I began writing a comment on Palaiophron’s excellent post but as my stylus scribbled, things got out of hand. So consider this both comment and tribute to his observations. I do deviate in that I list three books without using his categories, compensating by expanding my comments. So without further ado….
Plautus. Any Plautus. Lord knows Ive tried, but I just can’t find the humor, despite many classical friends who break into guffaws when reading them. If I were of mean spirit, I’d say they laughed because they’d been taught that Plautine plays were supposed to be funny. Aren’t we all glad that I am not of mean spirit? I’ve read all the plays, and Fraenkel’s Plautinisches im Plautus, in the revised Italian edition. No go. I do find individual words, phrases and sentences interesting for the archaic Latin, one of my special interests. Dishonorable mention: Terence. Same reasons, but not even the redeeming feature of interesting Latin. On the other hand, I find Aristophanes extremely funny. I suppose if one likes shows like Benny Hill or Monty Python one will like Plautus and Terence. But I don’t.
Seneca, Epistulae. What a crashing bore. Not even interesting Latin…Ciceronian it ain’t, but it doesn’t have the inventiveness of the fine Silver Age Latin of Petronius and Tacitus. Or even Lucan. Roman philosophy I consider pretty half-baked philosophy. No, scratch that, Roman philosophy isn’t baked at all. The letters are a big snooze. Why waste time on them when you can be rereading Plato? Or the fragments of the Presocratics? Dishonorable mention: his essays. And they’re way longer than the letters, upping the Lethean dimension. This is the lad who wrote the hilarious Apocolocyntosis? He definitely shouldn’t have quit his day job, although Nero would beg to differ.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. This one actually makes it to lists of Great Books. More’s the pity. Way back in high school I read our boy in translation and thought I’d never look back. Until I hit the sight translation part of my Oxford Greats final. An unseen from…you guessed it. I died a thousand times during those two hours, but somehow managed to get a high Beta out of it. My mind goes numb with this book…I just don’t care what happens next. The author is a very interesting emperor with a totally uninteresting mind, although his exchanges with Fronto are really rather interesting. Another one who shouldn’t have quit his day job.
I suppose a good read is like love…where you find it. But who would want to look for a bad read? A good read makes you eager to finish, so you can start rereading, and so on, and so on. Of these three I’ve singled out…I really can’t think of any others who interest me less.
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