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A reissue of Rexroth's 1969 ""Classics Revisited"" series, which originally appeared in Saturday Review. Rexroth, the late poet, translator, and essayist, had presented the series as ""basic documents in the history of the imagination."" They are that, ranging from Gilgamesh, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Beowulf, down through Tacitus, Plutarch, and Marcus Aurelius, across the centuries to Malory, Cervantes, Montaigne, and Shakespeare, to the moderns, such as Flaubert, Rimbaud, Mark Twain, and Chekhov--60 selections in all. His purpose, which emerges clearly throughout, is to show how all great literature, demonstrates, as he says, ""a human face--yours and mine."" The great irony that he discovers as the common distinguisher of all great literature is that ""it is all so ordinary. ""This ordinariness stems from the fact that we are all so ordinary and all great writing is, simply, a chronicle of Man. The bond of mankind spans millenia, so that, as Rexroth writes in his Livy essay, ""both Corneille and Henry Adams look to Livy for their patterns of contemporary noble conduct. ""Rexroth did not hold to a naive vision of mankind as never-changing, however. In his essay on Chekhov, for instance, he compares Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides to Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekhov: "". . .If we go directly from a performance of [Antigone] to Chekhov's Three Sisters, it is difficult not to believe that the men of Classic times were different from us, a different kind of men."" The omissions are as intriguing as the included works. Virgil's Aeneid, for example, is not cited; neither are Aristotle, Pascal, Samuel Johnson, or Charles Dickens. Of those he chose, Rexroth wrote so intelligently that reading through this volume should propel anyone straight to the Classics section of their bookshop. (It might be added that his literary executors have discovered notes for a second volume which, hopefully, they will put together soon.)

Pub Date: May 11th, 1986
ISBN: 0811209881
Publisher: New Directions