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This review is taken from PN Review 5, Volume 5 Number 1, October - December 1978.

POUNDING MELEAGER The Poems of Meleager, A Bilingual Edition, verse translations by Peter Whigham, introduction and literal translations by Peter Jay, Anvil Press, £3.50.

Meleager writes in terms of a world very few contemporary readers will be able to, or care to, understand, distanced not so much by time, or even language, since so much is provided for us in this dual-language edition, but by the way his language is inexplicably given over to the form of the poem. There is such complexity of convention here; syntax and metric, as well as the historical weight of Hellenistic epigram, almost put it beyond our grasp. A useful comparison is with the selection from the Greek Anthology, edited by Peter Jay (Allen Lane, 1971), in which Peter Whigham's verse translations of Meleager also appear. Peter Jay tries in his introduction to that book to give an adequate sense of how inevitably distant any English version of such a precise form as epigram must be, but nevertheless the volume as a whole provides numerous examples of subjects and translators' tones of voice which have extensive appeal. Fleur Adcock and Edwin Morgan are just two examples of translators whose versions can be called poetry too. Since the selection deals with an extensive variety of subjects, it makes very rewarding reading; the poems commemorating drowned sailors clearly emerge as a source for an omnivorous talent of our own time.

This volume is rather different, because Meleager seems to be an acquired taste at the best of times, and the translations persuade us very little of the opposite. Poems that are striking do not always show up ...


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