Michael Wood

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Borges said his essay ‘The Homeric Versions’ represented his first appearance as a Hellenist. ‘I do not think I shall ascend to a second,’ he added. This modest forecast was based partly, as Borges recognised, on his ‘convenient ignorance of Greek’, but his tone allows all kinds of intriguing questions to creep in. What kind of Hellenist could one be without a knowledge of Greek? Could one be one at all? How deep was Borges’s ignorance of the language? Asked once whether he knew any Sanskrit, he said: ‘Only the Sanskrit everybody knows.’

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[*] Julian Barnes was writing about Lydia Davis’s translation of Madame Bovary in the LRB of 18 November 2010.