strange_complex: (Latin admirable sentiment)
I encountered Petronius for the first time at school, when we read sections from the Cena Trimalchionis for what it reveals about Roman attitudes towards slaves and freedman. As a postgrad, I returned to consider the design of Trimalchio's house and his funerary monument, and also had a go at translating the stories of the werewolf and the widow of Ephesus in various Latin classes. At Warwick, I set (in English) Echion's speech on the gladiatorial spectacles of Titus and Norbanus as a way of helping first-year students to understand ancient attitudes towards the games. Now, though, I have finally done for this book what I did two years ago for Apuleius' Metamorphoses: actually read it as a proper novel, rather than just mining it for historical data and language practice.

Not that I can quite do that in the way that its author intended, since unlike Apuleius' work, it survives now only in fragments. In some places, in fact, I'm pretty surprised so much does survive, given that the principal means of transmission for ancient texts is being copied out by medieval monks. The surviving portions include, to give just one example, a scene of the main character (Encolpius) being anally raped with a dildo rubbed with crushed pepper and nettle seeds. Yet this clearly was copied out; and indeed was still being read widely and treated as a great work of literature by Christian authors such as Sidonius Apollinaris, Fulgentius, Jerome and Isidore of Seville, all of whom use citations from Petronius to demonstrate grammatical or other points in their own work. I suppose it just goes to show a) how an established status as great literature can carry a text forward into a new age even if its subject-matter might be considered distasteful and b) that we shouldn't over-exaggerate the extent of early or medieval Christian prudery just because we are looking back at it through a Victorian filter.

The identity of the author )

The plot and structure )

What I got out of reading it )

But I'm off into territory that more properly belongs in my academic publications, here. In this context, I'll content myself by saying that Petronius has been a brilliant read - and I will be back for Lucian's True History before terribly long.

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strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
This is a rather odd review to be writing, because the subject of this book is my step-great-great-grandfather, and its author is my mother. But, then again, I did finish reading it two nights ago, and I am blogging all my leisure reading again this year. So I guess I kind of have to, really!

Of course, the book itself, now that it has finally emerged into the world, is only the culmination of a project which I've been intimately aware of for many years. Origins )

My own reading experience )

A man of his time )

Naturally, I'm bound to conclude by saying that this book was brilliant, and that everyone should rush out and buy a copy. ;-) But I really did get a lot out of it, and not solely because it concerned a (step-)ancestor, or allowed me to get closer to the subject my mother has been working on for so many years. West's life gives us a genuine window into the world of a typical Victorian medic - and in this book I think my mother has done a great job of helping us to see through it. I'm deeply, fiercely proud of her achievement.

Meanwhile, in a brilliant stroke of timing, this seems like the perfect opportunity to plug once more the serialisation of West's last diary which I am undertaking to celebrate the publication of this book over at [ profile] jamesfraserwest. The first entry will in fact appear on Friday, since West for some reason did not start writing in his 1883 diary until January 11th (more details here). I know a lot of you have friended the diary already - but if you kind of meant to take a look last time I mentioned it and never quite got round to it, or thought you'd wait until it started up properly, now is the time to get over there and hit that add button! It's very much worth reading, and since it runs out in April when West enters his final illness, it really is a case of add now or miss out. Hope to see you there! :-)

strange_complex: (Leptis Magna theatre)
When I originally set out to record all the books I'd read this year, I stated that this was not going to include my work-related reading. This book, however, I read during my usual bedtime leisure reading slot, and primarily for my own enjoyment - although with the obvious secondary motive of broadening my professional expertise as well - so it counts as sufficiently non-worky to be blogged.

Cut for length )

These are the nigglings of a professional, though - for any normal purposes, I'd whole-heartedly recommend this translation, and indeed the book. As for myself, I think my next move should be to seek out a decent rendering of what remains of Petronius.


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