The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

I sound like...

During my pleasant evening in Hamilton with Dr. J, celebrating his naissance, I also had the pleasure of conversing with ZeldaPhd. We discussed possible celebrites whom I sound like, and she finally determined that it is Jeremy Piven. He's a celebrity of not great fame, but his CV is far more impressive than mine. I downloaded a video of him to see if I really do sound like him. Go to this site and download either sound clips or videos. For those of you who know me personally, give me your thoughts.
(I think I look better. What do you think?)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Vita Brevis

My extremely erudite friend at Laudator Temporis Acti has a neat, very short yet pithy post on one of Emerson's poems. Check it out. Just one of the advantages of knowing the classical languages. Unfortuantely, my generation (and all subsequent ones) do not learn latin let alone Greek in high school anymore, though I'm told even in Toronto, both were requisites for graduating high school. I've only begun learning Latin; I only wish I was forced to learn it earlier. Sigh!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Leonardo Da Cohen, for Dr. J

For my buddy Dr. J, an article on Leonard Cohen in yesterday's Toronto Star. I'm not sure if the link works, and I think you do need to register, but here it is

Friday, August 26, 2005

Here I come Hamilton

For all two or three of my readers, I will be going to Hamilton, Ontario for a couple of days for a meeting of the minds with my good friend Dr. J. Well, it's more like a meeting of THE mind, his, and I'm showing up.
To give you a hint of what's involved, here are a couple of pix


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sorry Dryden!

I was photocopying some Dryden when I discovered, contrary to what I've written in my previous post on Dryden's languages, that he does actually cite some original Greek. You won't find it in any of his famous works such as Essay of Dramatick Poesie or On the Original and Progress of Satire. It is in an early prose work entitled Examen Poeticum, and he actually cites Homer in the original Greek. Normally when he cites Homer, he doesn't use Greek quotations, but in this case, he does. I doubt whether this proves his knowledge of Greek (after all, I don't know Greek but I can read it), but it is safe to say he had some knowledge of it. Why he would not make more use of it is beyond me.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Indo European revisited

Laudator Temporis Acti's recent post (or is it Actii recent post?) reminded me of my interest in Indo European linguistics. I wrote a paper on the subject in fourth year, one of the few papers I really felt was well done. Mr. Gilleland refers to Pokorny's Indo-Germanisches Worterbuch, the only, as far as I know, Indo European dictionary in existence. I recall referring to it as well as Klein and Skeat's Etymological dictionaries (Skeat should be familiar to you modernists out there: his dictionary was the very one James Joyce is supposed to have read daily). One fascinating book that just took my breath away, one which few indeed have heard of, was an Indo-European thesaurus, whose title was something like Thesaurus of synonyms of selected Indo European Languages. I'm probably wrong, but the author's name was Burke. The book, a massive tome, would list words in English alphabetically, and on the same page or two would give all the syonyms (in most cases cognates) in most Indo European languages (Latin, Greek, Russian, etc). In some cases, it would go so far as to include the cognates in Lithuanian, Armenian and even Avestic!

This is a fascinating book and I couldn't put it down. That's even more dorky than my habit of reading the OED for pleasure. For those of you even remotely interested in the subject, I highly recommend it.
At times I wish I were in linguistics instead of English. No offense to the latter, I love it, but I sometimes wish I were in a more "scientific" and less subjective field.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Injurious Exhalations

My friend Michael Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti has a hilarious yet extremely learned piece on the fart in Latin. Where else will you have bodily functions, history and etymology "yoked by violence together" ?

Bonus for those who can identify the last quote. J, that doesn't include you :)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I want to be in America, I want to be in America!

Greetings everyone,
I will be preparing for the not so "pleasant burden" of PhD applications this fall. I am looking into the States, and one needs at least the General GRE for all schools. Most respectable institutions also require the Subject Test GRE, i.e., English Literature GRE.
I must confess that my weakest area is American/20th Century literature. I'm not totally ignorant: I have read the likes of Hawthorne, Twain, Poe (what a writer!), Miller, Tennessee Williams, etc. I thought it wise to at least familiarize myself with some of those writers I have always heard about but never read, especially the poets. I know for a fact that Sylvia Plath, Larkin, and Robert Lowell have been included on the GRE, and I would not at all be surprised if William Carlos Williams, Frost, etc, make their way on there.
My question for you, dear readers, is this: which poets and which poems would you recommend for someone trying to get a grasp of the "greatest hits" of American literature, specifically late 19th-20th century poetry? J, start accessing that mental encyclopedia :)

As a side note, it is interesting to say a few words about the English GRE. Some sources (such as study guides, as useless as they may be) suggest that the Bible and Classical literature is very important for the test. I viewed an actual test from about five years ago, and I can say that the test was devoid of the Bible, and the Classical writers barely showed up (two very easy questions on Virgil. Homer, et al, were not included). No doubt in my mind the test has changed to meet the "needs" of today's typical undergraduate/prospective graduate. For better or worse, I am not one of them. Though I can tell you about obscure 18th century manuals on furniture repair, I am not so good at the "typical" stuff. It also does not help that the test is written by Americans for Americans. I do not want to sound like an NAACP official, but the test is somewhat skewed culturally. In other words, if you went to high school and university ("college" for my American readers, if any) in the States, you will be at an advantage. I do not want to sound plaintive, but in my mind, having a knowledge of, say, Homer and Virgil is more important than a knowledge of, let us say, Wharton (no offense), irrespective of one's specific field of study. Every serious student of literature should have some knowledge of the great classical, Medieval and Renaissance writers.
Oh, by the way, there was one minor question on Shakespeare on the GRE I perused. Even more oddly, Twain, THE American humourist, was ignored.

Poet Laureate factoid

Those of us who have read Dryden's MacFlecknoe know that T.S. refers to Thomas Shadwell, a poet who, like so many of his other contemporaries, has gone extinct (Cowley and even Samuel Butler of Hudibras, big names even in Johnson's day, have shared a similar fate). I remember first reading MacFlecknoe about three or four years ago, and I found something interesting that my professor at the time, a man of no mean erudition or humour, did not know: We know that Dryden became the first poet laureate, one of only about three or four who were major authors (the others were Wordsworth, Tennyson, and someone else I cannot recall). But did you know this: the poet laureate after John Dryden was...Thomas Shadwell! Perhaps this explains Dryden's contempt for this "poetaster." I will have to check the dates.


I recently procured a long-overdue copy of Plutarch's Lives complete in English (2 vols.). One of my favourite writers being John Dryden, I had to get this particular edition because his name was appended to it ("translated by John Dryden"). I recently read Dryden's translation of the Aeneid, and although it lacks some accuracy, it compensates with rare literary merit and skill (the issue of translations, especially from Latin, will perhaps be a matter for a later post. I know less latin than most babies, but even I can say that most late twentieth century Latin translations into English have little to no literary quality whatever.)
To return to the matter at hand: I was surprised by the find since I had never read about Dryden translating Plutarch in any biographies or biographical sketches. If I translated Plutarch's Lives in its entirety, I would probably make a big deal about it :) Turns out it is usually called "the Dryden translation," which Modern Library (the publisher) considers the same as "translated by John Dryden." As far as I can tell, the work was published in 1683 with a Life of Plutarch by John Dryden; those who had the menial task of translating have remained anonymous: perhaps it was a marketing strategy, but as far as I know, Dryden had not yet attained any significant fame until later.
The issue is further complicated by something I just discovered recently: after Shakespeare, the major English writer about whom we know the least is Dryden. Before the Restoration (1660), we are not sure what he did, except that he had his scholarship at Oxford revoked for reasons unknown. What we know about Dryden for the most part we know through his poems and prose works (for example, his neglected "Dedication to the Aeneis", which is worth a patient read).
Finally, whether Dryden knew Greek is another matter. I will be a Dryden expert someday, but at this stage in my career, I can't say that he did. Frankly, I don't think he did. First, in his various writings, he never cites original Greek lines as other poets and writers do. There is no doubt, by the way, that Pope knew his Greek: not only was he able to retire on the money he made translating Homer, he often sprinkles Greek into his writings. It has been some time since I have read much Dryden (in some cases, years), but I do not ever recall him doing so. Also, as far as I know, he translated very few Greek writers into English: he translated book I of Homer's Iliad and other such authors. One would think that a knowledge of Greek would not go to waste, especially after he fell out of the court's favour following the expulsion of James II.
Perhaps I am the only one who finds this even vaguely interesting; but it is a bit of a mystery to me.
Addendum: I do not believe the massive 21 volume California edition of Dryden's works includes the Plutarch, so there ! :)

Pious labours indeed

Kudos to those who can identify the source of "pious labours" (J, that doesn't include you! :)
No cheating!
It should be difficult to find even through google. Here's a hint: there's a clue somewhere on this blog. Those of you who know me and my literary tastes will have an easier time (I'm referring of course to my imaginary friends... :(