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Flip-flopping

Emily Wilson: Can heroes hesitate and still be heroic?, 17 November 2005

Hesitant Heroes: Private Inhibitions, Cultural Crisis 
by Theodore Ziolkowski.
Cornell, 163 pp., £17.50, March 2004, 0 8014 4203 6
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... Most of us, it seems, tend to think of the ‘hero’ as someone who never hesitates. As soon as he has made up his mind, he acts. But in Hesitant Heroes Theodore Ziolkowski identifies texts central to the Western canon – the Oresteia, the Aeneid, Parzival, Hamlet, Wallenstein – which show heroes who hesitate at the moment of decision. He argues that each of these works uses the personal hesitation of a single character to represent a broad cultural crisis, a shift in values from one ethical or social norm to another ...

So Caucasian

Emily Wilson: ZZ Packer, 1 April 2004

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere 
by ZZ Packer.
Canongate, 238 pp., £9.99, February 2004, 1 84195 478 0
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... The epigraph to Drinking Coffee Elsewhere comes from Alex Haley’s Roots: ‘The histories have been written by the winners.’ The implication is that this collection will give us the voice of the losers. But ZZ Packer looks like an outsider only if you concentrate exclusively on racial identity. She went to Yale and then to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop ...

Tongue breaks

Emily Wilson: Sappho, 8 January 2004

If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho 
by Anne Carson.
Virago, 397 pp., £12.99, November 2003, 1 84408 081 1
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The Sappho History 
by Margaret Reynolds.
Palgrave, 311 pp., £19.99, May 2003, 0 333 97170 1
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Sappho's Leap 
by Erica Jong.
Norton, 320 pp., $24.95, May 2003, 0 393 05761 5
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... Some time around the ninth century, Sappho’s nine books were irrecoverably lost. We have some tantalising scraps, single lines and short quotations, but only one complete poem – the ‘Ode to Aphrodite’ (Fragment 1), which is quoted by Dionysius of Halicarnassus. A few longish passages from other poems have been preserved in other authors: the most famous is Fragment 31 (‘He seems to me equal to gods’), quoted at length in On the Sublime ...

Ave, Jeeves!

Emily Wilson: Rom(an) Com, 21 February 2008

Plautine Elements in Plautus 
by Eduard Fraenkel, translated by Tomas Drevikovsky and Frances Muecke.
Oxford, 459 pp., £79, November 2006, 0 19 924910 5
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Plautus: ‘Asinaria – The One about the Asses’ 
translated by John Henderson.
Wisconsin, 252 pp., £13.50, December 2006, 0 299 21994 1
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Terence: The Comedies 
translated by Peter Brown.
Oxford, 338 pp., £9.99, January 2008, 978 0 19 282399 1
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Terence: Comedies 
translated by Frederick Clayton.
Exeter, 290 pp., £45, January 2006, 0 85989 757 5
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... When the Romans won wars, they brought home large numbers of enslaved foreign prisoners, to work the fields, mills and mines of the countryside, and to provide an enormous range of domestic services for wealthy city-dwellers. Slaves did the hard labour, but they were also essential for all the things that made a rich Roman’s life comfortable. Most of the work we would classify as part of the ‘service industry’ or the ‘entertainment industry’ was done by slaves ...

Into Extra Time

Deborah Steiner: Living too long, 23 February 2006

Mocked with Death: Tragic Overliving from Sophocles to Milton 
by Emily Wilson.
Johns Hopkins, 289 pp., £35.50, December 2004, 0 8018 7964 7
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... So great was the Greeks’ concern with living too long – what Emily Wilson calls ‘overliving’– that they had a cautionary myth about it. The immortal rosy-fingered Eos, who is renewed each night by a therapeutic plunge into Okeanos, falls in love with the mortal Tithonos, abducts him, and bears him off to a life of everlasting love at the ends of the earth ...

Fratricide, Matricide and the Philosopher

Shadi Bartsch: Seneca, 18 June 2015

Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero 
by James Romm.
Knopf, 290 pp., £18.45, March 2014, 978 0 307 59687 1
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Seneca: A Life 
by Emily Wilson.
Allen Lane, 253 pp., £25, March 2015, 978 1 84614 637 4
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... warns his correspondent to stay out of politics altogether. The new biographies by James Romm and Emily Wilson explore the tensions generated by Seneca’s life and legacy without resorting to the reductive choice between saint and hypocrite, Stoic idealist or stony practitioner of realpolitik. Romm admits that his mission to make a convincing single ...

Light through the Fog

Colin Burrow: The End of the Epithet, 26 April 2018

The Odyssey 
translated by Peter Green.
California, 538 pp., £24, April 2018, 978 0 520 29363 2
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The Odyssey 
translated by Emily Wilson.
Norton, 592 pp., £30, December 2017, 978 0 393 08905 9
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The Odyssey 
translated by Anthony Verity.
Oxford, 384 pp., £7.99, February 2018, 978 0 19 873647 9
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... girls immediately or allow them one more gaudy night? He tells himself to swallow his anger. As Emily Wilson has it in her sprightly rendering:       ‘Be strong, my heart. You were hounded by worse the day the Cyclops ate your strong companions. But you kept your nerve, till cunning saved you from the cave; you thought that you would die ...

Dying to Make a Point

Shadi Bartsch: Death and the Ancients, 15 November 2007

Death in Ancient Rome 
by Catharine Edwards.
Yale, 287 pp., £25, June 2007, 978 0 300 11208 5
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The Death of Socrates: Hero, Villain, Chatterbox, Saint 
by Emily Wilson.
Profile, 247 pp., £15.99, August 2007, 978 1 86197 762 5
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... the Roman army, the holy martyrs should not take pride in spilling their blood for their faith. Emily Wilson’s book The Death of Socrates provides an interesting counterpart to much of this discussion of the Roman way of death. Socrates’ death, of course, was not a suicide but the result of a sentence passed by an Athenian jury. ...

Antigone on Your Knee

Terry Eagleton, 6 February 2020

A Cultural History of Tragedy: Vols I-VI 
edited by Rebecca Bushnell.
Bloomsbury Academic, 1302 pp., £395, November 2019, 978 1 4742 8814 9
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... portrays the precariousness and fragility of human lives, not their culmination in calamity. As Emily Wilson points out in the first volume of this ambitious history of the form, tragedy in ancient times was confined to the theatre. You couldn’t have a tragic novel or a tragic view of the world. Nor could you have a tragic famine or case of heart ...

Throw it out the window

Bee Wilson: Lady Constance Lytton, 16 July 2015

Lady Constance Lytton: Aristocrat, Suffragette, Martyr 
by Lyndsey Jenkins.
Biteback, 282 pp., £20, March 2015, 978 1 84954 795 6
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... modest than Knebworth, though designed by Edwin Lutyens, who was married to Constance’s sister Emily. Lutyens was said by his biographer to have seen it ‘as a doll’s house’: ‘The architect would suddenly remove the front and reveal at each end two women employed after their own hearts.’ In truth, however, both women in the doll’s house toiled ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: Who’s Afraid of the Library of America?, 19 June 2008

... A plop on the doormat and Volume 177 in the Library of America is in the house: Edmund Wilson’s writings from the 1930s and 1940s, including Classics and Commercials, The Triple Thinkers and The Wound and the Bow. There is something appropriate and even – without wanting to be corny about it – moving about seeing Wilson take his place in the Library of America ...

A Question of Breathing

John Bayley, 4 August 1988

Elizabeth Barrett Browning 
by Margaret Forster.
Chatto, 400 pp., £14.95, June 1988, 0 7011 3018 0
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Selected Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning 
by Margaret Forster.
Chatto, 330 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 0 7011 3311 2
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The Poetical Works of Robert Browning: Vol. III 
edited by Ian Jack and Rowena Fowler.
Oxford, 542 pp., £60, June 1988, 0 19 812762 6
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The Complete Works of Robert Browning: Vol. VIII 
edited by Roma King and Susan Crowl.
Ohio/Baylor University, 379 pp., £47.50, September 1988, 9780821403808
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... themselves: in a sense, they became themselves. A process especially important for women writers. Emily Brontë was in her own way a self-dramatiser, Charlotte a self-esteemer. Her example was easier to follow, much more influential. When Aurora Leigh was published in 1857, reviewers pointed out a striking resemblance to much in the plot of Jane Eyre. Romney ...

Retro-Selfies

Iain Sinclair: Ferlinghetti, 17 December 2015

I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career: The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg, 1955–97 
edited by Bill Morgan.
City Lights, 284 pp., £11.83, July 2015, 978 0 87286 678 2
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Writing across the Landscape: Travel Journals 1960-2010 
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, edited by Giada Diano and Matthew Gleeson.
Liveright, 464 pp., £22.99, October 2015, 978 1 63149 001 9
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... Naomi Ginsberg) soon after his birth, the infant Ferlinghetti was given into the care of his aunt Emily, a French citizen, who took him back to Strasbourg, where they lived for five years. French was Ferlinghetti’s first language, and France was the culture to which, in later years, he aspired. On their return to the US, ...

Properly Disposed

Emily Witt: ‘Moby-Duck’, 30 August 2012

Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea 
by Donovan Hohn.
Union, 402 pp., £8.99, September 2012, 978 1 908526 02 1
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... of Teddy, the Book of Leopold, the Book of Carson, the Book of Hardin, the Books of Brower, Berry, Wilson, Dillard, Lopez, McKibben, Pollan).’ Americans have ‘come to equate beautification with salvation’. We believe in the importance of picking up a stray beer can on a beach. Instead of questioning the notion of disposable packaging, we insist on its ...

Deity with Fairy Wings

Emily Witt: Girlhood, 8 September 2016

The Girls 
by Emma Cline.
Chatto, 355 pp., £12.99, June 2016, 978 1 78474 044 3
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... centre Russell instead of Charles. The cult’s celebrity patron is called Mitch instead of Dennis Wilson, and the group lives rent-free on a ranch where they help raise llamas instead of renting out horses, as the Manson family did at Spahn Ranch. Cline also removes all reference to Helter Skelter – Manson’s delusional plan to incite a race war in ...

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