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This report is taken from PN Review 133, Volume 26 Number 5, May - June 2000.

Letter from Wales Sam Adams

In a recent editorial (PNR 131), Michael Schmidt paid tribute to Penguin Classics as a storehouse of ancient literature and learning in translation and asked pertinent questions about the exceedingly precarious position of Latin and Greek in our schools and universities. He remarked too upon that small number of poets in this new century and the last who have consistently exploited a knowledge of the classics in their writing, and the unexpected success of translations or versions of Homer and Ovid in the last few years. He might have mentioned the rather different case of the popularity of Herodotus occasioned by The English Patient. All are reminders of the undiminished, if latent, power of ancient texts to enthrall a modern readership once attention has been drawn to them. Now we have the fresh example of the Whitbread Book of the Year, Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf. Suddenly everyone is acknowledging not only the translator's skill but the extraordinary craft of the eighth century poet.

As a teacher at a Bristol comprehensive school in the early 1960s I enjoyed introducing pupils of all ages and abilities to the stories of Beowulf, The Battle of Maldon, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It was always an additional pleasure to observe the surprise of the class when I wrote a few lines from the original text of whichever story I had been telling on the blackboard (a feat I was capable of then) and told them it was English. My ...


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