Saturday, October 22, 2005

Lost books perfected in the imaginaton

Stuart Kelly writes about lost books for The Australian. He asks: Is becoming lost the worst that can happen to a book? Not necessarily. The lost book, like the person you never dared ask to the dance, becomes infinitely more alluring simply because it can be perfect only in the imagination.

Some lost books he mentions:

Homer, Margites

IN the fourth chapter of his On the Art of Poetry, Aristotle wrote: "Homer was the supreme poet in the serious style ... the first to indicate forms that comedy was to assume, for his Margites has the same relationship to our comedies as his Iliad and Odyssey bear to our tragedies."

The Margites, it is claimed, was Homer's first work. The name of the hero, Margites, derives from the Greek margos, meaning madman. All that is left of Homer's comic epic are a few lines, pickled in other works. The Scholiast, writing on Aeschines, gives a thumbnail sketch that fits with his etymologically unfortunate name: "Margites ... a man who, though fully grown, did not know if his mother or father had given birth to him and who would not sleep with his wife, saying he was afraid she would give a bad account of him to his mother."

Plato and Aristotle each record a snippet of the poem. From Plato's fragmentary Alcibiades we learn that "he knew many things, but all badly". Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics, offers a different hint: "The gods taught him neither to dig nor to plough, nor any other skill; he failed in every craft."

Aeschylus, the lost plays

AESCHYLUS wrote more than 80 plays. Only seven have survived, although copious fragments persist on papyrus or in commentaries.

Much of the blame attaches to Ptolemy III (247-222BC), who ordered the systematic cataloguing of all 200,000 scrolls in the Library of Alexandria.

When this labour began in earnest, an anomaly of unthinkable proportions was discovered. The library lacked a complete text of Aeschylus. Given the reverence in which the Athenian dramatist was (and is) held, this seemed an unforgivable oversight.

There was, however, only one such text in existence. It belonged to the Athenians.

More here.


Blogger Tom Saunders said...

There's a thriller plot in this, isn't there.

9:50 am  
Anonymous Aristea Talantis - Skinner said...

This reminded of something that happened many years ago in an English literature class in secondary school. Sick of Banjo Patterson and Shakespeare, I suggested that we look at Byron. The answer was the only reason I suggested Byron was because of my Greek background and that was the end of it. All things scandalous always caught my interest.

3:45 am  
Blogger kathryn said...

Tom, yes! And what a hook: "Is becoming lost the worst that can happen to a book?"

9:01 am  
Blogger kathryn said...

Ari -- that was the answer from the teacher? Oh my!

9:02 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes that was an answer from a teacher...


9:09 am  
Blogger The Blah Brain said...

Hey, you live in Ithaca? So do I! ha

6:08 pm  

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