Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Very Greek Weekend

Of course, Holy Trinity St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church hosted the Panegyri this weekend, easily the best of Cincinnati's church festivals, fundraising events marked by such approved ecclesiastical activities as gambling and binge drinking. The Panegyri exceeds other church festivals by offering delicious Greek cuisine: gyros, kabobs of various sorts, baklava, feta cheese pizza and loukoumathes, delicious bits of fired dough dipped in cinnamon and honey.

I watched the film Zorba the Greek this Friday. The film falls squarely into the category of unlikely friendship stories, with the vivacious and aging peasant Zorba (Anthony Quinn) unexpectedly persuading mannered English writer Basil (Alan Bates) to allow him to tag along on a trip to Crete. The film is essentially a vehicle for Quinn, whose spirited depiction of Zorba overwhelms everything else on screen, making for alternately invigorating and tedious viewing experience.

Finally, I finished reading Robert Fagels's Homer's Iliad this weekend. I had previously "read" the epic in four days as a high school summer assignment. A few observations: War is something that arises from the conflicting desires of personalities human and divine, not from social conditions, geography or ideology. There is a sense in which human actions are futile, subjected to the manipulations of the gods, which in turn are sometimes dictated by Fate. Homer's descriptive focus in battle is on the outcomes of individual combats, not on military whole, and he glorifies the acts of slaughter. These sequences are often dull. He clearly depicts the honor and heroism of fighters on both sides. It is impossible not to be stirred by the plight of Hector, the Trojan who fights for the honor of his city and the protection of his family. Simultaneously, one is reviled by the selfish rage of Achilles and the manipulations of Agamemnon. To this reader, the epic is much too long, the descriptions of combat absurdly repetitive. I think that one could get the spirit of the thing reading only the following of the 24 books: 1-9, 14, 16-17, 19, 22, 24.

My reading of the Iliad came on the heels of my rereading of The Epic of Gilgamesh, another work I disliked in high school. Gilgamesh's quest for immortality in easily digestible in a single sitting, and its musings on human accomplishment and mortality are relatively simple. My sense is that after this reading, I have learned almost all of what there is to learn from the epic.

Currently about halfway through the second Wheel of Time novel - so far much better than the first.

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