Having discussed in my previous post Zimmermann’s Musique pour les soupers du Roi Ubu, an orchestral composition consisting solely of musical quotes and running through an entire canon, I thought I might also mention a poem consisting solely of verse quotes and running through another canon. In his latest collection, Telling the Stones (2017), Alistair Elliot includes a short, compact poem that runs through the history of Greek poetry, from Homer to Angelos Sikelianos, and concludes with a fragment of Sappho in the (transliterated) original.
Its enigmatic title raises several questions, such as: Why speak of “learning” and not “knowing Greek“? Is learning Greek an ongoing activity because Greek cannot be fully mastered? Is it only a technique of quotation/memorization? Is this long poetic tradition what learning Greek consists in? Is there no ancient/modern Greek but only one Greek language spanning thirty centuries?
April 3, 2018