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Jason and Medeia

Narrated by: Allan Robertson
Length: 20 hrs and 50 mins
Categories: Fiction, Contemporary
4 out of 5 stars (4 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A mythological masterpiece about dedication and the disintegration of romantic affection. In this magnificent epic poem, John Gardner renders his interpretation of the ancient story of Jason and Medeia. Confined in the palace of King Creon, and longing to return to his rightful kingdom Iolcus, Jason asks his wife, the sorceress Medeia, to use her powers of enchantment to destroy the tyrant King Pelias. Out of love she acquiesces, only to find that upon her return Jason has replaced her with King Creon's beautiful daughter, Glauce. An ancient myth fraught with devotion and betrayal, deception and ambition, Jason and Medeia is one of the greatest classical legends, and Gardner's masterful retelling is yet another achievement for this highly acclaimed author.

©1973 John Gardner (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

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A failed experiment

John Gardner was always an audacious writer. Retell “Beowulf” from Grendel’s point of view? No problem. Write a thick novel arguing for the superiority of Babylonian philosophy? No problem. Write a novel about a farmer whose sister is reading a potboiler — and include the whole potboiler as part of the text? You got it.

Here he does something equally audacious: he's written a 20th century epic poem in hexameters. Having recently read “The Argonautika” of Apollonius for the first time, I decided I was ready to tackle Gardner’s take on the same story.

I wish I could say his bold experiment was as successful as his other ventures, but it isn't. It's neither fish nor fowl: the humdrum detail he includes, like a good novelist, often clashes with the formal beauty of the verse: it's a heroic tale told in heroic meter, but with a 20th-century dirty-dishes mentality. His heroes are unheroic; the sex is icky; and his gods are a nasty lot, a far cry from the jolly deities of Homer.

The story is a familiar one, incorporating large chunks of the Argonautika and of Euripides’ play “Medea” as well. This is wrapped in a double layer of self-referential narrative. The innermost layer is Jason telling the story of the quest for the Golden Fleece to his host, King Creon of Thebes. The outermost layer is a 20th-century balding, bespectacled narrator who is somehow both part of the story and outside the story looking in.

A word about the narration. The narrator, Allan Robertson, is OK, but he has one disconcerting mannerism. He often takes strange pauses in the middle of a sentence: “he clasped his. Hands,” for example, or “he leaned on the window. Frame.” Based on a quick glance at the printed text, I suspect the pauses may often be the reader’s way of signaling line endings. As mentioned before, the whole novel is written in hexameter verse, like Richmond Lattimore’s translations of Homer, except that Gardner doesn't rely much on end-stopped lines. At other times I think the pause is intended to focus the listener’s attention on the word that comes next. Whatever the intention, the result for me sounded disjointed and hesitant.

It helps to have a map of the Voyage of the Argonauts handy, even though Gardner, like Apollonius, fudges the geography once the ship enters the Danube. (It is not, in fact, possible to travel by ship from the west coast of the Black Sea to the Tyrrhenian Sea west of Italy.) It may also help to have a good dictionary handy. I have a pretty good vocabulary, but when Gardner described something as being “ubiquarian as air,” I was left scratching my head.

Bottom line: a rare miss for Gardner, mainly of interest to his diehard fans (like me).

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Wonderful

I read this after college and again 18 years ago. Getting to listen to it read so masterfully enthralled me. This is my favorite greek tale and it has been dine justice by Gardner and Robertson.