CRITICAL IGNORANCE.

In the 3 October issue of the London Review of Books, Daniel Soar reviews Jeffrey Eugenides’ new novel Middlesex. The novel’s protagonist comes from a village near the city of Bursa in Asia Minor, and this village is “on the slopes of Mount Olympus.” The reviewer gets a good deal of mileage out of this mythologically rich name: “Olympus is a reasonable location for a view of the beginnings of a disaster that is the story’s catalyst… the reflective parts of the narration that follows deal in Odysseus, the Minotaur, and Zeus creating the world from an egg…. One advantage of Olympus for the storyteller is its mythical altitude… ” and, bringing it back for an encore at the end, “It’s a great pity that this type of very un-Olympian compression… has to be so resolutely disguised in the book.” The only problem is that the Olympus with the gods is in Thessaly, in mainland Greece. This one is in Mysia, in what’s now Turkey; its modern name is Ulu Dagh.
Just as I was saying to myself “What can you expect from those slackers at the LRB, you have to go to the TLS for real expertise,” I picked up the September 27 issue of the latter and began reading Stephen Abell’s review of Ben Okri’s latest novel, In Arcadia. He mentions the famous Poussin painting that “shows three shepherds and a shepherdess standing before a tomb marked with the inscription ‘Et in Arcadia ego’: ‘I too lived in Arcadia’.” This is a common misunderstanding, but the Latin will not bear the interpretation; it means rather ‘Even in Arcadia am I [ie, death].’
I’d say “O tempora, o mores,” but the good people at LRB and TLS would probably think “Right, eels fried in batter.”

Comments

  1. At least Soar didn’t envision a protagonist from a village near the city of Asia in Ursa Minor.

  2. “Eels fried in batter!” Heh! That’s too good not to steal.

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