Review: Ancient Greek Lyrics

Review of Ancient Greek Lyrics by Willis Barnstone
By A.Z. Foreman

I could say that this collection, though not entirely valueless, leaves one unimpressed. If I wished to be even more candid, I might say that, in this book, Barnstone shows himself to be poet of considerable talent whose abilities nonetheless have not stopped him from occasionally coming across as a colossus of incompetence bestriding a narrow world of misconceptions, that a potential first-rate poet has a habit of recycling second-hand ideas which is exceeded only by his apparent inability to subject them to even rudimentary critical scrutiny. But why just say that, when I can show you why it's true?

Let me start at the beginning. That's always a good place to start.

Barnstone's Preface

After a wholly unobjectionable introduction by the classicist William E. McCulloh, I came to the prefatory essay by Barnstone entitled A Note On Selections, Texts And Translation. By the end, I was  unimpressed. As a scholar, Barnstone leaves a lot to be desired. Were this the extent of his flaws, he would have my forgiveness. However, a slight examination of Barnstone's historical knowledge foists upon the mind an unholy phantasmagoria of absurdity and reveals some bizarre notions about a great deal. This book in many ways is simply untrustworthy.

Barnstone says
The most formidable problem in translating from Greek has been to find a just approximation of Greek stanza forms and meter. It is at least consoling that there can never be a single solution for the transfer of prosodic techniques from one language to another. Poems in ancient Greek were composed primarily to be sung, chanted, or recited, to be heard not read. 
The last sentence might be somewhat true if one were to restrict oneself to classical and pre-classical verse. But this volume includes Hellenistic and even early Byzantine authors, and both (the latter especially) were writing for the eye as much as, or perhaps more than, the ear. Greek poets, including some in this volume, continued to write quantitative verse long after syllable-weight and contrastive vowel length had slowly ceased to be a feature of the Greek language itself in the wake of the change from a pitch-accent to a stress accent. Indications of stress-sensitivity in verse only appeared centuries after the language itself (at least in most regions) had become stress-timed.

Barnstone goes on:
To approximate the easy conversational flow of many of the Greek poems, I have more often given a syllabic rather than an accentual regularity to the lines. An exception is the longer elegiac poem where the forceful dactyls seemed to call for a regular (though free- falling) beat in alternating lines of equal feet.
One is immediately tempted to ask for clarification. How, in a stress-timed language such as English, does syllabic versification make one bit of sense? How exactly does this syllabic regularity approximate any flow of the Greek poems, let alone a "conversational" one? Classical Greek had a moraically timed prosody sensitive to syllable-weight, and classical Greek metrical phenomena reflect this. Some languages, such as Spanish and Icelandic, are syllabically timed. This means the syllable is the basis of the underlying rhythm, and each syllable is perceived as having roughly the same duration. This is why syllabic verse works in e.g. Spanish and Italian. This isn't the case at all with English. If you don't believe me, I'll illustrate. The two sentences before this one have ten syllables each and are prosodically quite different. This is because English is stress-timed, with a prosody based on stress and not syllable-groupings as the underlying time-unit. Speakers of stress-timed languages tend to develop metrical habits based on stress. Note how the following limerick achieves a discernible rhythmic effect through stress even though no two lines have the same syllable-count:
There once was a Goddess named Venus
Whose beauty outdid Athena's
In the pageant of Eris
For the judge was Paris
Who had taken a bribe through the penis.
If, as he intimates, Barnstone wants poems to be appreciated aurally and not graphically, then he has some truly peculiar ways of implementing that idea. It gets stranger:
In the matter of diction, it is important to remember that the Greeks, as most poets in the past—a Spenser or Kavafis excepted—wrote in a language which seemed natural and contemporary to their readers. My intention has been to use a contemporary idiom, generally chaste, but colloquial as the occasion suggests.
Barnstone does know Ancient Greek. At least, it would be odd if he didn't, given that he once held the title of Professor of Greek at Colgate University. I have to reassure myself of this because I am baffled as to how anyone can know anything about the history of the Greek language, Greek poetry (or any poetry, for that matter) and believe what Barnstone says above. Most poets (especially poets who weren't writing for the stage) in the past did not write in a language which seemed "natural" or  "contemporary" (as we would understand the terms) to what Barnstone now calls "readers" as if to let us in on the fact that the "heard, not read" schtick is, well, a schtick. Examples of this in the French, Arabic, Persian, Chinese, Dutch and Greek traditions are so readily available that I can't believe Barnstone needs this pointed out to him as to be unremarkable.  The widespread preference for serious/prestigious poetry that is not written for the stage yet consciously mimics living, contemporary speech is a relatively recent phenomenon. For example, until quite recently and with a few exceptions such as medieval Andalusia, no Arabic poet was at liberty (let alone likely) to publish a book of verse in anything like the language he (or occasionally she) actually spoke. Even Bedouin oral poets preserved (and many still do preserve) a traditional register for verse quite different from that of normal discourse. The literary register of Arabic has only recently given any ground to the colloquial registers in the field of versecraft. Nor is such a thing as unusual as is often imagined. It has been a  pervasive tendency of "elevated" verse-composition, in many cultures all over the world and throughout history, to display markedly conservative, archaic, formal or anomalous features relative to written prose, let alone the author's natural speech. Though there are exceptions to this, they are not nearly numerous enough to be mistaken for instances of a rule. This is true of Greek especially in  Hellenistic and Byzantine times thanks to the "Atticism" that preponderated among the literate classes, though it can also be observed throughout the history of pre-modern literary Greek. Pindar's labyrinthine word-order was not (and demonstrably could not have been) a feature of natural Greek utterance anymore than the penchant of e.g. Callimachus and Theocritus for deliberate archaism in both grammar and word-choice. The pervasiveness of this rule of artifice is evident from the fact that possible and/or partial exceptions to it, such as Sappho, are noteworthy for their absence from the bandwagon. For example, J.F. Nims says of Sappho that
her simplicity comes through in the word order which is that of common sense (of impassioned common sense.) Her poems are almost without literary artifice... she was perhaps the only Greek poet to use the very words she heard around her.
What, then, does it say of Barnstone that he uses terms like "natural" and "conversational" to characterize a tradition in which a lack of artifice was unusual? Frankly I cannot believe  that a professor of Greek needs to have this sort of thing pointed out to him.  Next amazing revelation: bananas are yellow.

Barnstone goes on:
In most cases the Greek rather than Latinized spelling has been followed, thus Alkaios and Theokritos, not Alcaeus and Theocritus. In recent years the English transliteration of Greek words has become common and it is, I believe, essentially more pleasant and satisfying to read. It is a new practice, however, with rules unfixed, used differently by different hands; I am aware of instances where I have not been entirely consistent where the sin of inconsistency is in the end less gauche than the virtue of absolute order. So, while making the reader aware that Pindar and Plato are really Pindaros and Platon, I have persisted in referring to them as Plato and Pindar. Perhaps in a few years when original places and texts are more familiar to us than English maps and translations, we shall speak of Livorno, not Leghorn, Thessaloniki not Salonika, and even Pindaros not Pindar.
The world envisioned in the last sentence seems about as realistic as one where English-speakers refer to Germany, Lebanon and Armenia as Deutschland, Lubnān and Hayestan. Anyway, even with Barnstone's admission of inconsistency, if Pindar and Plato are allowed their traditional names for familiarity's sake, why must Aphrodite be Afroditi and Crete be Kriti? One could be forgiven for asking if Barnstone is under the impression that a little sprinkling of Modern Greek pronunciation is called for? (Ancient Greek had no "f" sound. The sound represented by "ph" in e.g. "phoenix" was actually an aspirated "p".) Even if so, how, then, is Psapfo in place of Sappho? The Modern Greek pronunciation of her name is sapfó. What Barnstone seems to have done is to take Sappho's name in her native Aeolic dialect (psapphō) and given the letters their modern Greek phonetic values. I find this about as pleasant as  fellating Optimus Prime, and about as satisfying as I would any other ostentatious display of mock-authenticity 

Barnstone on Sappho

Speaking of Sappho, when Barnstone pontificates on her, things get really...peculiar. Consider this excerpt from his special introduction to Sappho which comes toward the end of the book:
Sappho suffered from book-burning religious authorities, who left us largely scraps of torn papyrus found in waterless wastes of North Africa. Such maltreatment has especially modernized her into a minimalist poet of few but important words, connected often more by elliptic conjecture than clear syntax. But what a full living voice comes through those ruins! Every phrase seems to be an autonomous poem.
Really? What kind of autonomous poem is e.g. the single fragment ἆς θέλετ᾽ ὔμμες (as long as you like)? What kind of "full living voice comes through" in the following fragment?
...]ρηον θαλάμω τωδεσ[....
....]ις εὔποδα νύμφαν αβ[....
...chamber..../...the bride with her gorgeous feet...
Of the "book-burning religious authorities" Barnstone has this to say:
To the Church mind Sappho represented the culmination of moral laxity, and her work was treated with extreme disapproval. About 380 CE Saint Gregory of Nazianzos, Bishop of Constantinople, ordered the burning of Sappho’s writings wherever found. She had already been violently attacked as early as 180 CE by the Assyrian ascetic Tatian: “Sappho was a whorish woman, love-crazy, who sang about her own licentiousness” (Orat. ad Graecos, 53).
Then in 391 a mob of Christian zealots partially destroyed Ptolemy Soter’s Classical library in Alexandria. The often repeated story of the final destruction of this famous library by the Arab general Amr ibn al-‘Asand Caliph Umar is now rejected by historians. Again we hear that in 1073 Sappho’s writings were publicly burned in Rome and Constantinople by order of Pope Gregory VII.
This is a rather serious blunder. The legends, for legends they indeed are, about Pope Gregory and Saint Gregory of Nazianzos burning Sappho's books have their origins in the Renaissance. It baffles me that Barnstone has managed not to have learned this, given how much interest he seems to have in Sappho unless he has merely been so swindled by his dislike for Christian orthodoxy as to buy into that tauromerda. For in fact, St. Gregory was actually quite a fan of Sappho's work, and had no qualms about weaving in allusions to her in his own verse. Christianity has enough real ugliness to bash without irresponsible authors like Barnstone handing down as fact some rumor made up by a few 16th century humanists.

Moreover, no portion of the Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed by a mob of Christian zealots. A pagan temple called the Serapeum which Christians destroyed had, at one point, housed a library. It is unclear whether this remained by the time the temple was destroyed and, if so, whether what it housed was really a remnant of The Great Library. In any event, most of the Great Library's holdings had been lost over a century earlier during Zenobia's rebellion.

Anyway, lets leave aside Barnstone's apparent lack of interest in finding or telling the truth and move on to the actual translations, shall we?

The Translations Themselves: The Good, The Bad, and the Unholy
Beyond an ability to read Greek and write in one's target language, translating Ancient Greek poetry requires that one have a knowledge of the diachronic semantics of the Greek lexicon (i.e. how a given word's usage changes depending on the time period), an awareness of the mythological and literary resources to which allusion may be made, and an ability to choose among variant manuscript readings (or at least know which editors to rely on.) In this, as we'll see, Barnstone falls quite short.

Lest anybody assume that I'm going to keep attacking Barnstone at his weakest points, let me start this section out by taking him at his strongest. Below is one of his finest renderings in the book. It's fragment 1 by Semonides of Amorgos (these days more famous for the misogyny demonstrated in fragment 7 which Barnstone, mercifully for me, left out). I reproduce the text in its entirety because good things should be shared
My child, deep-thundering Zeus controls the end 
of all that is, disposing as he wills. 
We who are mortals have no mind; we live like cattle, 
day to day, knowing nothing of god’s plans 
to end each one of us. Yet we are fed 
by hope and faith to dream impossible plans. 
Some wait for a day to come, others watch 
the turning of years. No one among the mortals feels 
so broken as not to hope in coming time to fly 
home rich to splendid goods and lands. 
Yet before he makes his goal, odious old age 
lays hold of him first. Appalling disease 
consumes another. Some are killed in war 
where death carries them under the dark earth. 
Some drown and die under the myriad waves 
when a hurricane slams across the blue salt water 
cracking their cargo ship. Others rope a noose 
around their wretched necks and choose to die, 
abandoning the sun of day. A thousand black spirits 
waylay man with unending grief and suffering. 
If you listen to my counsel, you won’t want 
the good things of life; nor batter your heart 
by torturing your skull with cold remorse.
"Deep-thundering" takes a word normally used to describe low voices and tacks it onto a word associated with the rumbling of the elements. The context of a sentient being, Zeus, saves it from cliché. It is a nice rendering of βαρύκτυπος barýktypos (though the latter is used in Greek to describe the loud sea as well as the loud sky.) νοῦς δ' οὐκ ἐπ' ἀνθρώποισιν  is likewise perfectly served by "we who are mortals have no mind."
But after that, it starts to go off the rails here and there. ἀλλ' ἐπήμεροι / ἃ δὴ βοτὰ ζόουσιν is far more forceful than the rather literalistically limp "we live like cattle / day to day" for the Greek ἐπήμερος epḗmeros also suggests "transitory, fleeting." The sentiment that comes across is something like "we live as cattle, beholden to the passage of days", or perhaps more interpretatively "living as grazing animals, we creatures of mere days."
"We are fed by hope and faith to dream" is well-thought English, and worthy of Semonides. But the 
"Impossible plans" immediately thereafter is a total failure to render the force of ἄπρηκτος áprēktos which is more "that which is unavailing, futile, Sisyphean, a non-starter". A time period that is ἄπρηκτος is a time when nothing can happen, (and in later authors an ἄπρηκτος day is a day on which no work is done and therefore no profits are made.) A man who is ἄπρηκτος is unsuccessful, idle, pathetic or (in later Greek medical texts) impotent. Barnstone would have done better to use a word like  pointless or useless. Plus there are a few things like unending grief that seem clichéful to me. 

There are several other such felicities and infelicities in the rest of Barnstone's rendering, though it would hardly serve the purposes of a review to point them all out with the same meticulous pedantry.

I would like to draw attention to a few other things which have less to do with Barnstone's ability to turn an English phrase than his sensitivity (or rather lack thereof) to what his Greek text is doing, and his heavy reliance on what translation-theorists these days like to call "domestication.

Regarding his tin-ear for Greek semantics, I note that he renders πορφυρὴ ἅλς porphyrḕ háls as "blue salt water". Now, ἅλς does indeed mean "salt" or "brine, sea" and so "salt water" is, I suppose, a reasonable literal rendering (even if "salt-bitter sea" or some such would've done a better connotative job.) However, the rendering of πορφυρή as "blue" suggests that Barnstone understood this adjective as a color-word. This adjective is indeed used with the meaning "purple, flushed, rosy" (from πορφύρα, a fish used to make purple dye). Presumably Barnstone decided that, since "purple" has totally inapposite connotations in English, he ought to replace it with some less weird color such as "blue."  One of the many problems with this is that πορφυρή does not, in fact, refer to a color here- at least not primarily. In early poetry πορφυρή actually means something in the semantic range of "heaving, surging, rushing, truculent" (<- πορφύρω "to heave, to roil") when applied to the sea (as is the case in this poem.)  Due to folk-etymology, readers/listeners of later centuries simply assumed there to be a color-component to the word in all contexts and such phrases in Homer as αἷμα πορφύρεον torrential blood, πορφύρεος θάνατος onrushing death, and πορφυρὴ θάλασσα heaving sea were understood to mean roughly purple blood, crimson death, dark red sea, by e.g. Tacitus. This may seem like a trifle, but it is one example (and far more like it could be adduced) of how Barnstone fails to keep diachronic differences in mind. Barnstone is not reading the Greek text, so much as reading into it. 

On another note, much which the Anglophone reader would find foreign or un-modern in this poem is stripped away. People and places of mythological significance are often made invisible. Thus one god is demoted to the adjective "rich" (the Greek has Πλοῦτος  the wealth-god Plutus), another is reduced to the noun "war" (the Greek has Ἄρης, the War-God Ares), Ἀίδης "Hades" is made an improper noun "death". Zeus, at least, is allowed godhood, and the Κῆρες Kē̂res or "death-spirits" (somewhat like "angels of death" only without the Christianity) are permitted to remain spirits of a sort as Barnstone converts them into "black spirits."

Now, it is common in Greek to use a god's name as a metonymic reference to what he/she stands for.  For example, Ἀφροδίσια Aphrodī́sia "Things Of Aphrodite" came to mean "sex-life" as when Plato has someone ask Sophocles “πῶς... ἔχεις πρὸς τἀφροδίσια; ἔτι οἷός τε εἶ γυναικὶ συγγίγνεσθαι?"  How's your sex-life? Can you still get it on with a woman? Moreover, often that god's name was actually coopted from a common noun associated with him (as is the case with Plutus and, probably, Ares as well.) Therefore, Barnstone's nominal impropriety may seem justified. However, there is textual evidence that suggests that the gods themselves are referred to in this poem in particular. The names themselves are made suggestive by the poem's topic. The wealth-god Πλοῦτος Plutus in the context of death immediately brings to mind an echo of Πλούτων Pluto lord of the underworld. What Pluto's and Plutus' relationship was in Semonides time, we cannot (or at least I do not) know, but their phonetic affinity, remarked upon in the 5th century by none other than Plato (who fancied up an etymological relationship), caused them to be conflated often throughout antiquity, and features of one tended to be attributed to the other as well. The paranomastic significance here is pretty obvious: humans think they're headed for Plutus, the lavish life whose god is actually present in the text, when they're really headed for Pluto, the savage death that permeates the rest of the poem immediately afterward.  
I mention this because there are even more divine beings hiding in the text, such as Ἐλπίς Elpís  "Hope", Γῆρας Gē̂ras the god of old age, and others. Elpís "Hope" is important here. She is the one entity which Pandora managed to keep from escaping the mythical box which now bears her name. The others (such as Móros "Doom", Gē̂ras "Old Age", Éris "Strife" ) escaped into the world to plague mortals. A comparison with the relevant passages of Hesiod (Works and Days 90-105, Theogony 211-225) would illustrate how clearly Semonides is alluding to this and other myths. 

In this poem, then, the various Zeus-brought maladies and woes that are described acquire a mythic dimension. Instead of merely suffering myriad ordeals, humans are suffering at the hands of the entities which personify those ordeals. To put it more directly: the universe isn't just hard for us to cope with; no, it is deliberately, sentiently cruel to us. The divine occupants of the cosmos visit their sadism on us, and Zeus couldn't give a shit even with a high-power colonic. The translator has room to maneuver in dealing with this. I'd say some animate English pronouns "he/she" would be more called for than Barnstone seems to have thought.

My aim in showing all of this is not pedantry or pretentiousness, but rather to illustrate how Barnstone is, at least in some cases, unable to step outside of his modern aesthetics and assumptions. Unendowed with the "negative personality" it would take to be fully sensitive to a cosmological sensibility so radically different from his own, he cannot achieve a full sympathy with the author (let alone communicate that sympathy to the reader.) To put it pithily: unable to dress himself up as the author, he dresses the author up as himself. To put it bluntly: he suffers from a literary form of cultural narcissism.  

-Sapping Sappho-

All of Barnstone's failures can be witnessed in just a few lines of translated verse. Observe how Barnstone renders the first stanza of Sappho's hymn to Aphrodite:
On your dappled throne eternal 
Afroditi, cunning daughter of Zeus, 
I beg you, do not crush my heart
with pain, O lady,
Now, there are lexical quibbles which the literalist might have. For example, ἀθάνατος doesn't mean "eternal" so much as "immortal." That's fine, though. Literalism for its own sake is, after all, pointless, regardless of the appeal it seems to have for classicists of the more philology-fettered, ivory-souredtowered,  old-school variety (a small number of whom are taking far too long to grow old and die, because their allergy to modernity is tragically not fatal, and are still around  pretending that their fetish for all things moth-eaten needs to be called "refinement." ) What's not so fine is that Barnstone repeatedly strays from literalism not to do a service to this poem, but to take interesting Greek phrases and turn them into the most nauseating English clichés. If a translator wants to meander unfettered by the literal "meaning", that's fine. But that choice like any other should be made for a good reason, and I can discern no good reason for some of what Barnstone has done here unless he was trying really, really hard to convince Anglophone readers that Sappho is an awful poet. In which case he has done a bang-up job.

Barnstone has "do not crush my heart/ with pain,  O lady" for Sappho's "μή μ' ἄσαισι μήδ' ὀνίαισι δάμνα, / πότνια, θῦμον." This is really, really inept. Almost every word of Barnstone's version bespeaks an addiction to cliché. "Crush my heart with pain"? SERIOUSLY? Did Sappho really write like a mopey highschool goth-poseur? No, she did not. This is atrocious verse.

It is not only Barnstone's critical shortcomings that resulted in this sorrowful excuse for a translation. The liberties taken with the original meanings conspire in an unconscionable disservice to Sappho. The verb δαμάζω is actually not crush so much as "to lay low, to overpower, to subjugate (in war), to tame (a wild beast), to rape (a woman)" and there is therefore no heart-crushingly clichéd image in the Greek. The two words ἄσαισι (vexation, hurt, desire, frustrated love) and ὀνίαισι (grief, sorrow) are carelessly rendered by Barnstone with the one word "pain." Πότνια here means "Lady" in a very specific sense i.e. as the female counterpart to "Lord." and θυμός is the seat of strong emotions and passions (i.e. "heart" only in its extended Aristotelian sense.) A prose crib rendering might be "Do not, with vexations or grief, beat down my soul, O thou my Lady."

The quality of Willis Barnstone's output as a translator ranges from the great to the heinous because, in addition to other issues,  he fails to take his own advice, to wit:
In the end, method is secondary, and determines neither the virtues nor sins of a poem. The translator need only clearly and honestly indicate his method—whatever it is—and then be judged, not on this choice, but on the quality of the new poem.
He has a hard time stepping back from his phrasal tinkerings and looking at the big picture in the context of the target language alone to see if it works as English verse, and if it's something the English-reader couldn't easily get elsewhere (the poem usually being by hypothesis something new if it justifies either the translator's or reader's attention.) At his worst, he follows his methods in ways that seem almost mechanical self-parodic and inappropriate to the context. This is a problem that plagues many a translator from time to time, especially when attempting to bridge the gap between literary traditions as remote from one another as Modern English and Classical Greek. Barnstone, however, suffers from a particularly virulent strain of this disease as a general rule, and it comes as no surprise that when he translates from Classical Greek into English the symptoms are particularly severe.

Elsewhere in the poem discussed above, for example, he renders ὄσσα δέ μοι τελέσσαι / θῦμος ἰμέρρει, τέλεσον· ( "fulfill all that my soul yearns to fulfill" or perhaps less literally "let what my soul would do, be done" ) as "fill my heart with fire." Time and again Barnstone seems to lack the discipline necessary to assess what it would take for his band of textual refugees and displaced verses, delivered from the burning Troy of a dead language and left to fend for themselves on strange xenoglossic shores, to have any chance of survival, let alone a second rise to aeneidic greatness.

However, the ugliness of Barnstone's seemingly shoddy reading-comprehension is compounded by his insensitivity to much Greek literary or mythological resonance beyond what his commentators probably tell him. For example, in the translated stanza quoted above, the word δολόπλοκος  (literally "wile-weaver") is flattened out into "cunning." It is true that the word is not an ad hoc coinage of Sappho's. It is used elsewhere with the meaning "crafty, subtle" (which is probably what motivated the "cunning" after Barnstone had looked this word up in his dictionary and seen that definition) and the related noun δολοπλοκία subtlety, guile also occurs in other early poets such as Theognis. It was probably a dead metaphor even in Sappho's time (just as "excruciating", despite its etymology, clearly no longer has anything to do with crucifixion.) However, even if this is the case, Sappho is reviving it and subverting a cliché through context. Barnstone misses this entirely, because he has simply followed some editor or other in reading Ποικιλόθρον', the first word of the poem, (which he renders with dappled throne) as merely a combination of ποικίλος intricate, variegated, complex, ornate and of θρόνος throne. But the second element could just as easily be θρόνα embroidered flower-charms and there is no reason to insult the poet with the presumption that she shied away from, or was incapable of, employing more than one connotative possibility at once. It alludes, in several ways, to Aphrodite's patterened and charm-imbued garment which was said to grant power over the affections of mortals. (Those curious about the specifics of this analysis may profit from Michael C. J. Putnam's Throna and Sappho 1.1. in The Classical Journal, Vol. 56, No. 2, Nov., 1960 pp. 79-83.) Wiles are indeed woven into Aphrodite's garment. Moreover, that the word had a particular association with Aphrodite may be suggested by numerous pieces of evidence, including a papyrus containing the fragment δ]ολοπλόκου γὰρ Κυπρογενοῦς "wile-weaving Cyprus-born one," where Κυπρογενής Cyprus-born is a common epithet of Aphrodite.

More importantly, though, even if one knows nothing of the Greek pantheon or Aphrodite's cloak, the interplay of the language itself on the page still gives the components of δολόπλοκος a unique flavor in context. In a way, it doesn't even matter if Sappho had this in mind- it works whether or not she meant it to. The dead metaphor is given new life (rather as if an English poet subverted the clichés of "killing time" and "round the clock" by writing "Time is killing me around the clock.") Barnstone, by contrast, gives us a bit of cliché-constipated doggerel i.e. nothing so splendid.

I could go on, analyzing how he renders the rest of the poem. But, given the book's habit of aesthetically and intellectually gut-punching the reader in the manner illustrated above, what would be the point?

Conclusion: The book has its ups and downs. It manages to be worth the 10$ price-tag, but only just.

Final Grade: C+

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