New Books, 2/28/18

A biography of Rene Girard.

Madeleine Albright believes now is the proper time to warn against Fascism.

Medieval Latin lives of Muhammad.

John McCarthy’s articles on his proposed “neo-patristic” method of biblical interpretation, all collected between covers.

The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity.

Fr. Fahey’s biggest book, reprinted.

J.C.D. Clark’s new book on Thomas Paine.

Another Agamben translation.

What is Grand Strategy?

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Dies Irae

Ambrose Bierce’s brief introduction to his translation of the hymn:

A recent republication of the late Gen. John A. Dix’s disappointing translation of this famous medieval hymn, together with some researches into its history which I happened to be making at the time, induces me to undertake a translation myself. It may seem presumption in me to attempt that which so many eminent scholars of so many generations have attempted before me; but the conspicuous failure of others encourages me to hope that success, being still unachieved, is still achievable. The fault of previous translations, from Lord Macaulay’s to that of Gen. Dix, has been, I venture to think, a too strict literalness, whereby the delicate irony and subtle humor of the immortal poem—though doubtless these admirable qualities were well appreciated by the translators—have been utterly sacrificed in the result. In none of the English versions that I have examined is more than a trace of the mocking spirit of insincerity pervading the whole prayer,—the cool effrontery of the suppliant in enumerating his demerits, his serenely illogical demands of salvation in spite, or rather because, of them, his meek submission to the punishment of others, and the many similarly pleasing characteristics of this amusing work, being most imperfectly conveyed. By permitting myself a reasonable freedom of rendering—in many cases boldly supplying that “missing link” between the sublime and the ridiculous which the author, writing for the acute monkish apprehension of the 13th century, did not deem it necessary to insert—I have hoped at least partially to liberate the lurking devil of humor from his fetters, letting him caper, not, certainly, as he does in the Latin, but as he probably would have done had his creator written in English. In preserving the metre and double rhymes of the original, I have acted from the same reverent regard for the music with which, in the liturgy of the Church, the verses have become inseparably wedded that inspired Gen. Dix; seeking rather to surmount the obstacles to success by honest effort, than to avoid them by the adoption of an easier versification which would have deprived my version of all utility in religious service.

I must bespeak the reader’s charitable consideration in respect of the first stanza, the insuperable difficulties of which seem to have been purposely contrived in order to warn off trespassers at the very boundary of the alluring domain. I have got over the inhibition—somehow—but David and the Sibyl must try to forgive me if they find themselves represented merely by the names of those conspicuous personal qualities to which they probably owed, respectively, their powers of prophecy, as Samson’s strength lay in his hair.