The Importance of Articles

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“Articles” here refers not to things but to those two modifiers in grammar:  the definite article, “the” and the indefinite article “a (an).”  I saw a performance of “An Iliad” recently.  Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare used the translation of Homer’s Iliad by Robert Fagles as a primary, but not exclusive source for their play, which in the version I saw, features one actor and a musician.

.What was performed was definitely not The Iliad, the epic poem by Homer written down more than two millennia ago and available in many translations.  Those translations usually specify their title as “The Iliad of Homer” but no other version of that tragic story of the battle over Ilium (Troy) has survived.

The Iliad was presumably sung to audiences of elite people; some may have had family ties to the characters and the events.  It would, however, be deadly dull on a modern stage.  It is full of long speeches and repetitive description. So Peterson and O’Hare produced “An Iliad” in which the language switches back and forth from Fagles’ translated lines to other levels of speech, as the actor, portraying the poet, reveals what a strain it has been to repeat the story again and again.

In the mix are references to more recent wars.  The modern production calls into question the ideas of honor, heroism, and reprisal which for Homer were important lessons of the story.

The Iliad is part of our shared European heritage. It has influenced such works as Milton’s Paradise Lost.   I hope young people still read it in school, though reading the Greek is a lot less common than in Milton’s day.  Then some of them could create their own Iliads, each of which would be called “An Iliad.”  Or would they call them “The Iliad of George” and “The Iliad of Susan.”  I hope they would use the indefinite article, which would be an invitation to create more of them.


What Is Metaphor?

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Metaphor is a good Greek word which means “a carrying from one place to another.”  It is, originally,  an action, not a thing.  It is the operation which changes a word by a new association.  The Greeks thought of it as “transferring to one word the meaning of another.”

The Greeks were better at abstractions than the English, apparently, since the current usage of “metaphor” usually refers to the thing to which the original word is compared.

According to this research in my old, patched together on both sides of the spine, Greek Dictionary, then, metaphor is not something you can choose, as from a list (“Shall I call this state a ship?  Shall I call this life a hard road?”)

Shall I say that research may upset the apple cart?  My poetry may be in for metamorphosis – a change of form.