I spent this entire morning snuggled up in bed reading the final fifty pages of The Iliad, aloud, to myself, because out loud is the only way the book should be read, trust me on this. The blog has been in a slump through December and I can’t think of a better way to revive it than by sharing impromptu musings on my new-found respect for translators and a glimpse at the best reading experience of my life – yes, that’s what it’s been. It’s The. Effing. Iliad.
In all honesty, a part of me wanted to read The Iliad for the same reason you’d want to read Proust – so I could say I’ve read it. I was looking at attending university, studying literature and hardly well versed as I am in classics, I thought being legitimately able to insert “When I read the Iliad…” into conversation would tip the scales in my favour. Of course, that was only one reason. Another was just trying my hand at reading an epic. I chose The Iliad because it was a History Channel film on Helen of Troy I’d seen as a kid that had first sparked my interest, if a dull spark back then, in mythology.
Choosing the translation was a difficult business. This was back in July; I spent days perusing Wikipedia’s English Translations of Homer page. I did not want to pick something too heavy or clunky to get through and end up abandoning it. Finally, I narrowed my choices down to the post-1950s translations by Richmond Lattimore (most recommended,) Robert Fagles and Robert Fitzgerald. Sampling their translations on Amazon, I found Fitzgerald the easiest to follow and the most poetic. Interestingly, my copy arrived with a blurb on the back cover by Atlantic Monthly that says,
“Fitzgerald has solved virtually every problem that has plagued translators of Homer. The narrative runs, the dialogue speaks, the military action is clear, and the repetitive epithets become useful texts rather than exotic relics.”
I won’t get into what I thought of the epic. It is still far too fresh in my mind for that. But reading this book has completely made me question an initial unthinking stance on translators and here’s why. Homer is not easy and Fitzgerald just plays with words. The writing is beautiful and I cannot stress enough how smoothly the writing flows, how rhythmic it is; how deceptively with-ease he makes rhymes. It retains the conversational-recital tone of the epic, and it can be experienced, as is appropriate, without academic help.
5 thoughts on “On Translation and reading The Iliad by Homer”
I'm glad you're back.
This looks like an epic undertaking. I'm not a fan of long poems, not since I gave up on The Canterbury Tales, but I look forward to your next post.
I do agree that a good translation makes all the difference.
Delia, I gave up on The Canterbury Tales too and was hoping the same wouldn't happen with this! But this was very engaging. It's great to be back, I'll add the Lolita-badge to the blog and read the book now, if it's not already too late! 🙂
Ok, maybe there's hope for me yet. 🙂
It's not too late for the read-along, you have until the end of the year to post your review. I'm curious to see what you make of it.
Good to have you back! Can´t believe you quoted me. Hardly remember writing that. I´m chewing on it myself right now… 😉 Actually, I had decided to stop attempting to write and perhaps go into nursing, and now I´m wavering. I think you re-injected some fuel into my literary furnace. Thank you.
Viktoria – I loved the comment, and I do hope you don't give up on writing.