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The Library versus The Lyre: The Paths of Survival and the Poetry of Textual History

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Josephine Balmer
Josephine Balmer


What is the relationship between poetry and scholarship? What can poetry add to the sum of knowledge that scholarship might not? Conceived as a coda to my 2013 study, Piecing Together the Fragments: Translating Classical Verse, Creating Contemporary Poetry, “The Library versus The Lyre” applies the same methods of critical discussion of, and commentary on, my practice as a poet and classical translator to my latest collection, The Paths of Survival (2017). This collection comprises a poetic sequence which moves backwards in time from the present-day to antiquity as it explores the fragility of the written word; how it is destroyed and how it can endure, often in surprising ways, against all odds. In particular, it focuses on the ten tiny scraps of Aeschylus’s play Myrmidons all that now remains of his tragic masterpiece written in the fifth century BCE— commencing with a tiny scrap preserved in the Sackler Library, Oxford and concluding with the Athenian tragedian himself revising his manuscript on his deathbed in Sicily in 456 BCE. Of all my collections, The Paths of Survival offers the most scholarly concerns, raising most questions about the correlations and disruptions between the poetic and the academic. “The Library versus The Lyre” examines this sometimes distrustful, often productive, relationship between the two fields as it looks forward to a new, mutually sympathetic synthesis. As it concludes: “...without scholarship Myrmidons would be lost. And without poetry it would never have been written.”


poetry and scholarship; The Paths of Survival; Aeschylus, Myrmidons; Library of Alexandria; translators/editors as dramatic characters; Cavafy; Oxyrhynchus fragment

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