beren and Luthien, one of the Middle-earth legends mentioned in LotR, presented in one volume. (For those who haven’t read it, the real-world myths that Tolkien draws on here include the story of Rapunzel and the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and he got the idea for the singing duels from the Kalevala.) I loved it! I really think the characters come across much more powerfully when you read all the different versions (especially the Lay of Leithian).

There’s a prologue that explains "the story so far" for readers who haven’t read The Silmarillion. Most of this book consists of "Tale of Tinuviel" and the extracts from the poem "The Lay of Lethian," which present a more detailed version of the story than appears in The Silmarillion (chapter 19). But there is also some new material -- prose versions that add more to the story in The Silmarillion. There are a few things that made more sense to me after reading this book, compared to reading the Silmarillion version.

"The Tale of Tinuviel" was originally part of The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two. It’s more whimsical than either the later prose version, or the poem. Instead of Sauron, Beren and Luthien face down Tevildo the king of the Cats. And the Noldorin kingdom of Nargothrond wasn’t part of the story at this point, so the darkest elements of the tale are missing. And personally I really love that stuff, and the way it contrasts with one of the rare happy endings of the First Age.

I love the little detail that Beren could hear Luthien across the distance between them: "at night time it seemed to him that his heart heard her sometimes weeping softly for him far away in the woodlands of her home: and this was indeed true."

SPOILER review - I can't hide text here like I can on GoodReads, so keep reading or not, depending
on how you feel about spoilers.

This bit is interesting, because it’s so different from what happens in the Lay and in The Silmarillion:
"… Tinuviel grew at last to long sorely for Gwendeling her mother and the songs of sweet magic she was used to sing to her children as the twilight fell in the woodlands by their ancient halls. Often she half fancied she heard the flute of Dairon her brother, in pleasant glades where they sojourned, and her heart grew heavy."

She tells Beren that she wants to return home (!), and Beren is the one who’s reluctant to leave their life in the woods with Huan, This seems like one of the most significant changes to the characters that happens in the later version - in which he’s the one who tries to leave her behind when they reach the borders of Doriath, and she always insists on coming with him.

- Why does Luthien succeed where Finrod fails (vs Sauron)? Finrod had two disadvantages: the doom of the Noldor and Finrod & co’s guilt about the Kinslaying, which they arrived at Alqualonde too late to prevent. (The latter is less explicit, but I think it’s there, and of course the two things are related; I don’t think the Valar would have pronounced the doom of the Noldor in the first place if they had left peacefully.) Also, I'm pretty sure Finrod & his followers (and Galadriel, and their brothers) had intended to board the stolen Teleri ships until Feanor burned them, so they're not altogether innocent.

- When I read "A Passage Extracted From the Quenta" (p 105) I had a very satisfying aha! moment. The Silm says that when Sauron pierced the disguises of Finrod & co., "their kinds were revealed" but this version has it as "they were revealed as Elves, but the spells of Felagund concealed their names and quest." I have always wondered why Sauron didn’t immediately know who Beren was, since Beren was famous among Morgoth’s servants for killing a lot of orcs & giant spiders.

- I feel sorry for Carcharoth, who clearly knows that there’s something fundamentally messed up about his existence. The poem is more explicit about this than the prose version, but there is something really sad about his predicament. ("For one brief hour escape the net/The dreadful doom of life forget!")

I think the extracts from the Lay of Leithian here include the most memorable parts of the story. The version included in The Silmarillion is complete in length, but not in detail; in particular, there’s much more dialogue in the poem.

I think my favorite passages are these two:
[Finrod and Beren in the dungeons of Sauron]

To Felagund then Beren said: 
'''Twere little loss if I were dead, 
and I am minded all to tell, 
and thus, perchance, from this dark hell 
thy life to loose. I set thee free 
from thine old oath, for more for me 
hast thou endured than e'er was earned.' 
'Ah, Beren, Beren hast not learned 
that promises of Morgoth's folk 
are frail breath. From this dark yoke 
of pain shall neither ever go, 
whether Sauron learn our names or no,
with his consent. Nay, more, I think, 
yet deeper of torment we should drink, 
knew he that son of Barahir 
and Felagund were captive here, 
and even worse if he should know 
the dreadful errand we did go.' 
A devil's laugh they ringing heard 
within their pit. 'True, true the word 
I hear you speak,' a voice then said. 
''Twere little loss if he were dead, 
the outlaw mortal. But the king, 
the Elf undying, many a thing 
no man could suffer may endure…"

[Luthien to Beren, once she catches up to him at the gates of Angband to give him a piece of her mind]

"A love is mine, as great a power
as thine, to shake the gate and tower
of death with challenge weak and frail
that yet endures, and will not fail
nor yield, unvanquished were it hurled
beneath the foundations of the world.
Beloved fool! escape to seek
from such pursuit; in might so weak
to trust not, thinking it well to save
from love thy loved, who welcomes grave
and torment sooner than in guard
of kind intent to languish, barred,
wingless and helpless him to aid
for whose support her love was made!'

Thus back to him came LĂșthien:
they met beyond the ways of Men;
upon the brink of terror stood
between the desert and the wood."

Metamorphoses Books X-XII

Two great tales in these chapters:  Orpheus & Eurydice and the less famous Ceyx & Alcyone. Book X Orpheus & Eurydice  Ed...