Have been reading Greek. I've forgotten what a pleasure this is. I'm not even remotely good at it--with some effort, I can do more than five lines a night, but the sense of accomplishment (dubious, at best) isn't where the pleasure lies. I'm flipping through Professor Trypanis' edition of the Penguin Book of Greek Verse. It's great, it goes from Homer to Elytis, straight to the Byzantine period. And like the other Penguin books of foreign verse (collect them all!), it has a simple, plain, prose translation at the bottom of the page. It helps even the most casual of readers to understand the Greek and it doesn't deform it by squeezing it into the meters of another language. My favorite poem is what Trypanis calls "On Sabinis" (it appears in the Oxford edition as "On a Tombstone in Tarm"). It took me a long time to work it out, but when I got it, it's just beautiful. No one cares, I know, but hey, I havent't spammed my own journal in a while.
Touto toi hemeteres mnemeion, esthle Sabine,
he lithos he mikre, tes megales philies
(Okay so I apologize for my bland non-Greek-appreciating keyboard for the lack of diacritics). 'This memorial, noble Sabinus, is only a stone,' he lithos he mikre, 'and a little one at that'--you know, a small one. The Greek is so concise you have to add a few words to make it understandable--'to communicate so great a friendship as ours.' Aiei zeteso se--this should reference the myth that when the dead came to Hades and crossed the River Styx, they came to the fountain of Lethe. Lethes means forgetfulness, and they drank of the fountain and forgot their past life. So the last two lines would say, 'I shall always search for you.' That's the literal meaning. Not 'long' or 'long for.' Literal meaning is always best when you do Greek poetry, I think. 'I shall always search for you.'
The next lines--Sy d', et themis, 'and of you'--themis is the main word in Homer for 'lawful' or 'proper'--'and if it be proper of you,' en phthimenoisi, 'down there among the departed.' Tou Lethes ep' emoi me ti pieis ydatos. 'If it be proper, please, for my sake, do not drink--even a drop--of the waters of forgetfulness.' Isn't that beautiful? There's also this really great poem by Callimachus which he dedicated to his friend, another poet, Heraclitus (not the philosopher). I liked the English translation (by a guy named Cory--can't remember the first name) but there's a jingoistic feel to it which seems missing from the Greek. And then a poem by Sappo about a rival whom she consigns to hell, translated by Algernon Swinburne and Thomas Hardy. The translations are in themselves very good poems but you've got to read Sappho in the original to appreciate her directness.
I really enjoy working with Penguin books. I have the ones on Greek verse, Latin, Hebrew, French, Japanese and German. I'm not linguistically gifted and I can't really afford the time and expense for proper tuition (plus I don't know who the heck in the Philippines would know Hebrew) so I've had to develop my own methods. It's good to work on short poems, I've found. It's not as complicated as when you tackle a long sentence (especially philosophical Latin? I don't think there's even a lexicon of philosophical Latin), and you get a certain sort of satisfaction. You work on a two-line couplet, it's not an endless task, and pretty soon you're completing a four-line elegiac hexameter.
I would love to be able to read modern Greek. I can recognize certain terms. For example, in Sophocles' Antigone, you have the word astynomos, the law of the city in ancient times. And I was just indecently thrilled to find that in modern Greek, astinomos means--more or less--'town cop.' The law, as we say. Asty is town--not polis--and nomos is law or custom.
Would also love to be able to read the Chinese poets. But it must be very, very hard, Chinese (needless to say).
... Come to think of it, since I've resolved to dust off and complete hanging projects, time to earnestly nag the people doing the Urbana at Feliza translation.