The organisers of the Indian displays at London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 had a problem: they urgently required a taxidermy elephant. They needed the elephant as a frame on which to display a lavish Indian howdah (an elaborate carriage used as a platform for transportation and game hunting by the Indian and British elites), which had recently been presented to Queen Victoria by the Nawab of Moorshedabad in the Indian state of West Bengal. Fortunately, an old female specimen was eventually found close to home at the Saffron Walden Museum.
‘Historically, men translated the Odyssey. Here’s what happened when a woman took the job.’ So begins one of many recent articles on Emily Wilson’s new translation of Homer’s Odyssey, the first in English published by a woman. In the wake of Wilson’s groundbreaking translation, there has been much buzz about how women have been making the Greek and Roman classics their own in recent years. This scholarly and creative outburst includes translations by Susanna Braund, Diane Arnson Svarlien and Sarah Ruden, as well as Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad (2005) and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia (2008), adaptations of Homer and Virgil centred around feminine protagonists and perspectives. These works are part of a rich tradition of reworkings of the classics by women, which includes Hélisenne de Crenne’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid.
In the 16th century, Marguerite Briet translated the first four books (out of 12) of the Aeneid into French prose under her pseudonym, Hélisenne de Crenne.
Much has been written about the life and work of the American novelist Philip Roth since his death on 22 May. Like many great artists (Shakespeare, Beethoven, Rembrandt), he had a vigorous, uncompromising ‘late’ period, during which his writing took on an unmistakable style and inimitable humour that was often excruciatingly funny. Yet there is a side to Roth that has been somewhat neglected by the obituarists.
During the mid-1970s, when both the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall seemed immovable fixtures in our lives, Roth became editor of an ambitious publishing project, ‘Writers from the Other Europe’. Published in the UK by Penguin, the series began with the Polish author Tadeusz Borowski’s This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman. A collection of stories from a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, it set a familiar theme for the series: of atrocious crimes becoming an unremarkable part of a daily routine.
Since they were first ‘acquired’ in 1816, Britain has never seriously considered returning the sculptures collectively known as the ‘Elgin Marbles’ to their place of origin. Successive governments have argued that they are better preserved and more accessible in the British Museum, their current home; that their return would constitute a precedent to be regretted later; or, especially in the past, that the Greeks were unable to preserve their heritage and that Athens offered less security than the capital of a more stable power.
Whether they were being feared, marvelled at or tirelessly debated by theologians, monsters were real and present to the Anglo-Saxon mind. Nowhere can this be better seen than in the Nowell Codex (c.1000), a manuscript whose texts have been shown by Professor Andy Orchard to have been brought together because of the monsters they shared.
The battle of Rorke’s Drift was refought this year when a London Underground employee wrote an account of the siege on Dollis Hill Tube station’s notice board to mark its 139th anniversary. Within hours, however, the message had been erased with apologies following complaints that it was celebrating colonialism – a decision which was itself condemned in some media outlets as ‘rewriting history’. It was a brief controversy, but a resonant one for considering how Britain remembers and forgets its Empire and how these memories are shaped by an inheritance of imperial narratives and images. Thanks to the 1964 film Zulu, Rorke’s Drift has become in the modern imagination the prototypical Victorian colonial battle. Brief, heroic and apparently uncomplicated, it stands as a memorial proxy for a wider, more complex and troubling imperial history – and this has a longer tradition than we might think.