Go Deeper

Mara goes down the Shore (with books)

Posted July 24th, 2009

This weekend I’m heading to the Jersey shore, where my family and I have spent time every summer since I wore waterwings. This trip calls for a carefully selected reading list: did I mention that bringing a stack of classics to the beach is my favorite way to relax?

Let’s start with a tragedy: Euripides’ Bacchae features a bunch of plastered women going nuts in the mountains, and culminates with manual decapitation. My favorite part is King Pentheus’s attempt to disguise himself as a woman and spy on a secret ritual. Dionysus helps the king get his girdle on straight and his hairdo just so before setting out on a fatal tree-scaling reconnaissance mission.

Follow that up with Lysistrata, a comedy from the master of old comedy himself, Aristophanes. In an effort to halt the Peloponnesian war, the women of Athens withhold sexual favors from their hubbies, including an activity that I believe translates as “lioness on the cheese grater.” But don’t quote me on that, I haven’t got my lexicon. The reason this play is so funny is that nothing like it could ever happen in real life.

Speaking of cheese graters, don’t forget Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, the original how-to guide for picking up members of the opposite sex. I actually haven’t read this before, so I’m excited. I’m told it includes a chapter called “Don’t Forget Her Birthday.” Should come in handy on the boardwalk.

And my hope-to-get to stack of Robert Fagles (and Bernard Knox, as editor) translations of the Iliad and The Odyssey, for their fantastic beauty and violence. And for those moments of doubt I can turn to the angst-ridden poetry of Catullus.

Number five is US Weekly. Shut up, you buy it too. When it comes to summer reading , you know what my main man Callimachus says: mega biblion mega kakon. (Big book? Big trouble.)

–Mara Miller

Photo by Lindsay Miller