December 17th, 2002

The Gift of Homer

I've done my good deed of the week: L., who takes Prof. Ben-Porat's introduction to the western canon course with me, and who immigrated to Israel from Siberia several years ago, called me up to ask whether I know where she might find a Russian translation of Homer's Odyssey. She tried to read the (fantastic, spectacular, stupendous, wondrous) Hebrew translation, created by master poet and translator Shaul Tschernichowski circa 1920. That translation is readily available in the TAU library and elsewhere. However, its Hebrew is rich, very rich, and its syntax difficult (greatly due to T.'s heroic preservation of Homer's dactylic hexameter!), so she sort of gave up, quite understandably. I've known quite a few native speakers of Hebrew who couldn't cope with T.'s kung fu.

So anyhow, I extend my sympathy to L., and suggest one of the many Russian second-hand bookshops that exist in Tel Aviv, to serve the Russian-reading populace. They're bound to have a copy, I figure. At the same time, I tell her I'll ask some of my Russian-reading friends to see if perhaps she could borrow their copy for a couple of weeks. Then I ask her if she's still sick, as she hasn't shown up in class last week. She is. I wish her a speedy recovery, and say goodbye.

Then I realize that nobody should have to buy Homer for himself. There is something Basically Right about receiving Homer's works as a gift. I was given the Iliad (T.'s translation, of course) by ygurvitz, some years ago, and I could not return the favor, since he already had his own copy. All the more reason, say I, to bestow the gift of Homer on an unsuspecting but deserving victim.

Off I go to a bookshop sagely recommended by batilda, and, sure enough, I find "GOMER"'s works (in verse. I checked!), in two nice hardcover volumes. I call L. up and say "So, I found a copy of the Odyssey for you." She's happy, she thanks me. I say that I could drop it by her place, if she lives around Tel Aviv, while I'm around, and since time is of the essence (she has to read it for class).

Twenty minutes later, I give L. the books, and she's surprised to find the Iliad there as well (hey, there's no point in buying half of Homer's Complete Works while you're making a gesture), and then surprised again to realize that the books are hers, to grace her shelves henceforth. I explain my notion of the gift of Homer. She resists, I insist. I suggest that she can give the gift of Homer to someone else, some day. That persuades her. I stay for tea and conversation, and leave.
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