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Paradise Lost (Penguin Popular Classics)
Paradise Lost (Penguin Popular Classics)
by John Milton
Edition: Paperback

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars England's Homer, 14 Sept. 2002
Milton's great epic poem was written "to justify the ways of God to men", thus telling the story of Lucifer's expulsion from Heaven and Adam's subsequent banishment from Eden. The classic representations of idyllic Eden, fiery Hell, and glorious Heaven are as rich now as when they were first created in 1667.
Paradise Lost is a very complicated, yet rewarding, Epic poem. It is by far the best of its kind in the English language, and where it lacks in original conventions, it more than makes up for it in its pure power of poetry. For those readers of translations who are unable to enjoy Homer's Greek, Virgil's Latin or Dante's Italian, Paradise Lost can offer them a unique chance to enjoy an epic poem in its original vernacular.
However, you must bear in mind that Paradise Lost is one of the most difficult pieces of poetry to read, and is by no means as simple as reading a translation of Homer or Virgil. The language is lexically dense, with complex grammar structures at times. These hurdles will be found considerably easier for experienced readers of Shakespeare, and those who are already aware of common traits of epic poetry.
Milton's use of language is majestic, boasting an impressive metre. The poem is lavished with many famous quotes that have become ingrained into everyday English, with such examples as "Pandemonium" and "All hell broke loose". Paradise Lost is, without a doubt, a must read for any intellectual English reader.
Like all epic poetry Milton's piece of art is highly indebted to Homer's conventions, with typical imitations of the Iliad's list of warriors and the Odyssey's garden of Alcinous. But Milton's debt to the Classics manifests itself as a representation of learned study, (with links to such writers as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Plato, Shakespeare and Spenser), therefore it does not so much as pilfer from great literature, as it instead endeavours to become a part of it.
Paradise Lost offers the epic reader a new form of subject, not just the usual heroes and large battles, but a theme which captivates the reader - the devils fall and man's respectively. The rebel Angels' descent from heaven to hell and Adam's from Eden to a desolate "outside" world, captivate the reader with an intriguing theme: the loss of innocence and the fall into experience. Why must Man sin? What is his relationship to Satan's loss of grace? And where does God's image of himself measure with his own maker? Milton's poem may lack the great Achilles and the gleaming towers of Troy, but it does offer much intellectual food for thought.
This very inexpensive Penguin edition is a rare find of value for money, especially when considering the informative footnotes, which are far better than the flip-flapping that endnotes incur to readers. Obviously the scholarly output in these notes is very limited, but come on ... please bear in mind the tiny price tag on this book - for less than half the price of a pint of beer you can own the English language's greatest poetic feat!
But it is the Miltonic Satan that really comes to the forefront of this poem. The cunning fallen angel, who decides that "All good to me is lost; Evil, be thou my Good" (IV.109-10), is as appealing to the reader as Marlowe's "Nun-poisoning" Barabas the Jew. It is with some guilt that this present commentator must own to rooting for this most infamous baddy throughout the poem. With a display of wit almost as sharp as Ovid or Nonnos, Milton indisputably gives his best lines to God's antagonist. This Devil is not just a superficial evil being, but instead a complex character; one that feels remorse for his fall, love for his close friends, and a harrowing jealousy of Man. What we are given by Milton's villain is not just a rewarding psychological study of Christianity's Devil, but also a commentary upon our own ignoble actions.

The Canterbury Tales: In Modern English (Penguin Classics)
The Canterbury Tales: In Modern English (Penguin Classics)
by Geoffrey Chaucer
Edition: Paperback

37 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ourselves and the Fourteenth Century, 26 Aug. 2002
This modern translation is for those who struggle with Chaucer's original language. Coghill's melodious verse captures the timely flow of the original text, thus preventing the reading from becoming a slow and erudite undertaking. Chaucer's Tales were not designed for sluggish meditation, but to be read aloud in an engaging manner, which is what makes this translation an ideal buy for those who wish to experience the Tales for their original charm.
The immortal Canterbury Tales is a must for all lovers of great literature. What we can witness in this noble poem "is the concise portrait of an entire nation: high and low, old and young, male and female, rogue and righteous, land and sea, town and country", as Nevill Coghill describes in his introduction to this translation. The past has become magical to us through the great works of Epic poetry; where the Greeks had Homer, and the Roman's Virgil; the English have none other than Geoffrey Chaucer.
It is only infrequently that we can find classic ideas that have captured readers throughout the ages, be it Pickwick's proposed adventure to study his fellow men, Dante's quest for his beloved Beatrice, or indeed Chaucer's undying Pilgrimage; The Canterbury Tales manifests its own unique appeal in an immortal journey through the Tales of many different voices.
On the Eve of a Pilgrimage from a London Cheapside Inn to St Thomas a Becket's shrine in Canterbury, a group of thirty pilgrims are challenged by the inn's Host to a competition: to while away their morrow's journey by each telling a tale; on returning to London their Host will then decided the best storyteller: and their reward? a luxurious meal on behalf of that Pilgrim's fellows. What follows are many tales, of many varieties: those of courtly love, bawdy comedy, fresh wit, menacing macabre, didactic fables, in short, to use John Dryden's words "God's plenty".
But it is the prologue to Chaucer's great collection of tales that marks its individuality from the Likes of Ovid, Petrarch and Boccaccio - of whom some of the tales are largely indebted to. The translator of this edition advocates that "in all literature there is nothing that touches or resembles the prologue". And this is by all means a cogent argument: what we witness at the beginning of Tales is patchwork quilt of Medieval England, a Tapestry of Chaucer's times, or if you like: a doorway into a world long faded away.
The prologue simply follows the task of introducing the diverse tellers of the Tales, and yet in doing so it records a valuable sample of history. William Blake faithfully promulgates the Prologue's vitality by declaring that: "Chaucer is himself the great poetical observer of men, who in every age is born to record and eternize its acts". The Pilgrims are not only well presented characters, they are also true embodiments of normality. What we see in the Tales is not just a snap-shot of Olde England, but something indeed far bigger: a blueprint of our own society's individuals - "the perennial progeny of men and women". What Chaucer portrays to us in his Canterbury Tales is nothing greater than our very selves.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 4, 2010 7:22 PM BST

The Iliad (Oxford World's Classics)
The Iliad (Oxford World's Classics)
by Homer
Edition: Paperback

171 of 181 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literature's Brightest Gem, 17 Mar. 2002
If you are looking for the best translation of Homer's The Iliad, then look no further. Fitzgerald's succinct, yet informative, translation is as close to the original 2700-year-old presentation you can get without taking ancient Greek lessons. Take my advice: steer clear of those verbose, lengthy, and particularly misleading prose translations of literature's greatest charm.
The Iliad was created as an epic poem - and that is how it should be experienced, not as the modern format of the novel. Fitzgerald's verse translation flows, it captivates, in fact it transports you to the towers of Ilium, and the aura of Achilles, literature's greatest warrior.
So, exactly what is The Iliad all about? The very first lines of the poem can answer this question - in part:
"Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Achilles' anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Achaean's (Greek's) loss on bitter loss" (I.1-3)
The Iliad is the story of Achilles, the "almost immortal" Greek hero of the Trojan war, and his anger at being slighted by his own ally General - Agamemnon. This results with literature's infamous temper tantrum. Achilles the great warrior sulks, refusing to fight, which in turn causes many Greek deaths. Now, if you're thinking that "all this Greek/Trojan war stuff sounds a bit tough, I'll forget about buying this book", and you're just about to select BACK on your browser... then WAIT a minute! The whole Trojan war thing can be simply summed up in one sentence - The Greek princess Helen is stolen from her husband by the Trojan prince Paris and taken to his Troy, all the Greeks say "Oi! You can't do that!" and nine years down the line Achilles, Agamemnon and cuckolded Menelaus are still pounding away at Troy's (Ilium's) walls. There we are - not so tough, is it?
But The Iliad is far more than a study of an invincible warrior: it is the story of a young man's expatiation: a growth into maturity, or, if you like: a reparation of a character. Through Achilles' initial childish reactions he gradually begins to realise the error of his ways, which culminates with the death of his beloved Patroclus. It is the story of a man that loses everything which he holds dear, and yet gains one of humanity's greatest abilities: the act of compassion. Achilles gains a heart.
What we can discover in this character's reformation is similar to Shakespeare's King Lear - a monarch who proudly and foolishly relies upon his loved ones, losing them in return, and reduced to a mere man: decrepit, and yet reborn a better man, by learning the art of compassion to the likes of a homeless beggar.
Shakespeare's Lear and Homer's Achilles attain noble virtues that are sorely needed to redeem both protagonists' foolish actions at the beginning of their respective pieces of literature.
If it is your wish to experience the pure magic of literature's brightest gem, then trust me - click Add To Basket now! If this would be your first epic poem to read ... then all the better, because Homer is the measure of all epic poetry. If you resent the...price tag in comparison to the one pound classic's - then bear in mind this: if you are a lover of classic literature of all ages, then this could well be the best... (money)... you will ever spend.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 9, 2012 6:20 PM GMT

La Vita Nuova (Classics)
La Vita Nuova (Classics)
by Alighieri Dante
Edition: Paperback

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Medieval Treatsie of Poetry, 23 Jan. 2002
This is a love song for everlasting youth. A story of pathos. A language of timeless relevance.A treatsie for all poets.A trip to thirteenth century Italy. A doorway to medieval times.
Experience the pangs of first love with literature's most devoted lover: the timeless inspiration of Rossetti, Eliot and Delacroix.
What one experiences in The Vita Nuova is the ordered process of a great poet: the meaning of each poem is deftly explained with clarity, gaining the reader an insight into that most fabled of all European ideals - true love.
Dante's quest for no more than a smile from his fair Beatrice will win the hearts of all who have ever loved dearly.

The Aeneid (Oxford World's Classics)
The Aeneid (Oxford World's Classics)
by Virgil
Edition: Paperback

75 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Virgil's Aeneid: A Forbidden Masterpiece, 23 Jan. 2002
This translation of Virgil's masterpiece is the perfect choice for a reader who wishes to experience the original form of this Augustine work of art. It is written in easy flowing and accessible blank verse, unlike the rather cloggy and unattractive prose translations. After all The Aeneid was written to be read as an epic poem: not the post Renaissance format of a novel, and Lewis's translation is as close to capturing the originally intended delivery as you can get without the lengthy process of learning Latin.
This classic epic poem was commissioned by Augustus Caesar in 31BC, a task which was reluctantly accepted by Virgil. Ten years of writing followed, and unfortunately the poet died, by contracting a disease, whilst returning from a trip to Athens. The epic was not fully revised by then, yet the contents of all twelve books are complete except for a rather abrupt ending.
However, just before his death Virgil left strict instructions for The Aeneid to be burnt: lost to the world for all time. Yet this command was counteracted by Caesar. Why was this? Why didn't Virgil want the greatest poem in Latin to be discovered for its prominence?
These are questions which will truly interest any reader. When you hold this book in your hands you cannot help thinking that Virgil did not want you to read this - if it had not been for the Imperial arm of Caesar we would be forever lacking this great Latin work. Thus a guilty feeling pervades when reading The Aeneid, moreover, those of you already well versed in Greek mythology will know that Actaeon paid very highly for his antlers, a lesson hard to forget whilst perusing forbidden splendour.
When commissioned to write an epic with the sole purpose of portraying an almighty Augustus in 31 BC it is difficult to capture the magic of the Homeric sagas. To have the inclusion of gods and mystical powers in ordered Roman society would have been simply laughed at.
Therefore Virgil chose the legendary founder of Rome - Aeneas of Troy - as the protagonist of his epic. This poem documents the various adventures of Aphrodite's son: whose quest is to find his destined homeland - Italy. Jupiter has ordained that Aeneas's ancestors will become the great masters of Rome, and it is here that Virgil can cleverly celebrate Augustus's magnificent achievements.
But what is the underlying meaning to Virgil's epic? What you can witness in The Aeneid is Homer's similar appreciation of acts of bravery; yet what you will observe for the first time is the dreadful price that Imperialism exacts. Aeneas is forced to reject his passionate love, experience the death of his father, and kill the noble sons of people he is destined to rule.
Therefore a fundamental enigma in Virgil's work must be to endeavour whether this is a work that supports Imperialism or refutes it. Did Virgil advocate Augustus's omnipotence? If yes, why did the poet wish the epic to be destroyed? The price of blood for the fellowship of freedom is one continual theme that pervades not only archaic history, but also that of the modern day; and in Virgil's masterpiece it is portrayed no less effectively than in all great works of literature.
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