Six Books With Introductions Worth Pausing Over: Well, okay. Since I have tried to be a conduit for old books, I have no business criticizing this — but hey, like Iago I’m nothing if not critical, so:
The six “stories from the past” were published in: 1916, 1980, 1869, 1952, 1983, and, basically, 1906-08 (the period during which Henry James dictated to a secretary his prefaces to his novels). Might it not be possible to have a more expansive sense of “the past”?
So here are a few essays that reckon with the ongoing value and power — the power to speak to us, to our condition — of genuinely old texts:
- Simone Weil, “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force”
- Bernard Knox, “The Oldest Dead White European Males”
- Daniel Meldelsohn, “Lost Classics” and this essay on the Aeneid and empire
- Brian Phillips (yes, the soccer guy): “The Tale of Genji as a Modern Novel” (very much worth getting through the JSTOR paywall if you can)
For deeper dives — from recent writers and not-so-recent ones — see Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic, Erich Auerbach’s Dante, Poet of the Secular World, Edward Mendelson’s The Things That Matter, and M. I. Finley’s The World of Odysseus.
These are all texts that wrestle, sometimes uncomfortably, with stories from the past, stories that always speak to us but sometimes in strange dialects.
On, and please read Auden’s great poem “The Shield of Achilles.”