Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book Review: The Aeneid of Virgil

The Aeneid of Virgil
Patricia Johnston trans.
Oklahoma University Press
24.95 paperback

Particia Johnston’s translation of The Aeneid seeks to recapture the majesty and beauty of Virgil’s epic poem. She sought to replace the Shakespearean meter with that used by ancient poets. And she used plain language in her prose. In every case she succeeded.

No translation can properly convey all of the beauty from the original but this does a good job. In addition to the beauty of the prose, the author included a substantial introduction covering the other works of Virgil, his cultural milieu, and an explanation of dactylic hexameter. The text included footnotes for obscure terms and a glossary of names at the end.

The poem itself infused the founding of Rome with Greek mythology. The hero Aeneas, escapes the fall of Troy. He travelled with his band to Carthage and eventually Rome. Outside of the Roman attempt to borrow and build upon Greek culture, the Roman writer infused the work with their values. This includes service to the state. In many instances an individual’s passion made them commit foolish acts. In response they were supposed to do their duty. Aeneas left his love at Carthage to fulfill his destiny at Rome. In contrast, Dido abandoned her commitment to her people and passionately killed herself. In the chaos during the sacking of Troy, Aeneas wanted to satisfy his lust for vengeance. Yet the intervention of a god opened his eyes to the hiding place of his family and reminded him of his duty.

This also extended to a concept called “Heroic Fury”. This is the tendency of individual warriors to seek glory at the expense of their duty and larger picture. Priam, the ruler of Troy, witnessed his son’s death, and despite his advanced age, donned his army and attempted to fight his son’s killer. Priam then died an ingloriously. The Latin hero, Turnus, infiltrated the settlement of Aeneas. But instead of opening the gates for his comrades which would have ensured victory, he pursued individual glory.

The poem is not only a classic of Western literature, but has personal value. We all face our journey in life. As educated individuals with the ability to read we have the chance to drink deeply from the collected wisdom and ideas of past ages. This helps us rebuild after the fall of our Troy’s and helps us appreciate and understand the emotions which drive us and conflict with our duty. I can heartily recommend Patricia Johnston’s translation of the Aenied.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Book Review: Book of Mormon Evidences

The Little Book of Book of Mormon Evidences
John Hilton III
Deseret Book
90 pages

[Cross posted at the Association for Mormon Letters]

          John Hilton III has a solid record of publishing a variety of books that appeal to a wide audience. He builds upon his experience as a teacher at EFY and other places to present evidence which would support and reinforce a member’s testimony (6,8). Within the medium he chose, and with his intended audience in mind, John Hilton succeeded.

          The book earns the name “little,” with seven chapters and a short introduction and conclusion. It contained almost the same dimensions as the old white handbook used by missionaries. The chapters briefly explain wordprint studies, the lasting testimony of the witnesses, the timeline of the translation, Hebraisms, chiasmus, and various cultural, historical, or linguistic “aha” moments. Each chapter includes a short personal story or example to entice the reader and then explains the detail for a lay audience.

          For example, the first chapter described how federal officials captured the Unabomber using word print studies. He then says:

My grandfather first got into wordprint studies when he joined a group of scientists, several of whom were not Latter Day Saints, to do a test on the Book of Mormon. Because some people argued that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery wrote it, the researchers wanted to compare their word prints with those of the Book of Mormon. If their wordprints were different from the wordprints of the Book of Mormon, that difference would show they did not write it.
          This approach illustrated both the positives and negatives of the book. Most members of the church who don’t study FARMS or read academic journals would appreciate his nonthreatening and simple approach. It only took this author about 30 minutes to read the entire book, and each chapter includes several easy to find resources for further reading. Those friendly to the church and familiar with the research may find the simplistic approach annoying or trite and certainly not worth their time. Critics of the church may not appreciate the rather simplistic repetition of their arguments. Neither side will find new arguments in the book. This writer found his research rather light, and in some cases, such as citing fairwiki or Jeff Lindsey’s website, weak.

          Yet these criticisms are rather minor if you recall the intent of the book. Additional material would likely transform the “little book” into simply “the book”. This would increase its price and make it less useful as an introductory text. Moreover, the extensive research and numerous citations would transform the book into one less likely to attract newcomers. And an EFY speaker and faithfully adherent to the truth claims of the Church of Jesus Christ is unlikely to expound upon critics’ arguments but only present enough to frame the reason for his evidence. This book is a good addition to a Latter Day Saints library as a very short primer designed for members of the church unfamiliar with apologetic arguments.