"Best" translation of Iliad & Odyssey?
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So how about it readers? Do you prefer Pope, Fitzgerald, Fagles, etc.?
Although it has probably been superseded by later prose translations, I like Andrew Lang's translation of the Iliad. I have yet to read his translation of the Odyssey, having read the Fitzgerald translation instead. Personally, comparing the prose from the Lang Iliad to the Fitzgerald Odyssey ( I'll concede somewhat of an apples to oranges comparison ), I prefer the Lang to the Fitzgerald.
I have never read the Pope translation of the Iliad straight through, having just read portions when the mood strikes. It is a good poetic translation, though not as clear as the prose translations; and therefore best read after one of the prose translations IMO.
I think we've gone over this ground before, but since you asked:
1. I think anyone who really loves Homer will not be content with just one translation but will want multiple translations.
2. The two epics are so different in character, I do not find a single translator who has satisfied me equally when he has translated both poems.
3. We have debated lengthily what makes a "faithful" translation, and haven't come up with a definitive answer. I tend to take the approach that the best translation is usually the best recreation of the work in the language into which it is translated, and as in religion, "faithfulness" is a matter of trying to be faithful to the spirit of the original, not to a literal translation of the words (which can sometimes be impossible).
Given that criteria, I like Fagles' translation of The Iliad best of the half-dozen I've read, and have to call a draw between Fitzgerald's verse, and T.E. Lawrence's prose, translation of The Odyssey.
To comment further, especially in light of my third criteria above, I have to say that the version of The Odyssey I find most pleasurable to read is one that is flatly rejected by most scholars and critics today, Herbert Bates' school edition in verse. It is unfortunately abridged; that is one of the reasons it isn't seriously considered today. The other reason is that it is versified in iambic tetrameter (horrors! not even good English iambic pentameter, let alone Homer's "rolling" hexameters). To most, that makes it NOT a "faithful" translation.
But as Bates pointed out in his introduction, Homer's dactylic hexameters make for heavy lines in English. Classical Greek is lighter and the way the accents fall permit great speed of line, whereas in English the initial stress followed by two weak syllables is plodding in comparison. (Think of the opening of Longfellow's Evangeline--and if Longfellow was anything, he was a highly skilled versifier). The English language seems best suited to iambs. To achieve the kind of speed that Bates felt was characteristic of the original, he used a verse form that is not what most think of when they think of long narrative poetry. Judge for yourself if you think it works:
TELL ME THE TALE, MUSE, OF THAT MAN
OF MANY CHANGES, HE WHO WENT
WANDERING SO FAR WHEN HE HAD PLUNDERED
Troy’s sacred citadel. And many
The men whose cities he beheld,
Whose minds he learned to know, and many
The sorrows that his soul endured
Upon the deep the while he strove
To save himself from death and bring
His comrades home.
Of these things now,
Daughter of Zeus, O goddess, tell us,
Even as thou wilt, the tale.
Those others who escaped death’s stroke
Had reached their homes at last, delivered
From battle and the sea. But him
And him alone—though still he longed
For home and wife—the nymph Calypso,
A mighty goddess, kept imprisoned
Within her hollow caves, and longed
To make him there her husband. No,
Not when the day came when the gods
Granted, as circling season passed,
That he might once again return
To Ithaca—not even then,
With those that loved him, might he find
A rest from strife. And all the gods
Felt pity for him, all but one—
Poseidon. Still, with wrath unceasing,
He strove against the good Odysseus
Until he reached his home.
(compare with Fagles)
Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove-
the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,
the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun
and the Sungod wiped from sight the day of their return.
Launch out on the story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
start from where you will – sing for our time too.
...Begin when all the rest who left behind them
headlong death in battle or at sea
had long ago returned, while he alone still hungered
for home and wife. Her ladyship Kalypso
clung to him in her sea-hollowed caves--
a nymph, immortal and most beautiful,
who craved him for her own.
And when long years and seasons
wheeling brought around that point of time
ordained for him to make his passage homeward,
trials and dangers, even so, attended him
even in Ithaka, near those he loved.
Yet all the gods had pitied Lord Odysseus,
all but Poseidon, raging cold and rough
against the brave king till he came ashore
at last on his own land.
Not knowing classical Greek, I can't say with any certainty, but it seems to me the translators who used the longer lines have used more words than necessary to fill out the lines. At any rate, I still say that it's pretty hard to say "this is the best translation."
Thanks for the comments everyone. I was merely curious as to your preferences.
I already own the Fitzgerald versions and am thinking of trying Fagles next.
You can always learn Ancient Greek and read the original :)
Seriously though - I am with the majority here - if you want the full experience and not just to read the books because of class/interest/whatever, read a few translations.
Check out the nice new edition by the Chester River Press using the Pope translation:
Available from Oak Knoll for $350. Very impressive in person with the Greek en face.
Looks like a lovely set and I especially like bilingual editions but I personally would never buy another Pope translation.
So far I’ve read only the Fitzgerald translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey, which I enjoyed for the readability and the way he makes the story flow, however I am keen to try some alternative translations.
An extensive list of English translations of both works with links to samples and even full texts can be found here:
Some reflections from an English Professor on the more popular translation by Fagles, Fitzgerald and Lattimore are here:
The article by Prof. Harris includes some interesting thoughts on the lengths of lines in translations compared to the original.
>9 I suspect you had mentioned somewhere but which one made you so... unforgiving to Pope?
That's one of the things that sometimes get to me - the English translations don't have the same melody as the Bulgarian translation that I read back in high school. Or the part of the Russian translation that was included in an anthology. Interesting article :)
Martin Hammond's. They are almost word for word from the Greek. Which makes them somewhat difficult to read unless you appreciate Homer's technique - a good intro to that is Adam Parry's introduction to the collected papers of his father Milman, £30 or so on abebooks.
Too bad we can't get a little DMP from De Selby and ask Homer ourselves in some underwater cave. Sorry, can't help but interject something from what I'm reading when an opportunity presents itself.
Fagles' Iliad was great. How about Chapman though? Perhaps, we shouldn't think about the best per se, but marvel at the sheer variety and invention.
Studying ancient Greek is an anachronistic activity. Can anyone arrive at a true understanding of it, its meanings, its sounds? Not to mention the process of transcribing the oral technique onto paper x number of years ago.
>13 Studying ancient Greek is an anachronistic activity.
What an odd comment! Studying pretty much any literature more than a generation or so old faces us with a comprehension gap because our values and associations are not the same as the author's. Homeric Greek seemed alien to the inhabitants of Periclean Athens - every bit as antiquated as Chaucerian English seems to us. Even the values enshrined in the Homeric epics were alien in classical Greek times - the culture of gift exchanges and the culture of honor. I don't think classical Athens was much better placed than we are to understand the cultural depth of the Homeric epics - but that didn't spoil their enjoyment of them just as great tales.
>14 "that didn't spoil their enjoyment of them just as great tales"
Precisely. And the translation that permits the greatest enjoyment for the reader today is, for me, the preferred one.
The fact that I can read and understand Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon in the Old English, and Chaucer, Langland and the works of the Pearl Poet in the original doesn't mean I could, if transported back to those days, swap stories, or even make myself understood, to those poets. But I can appreciate the music of their verse with my limited knowledge, and have seen that no translation I've ever read can do justice to that music, and can only substitute music of its own devising.
I think this is the best any translation can hope for, when it comes to poetry, and I wish I had the opportunity when I was young to learn classical Greek and Latin so I would have a better appreciation of Homer's and Virgil's music. But the stories can be just as enjoyable, and just about every published translation of the Homeric epics I've read--over a dozen--seems to tell the same stories.
Those seeking enjoyment will very likely find it the work of a fairly recent translator, Stanley Lombardo, and this pleasure is only intensified by listening to Professor Lombardo reciting (and drumming) on an audio version.
>13 Studying ancient Greek is an anachronistic activity
If you think so. Studying any languages adds a layer to how you view the world - even dead languages. And this one has enough literature to make the layer a thick one:)
It is never too late:)
Those sounds are probably closer to the poetics than an English translation, but…
I believe there's more evidence for the way Latin sounded.
Again, we are also assuming (quite incorrectly) to have an accurate transcription of Homer, who, to complicate things, was part of the oral tradition and as such probably altered or varied his performances. Furthermore, a standardized text of Homer was commissioned in the 2nd century AD carried out by a small group known as the Alexandrine grammarians. There’s no way to know how much was removed, or had been added along the way. So even if there was a Homer, and some of what he’d done was recorded, it’s safe to say the works as we have them now are the combined efforts of a multitude of individuals, for better or worse. I’m not suggesting that it’s not worthwhile to study ancient Greek, but if you want to get closer to an author in their native language, studying French, Russian, etc. is a better bet. Even then, it’s not without issue.
*The bickering commentary is enlightening:
The Iliad is an amazingly coherent work, only the Rhesos episode ostensibly unrelated to the remainder and generally not included in the standard texts. So it is likely that it's the work of one man. I have a vision of someone saying "OK, Homer, we've got this fantastic new-fangled writing invention, give us your best story in its longest exegesis..." After all, performing the Iliad would take a week minimum - who could afford that? I wonder if Rhesos was the equivalent of a bonus track; a bit of Homer that hadn't been included so someone shoehorned it in.
One point to note is that the Iliad's plot is very simple; Achilles goes on strike and gets revenge for his dead friend. That's sustained over 500 pages. Whereas others within the epic cycle go through all sorts - Memnon, Troilos, the wooden horse, the death of Paris, Neoptolemos and so on - in a tenth of the time. Homer knew how to make a little go a long way.
I prefer the Fitzgerald translations for clarity and ease of reading. For a prose translation I like the classic Rieu translation in the Penguin Classics. But I also love the Pope translations of the Oddysey and Illiad. These are classics in their own right - but they are not the easiest translations to follow. I like them because I like Pope's poetry generally.
Interesting that you like the Rieu translations--my very first comparative literature teacher in college couldn't standD them! She thought they were just too slangy and inappropriate in their diction (I remember she used to snort about the translated passage "'And you, Menelaus, you good old redhead!'"). She was in her 70s then, and a Smith graduate who had a classical education and could read Latin and Greek, so I suspected she had SOME knowledge of what the original was like (although now I realize that because one may have read The Iliad in the original doesn't mean one can catch subtleties of style, which must only come after a deep immersion in all the extant works in ancient Greek).
At any rate, I also like George Palmer's prose translation of The Odyssey, though not as much as T.E. Lawrence's. How much is lost in a prose translation, though, for the sake of clarity and fidelity? From the article Stephan68 cited above by Prof. Harris, one can see that a verse translation usually takes some liberties with the text to meet the requirements of poesy. A prose translation needn't do so, but the music is sacrificed. Still, the music of a translation isn't the same music as the original text anyway, so what's the advantage of a verse translation, if all you are interested in is the story?
I think your teacher had a point. I have a fondness for Rieu because it's the first translation I read (during a holiday to Greece when I was 13). I believe that the philosophy behind Rieu's trsanslation was to produce a Homer for the masses. In fact, it was one of the first Penguin paperbacks to be released.
The Loeb prose translations are a reasonable alternative (translated by AG Murray). They are less sensational than Rieu if you prefer a more sedate and dignified Homer. But I can't get over my bias for a verse translation - it somehow seems a more authentic way to read Homer, even if the music is not the same as the original.
If anyone is interested in the Pope translations both are available from EP in gorgeous editions from the 100 Greatest Series.
I enjoy the Pope translations, too, because I like Pope--but it isn't Homer. I'm not sure why, but for me Dryden's Aeneid in heroic couplets works much better as a translation than Pope's Homer.
You have touched on the central paradox of translation, Django. Which translation is Homer? Probably none of them.
The Quicksilver66 and Django6924 posts above made me think of an evasive answer Bilbo Baggins gave to the trolls in The Hobbit:
(Troll): "Before we throw you in the stew, answer this. Are any of the translations close to Homer?"
(Bilbo): "Yes, lots. No none at all, not one."
Since the stories originated in the oral tradition and were passed along through many "bards" after Homer (if there was a Homer), it makes it even more impossible to know whether one has come close. I'm thankful that we have the stories and epics we do from the oral tradition of different cultures but in a sense a story "dies" once it is written down, in that it stops growing as it did when passed along orally. It's a snapshot of a once living thing. The original Homer might have been a bit perturbed to hear how his epic was being recited at it's last oral performance before it was written down. So in a way, reading the many different translations and versions is like seeing different performances. Some you like, some you don't, and you are surprised when your friends favor the ones you don't.
>27 "in a sense a story "dies" once it is written down, in that it stops growing as it did when passed along orally. It's a snapshot of a once living thing"
Very pertinent point, jveezer. How many times have I gone to small venues, listened to one of my favorite traditional jazz bands blow up a storm, have bought one of their CDs that had the particular song I liked best, then been sorely disappointed. The execution may have been flawless (with editing, it probably was), but it missed the mark totally in excitement levels.
Last weekend I finished The Aeneid in the translation by Fitzgerald. It was my first attempt at this work and I while I did enjoy reading it, I found it at times much harder going than Fitzgerald’s rendering of The Iliad or The Odyssey. I am wondering how the Fagles translation compares to this.
It's hard to compare Homer to Virgil. On the whole, the Illiad and Odyssey are more satisfying. Not sure if Fagles' translation could make much difference.
I'm no expert, but here is my tuppence worth.
I have read in full the Fitzgerald translation , The Cecil D Lewis translation and I have used the H. Rushton Fairclough translation for assistance in reading Virgil in Latin as a parallel translation.
I find it hellishly difficult to come down firmly on one side or the other. It may just be sentiment (as it was my first read of the Aeneid) but I liked very much the impression Fitzgerald gave me, and similarly so with his translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey.
Saxon, you can see we all have one or more favorites. If you're wondering whether the Fagles translation is worth searching out the most recent FS editions, I'd say yes. In fact, you can still get shrink-wrapped copies of The Odyssey from barnesandnoble.com.
I have two copies of these books and am wondering which would be better for me to read first, as I've never actually read the story at all. The first I have is the one in the Barnes And Noble Leatherbound collection, which is a translation by a Samuel Butler, and contains no textual notes or anything; the second is in the Wordsworth Classics collection, is translated by George Chapman, and has a fair number of endnotes.
Nothing middle of the road then? Between the two I couldn't say. I detest the Butler translation. And Chapman's is a specialized rendering. A fourteener. Get a Fagles or Lattimore.
What is it about the Butler translation you hate so much and what do you mean by Chapman being a specialised rendering?
Butler turns it into a regular story, no vitality. I don't mind a prose translation, I have the Loeb Murray ones and they are great. But if you are going with lines Chapman is beholden to a specific English prosody regardless of what the material is doing. Adding here and there to get his 14 syllables. It's stunning to read aloud for an English speaker, but there are charier choices if you want to experience a poem feel and still be true to the material.
I work in the Classics department of a bookshop in Oxford which caters for the needs of Oxford University's Classics faculty (possibly still the strongest in the world). We sell books daily to about 200 undergraduates and tutors/historians such as Robin Lane Fox, Robin Waterfield, Michael Wood, Simon Hornblower, Bettany Hughes etc...
... and I can tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, Lattimore is considered the best English Iliad and Fitzgerald the best English Odyssey.
Bought the aforementioned Chester River Press edition today for $100. I love bilingual editions of works not originally in English. I guess I'll be reading it in the Pope translation.
I personally prefer the Robert Fitzgerald translations. I tried reading Virgil's 'The Aeneid' from the Easton Press which was translated by John Dryden, but I ended up going back to Fitzgerald which I found more poetic and flowing.
I came across this quote from the Iliad not long ago:
"As is the generation of leaves, so too of men:
At one time the wind shakes the leaves to the ground,
but then the flourishing woods
Gives birth, and the season of spring comes into existence
So it is of the generations of men, which alternately
come forth and pass away."
Anyone have any idea what translation it's from? I'm going crazy trying to find it out using Google.
The quote is from an article by Laura Nash:
I would guess it's not a full translation, just a partial rendering for the article, even though the citation (in the second link) mentions the specific book making it appear it's from a full translation of the Iliad it very likely isn't. Anyone with Jstor access want to check the footnote in original article? It might provide a definite answer. Sadly I have no access at the moment.
Here's a brief bio of Ms. Nash:
What a talented lady!
> 40, 42
This is a fairly literal (but beautiful) translation. I've looked at the article in JSTORR and the footnote merely gives the reference in the Iliad, i.e., Book 6, lines 145-149. I've checked half a dozen translations and it isn't any of them. Given Ms Nash's credentials and the lack of citation, I would think the translation is her own.
I'm a bit disappointed that it's probably not a full translation. I actually like the one in this quote better than the same section in any of the other ones I've compared it with.
>13 Studying ancient Greek is an anachronistic activity
As works of epic poetry, the Iliad and Odyssey can only fully be appreciated in their original language, with the poetic metre and alliterations intact. Translation can only ever communicate the gist of these masterworks.
There is certainly nothing anachronistic about studying the ancient language except that insofar as we ignore doing so, we kill the original art.
I will grant you that any modern performance of the text would no doubt carry a thick modern accent to the ancient ear. But, then, it is written in an Ionian dialect, so would you also then claim that an ancient Syracusan (or Ithican!) greek-speaker would not have access to the original language just because they speak a different dialect? No.
>1 Do you prefer Pope, Fitzgerald, Fagles, etc.?
Pope's works are not translations, but English poetic works inspired by the original. I don't think that Pope's poems can really be on the list of legitimate translations, which is not to say that they don't deserve to be appreciated as works in their own right.
Fagles has been well received.
>37 ...without a shadow of a doubt, Lattimore is considered the best English Iliad and Fitzgerald the best English Odyssey.
Worth looking into.
> 45. As works of epic poetry, the Iliad and Odyssey can only fully be appreciated in their original language
Agreed, as long as we're talking about "epic Greek poetry."
Do any translations rise to this level of quality? Arguably only Pope, but, as you say, that's a case of "epic English poetry," that shares with the Greek only some details of the plot.
For anyone who's interested....the bookseller Edward R. Hamilton is selling the Iliad and Odyssey set as publishd by Chester River Press for $111.95. Original price was $350.00. A set I own and like, but bear in mind (for the persnickety types) tis a Pope translation. The bookseller is very reliable, but his packaging can lead to rubbed books or slipcases. I've never seen him provide packing material around a book inside the box. The catalog I have calls for free shipping as well through year's end, although it appears that the inserted order form is required for that benefit. If interested, take a look:
I bought the very same set from an American dealer via Alibris for £37 with delivery to England. For that price I thought I'd take a punt and it turned out to be brand new and superbly packaged. I should also add that there was a bit of cash back for going through one of those referral sites.
I tend to hop on things like this a bit early, I suppose. I bought the book directly from Chester River, but paid about $225 as I recall. It is quite nice even for that price. For the price you paid, tis outright theft!
>48 My sealed boxed set just arrived today, and I was able to get it for $70 (It was very well packed from Book Outpost). I saw at least one more copy at that price when I ordered it. If anyone one was on the fence on this one, I highly recommend it. Stunning!
Hard to resist these at $111.00! The books are massive and beautiful but I guess they are very difficult to sell at $350 in these depressed times.
Despite Samuel Johnson's ravish praise, the Pope translation (the one used in these editions) is probably among the least used or read these days. Chief annoyance is his decision to use Roman-Latin names, so Athena becomes Minerva, Zeus is Jupiter, etc., presumably because the Latin names were more familiar to educated readers in his time.
The translation quoted in >40 is by Ian Johnston
ETA: it's not. Apologies.
I'm reading the Odyssey in the Butler prose, gotten the Fagles paperback because it was in a local store, and also I'm checking Johnston's translation. Because I started with the Butler I prefer that, although the Johnston certainly is a good read. Fagles just doesn't work for me, yet.
It also struck me (like >27 mentioned) I'm just 'listening' to different performances of the same song, since Homer is said to be a bard, and each performance must have been different, even by himself.
The differences lend themselves to repeated reading of the story, something I'm normally hesitant about, requiring at least a decade between rereads to make sure the details are sufficiently foggy to be surprised once more.
From the link you posted:
"Generations of men are like the leaves.
In winter, winds blow them down to earth,
but then, when spring season comes again,
the budding wood grows more. And so with men—
one generation grows, another dies away."
which is a different translation from the one I posted in >40.
Sorry, I obviously read too quickly and didn't refer back to the text. I guess I was distracted by the dedication.
Iliad: Lattimore ("faithful"). Fagles ("dynamic"). Buttler ("accesible"). Pope ("grandiose")
Greek alongside Lattimore is not that crazy and you get better: http://digital.library.northwestern.edu/homer/
Easiest: Free audiobook. ML Cohen is the man: http://librivox.org/the-iliad-by-homer-translated-by-samuel-butler/
Odyssey: Fiztgerald ("poetic"). Fagles ("balanced"). Buttler ("accesible"). Pope ("grandiose")
Greek alongside Huddleston's is not that crazy and you get better: http://digital.library.northwestern.edu/homer/
Easiest: Fagles audiobook read by Sir Ian McKellen. Worth every penny.
As much as I love and admire the FS Editions, I find the Fagles Paperback Deluxe very practical and satisfying too.
Read it out loud if you can. Even better, create a group and read a Chapter(Book) to each other. In a nice place.
The Chester River Press edition with Greek and English (Pope) texts side by side is a fantastic enterprise:
Thanks, your saintliness, for a useful overview!
You might also like to check out Anthony Verity's new translation of the Iliad. It's my current favourite.
The video on the link is worth watching, too.
(I hope he's now working on the Odyssey.)
Edited to add:
Yes, I also love the Chester River Press edition. Fantastic illustrations.
>57 Totally agree. This one was always so tempting... but it was unreasonably big for me. So I went for the tiny grek-english LOEB instead.
But now, after just getting Night Thoughts nothing seems out of question anymore... Oh well...
BTW drasvola... I seem to recall you might be from Spain... If so, you might be interested in this new bilingual edition:
But you probably know about it already... I haven't had time to buy and read this promising new translation yet.
Yes, I am. That's welcome news. Thanks a lot, Saint-J. Revista de libros used to have a paper edition to which I subscribed. Lack of funding forced them to quit the project, and now there is a digital edition which I unfortunately don't follow regularly. I will have to check it more often. I don't read Greek, but I like bilingual editions just the same...
>58 Cheers. I'm aware it is a bit too ambitious and stereotyped to describe translations with just a word, but wanted to make it brief.
Thanks a lot for the tip. I'll try Verity's as soon as I can (so many books...). I'm always up for an Iliad re-read.
I just went through the video. Very interesting. Thanks again.
Funnily enough, just yesterday I was strolling while listening the "brutal" voice of Cohen that fits Iliad's vibe so well:
60> Also, you probably realised the author of the article is Crespo, the translator of Clasicos Gredos' Iliad. My first.
My Greek is extremely rusty these days, so I usually don't check if this or that word is dative or genitive anymore.
I just read the modern fragment first to get the gist of it and then I clumsily read out loud the greek to see how it sounds.
(many of the words you end spotting after a while, as Homer tends to repeat words and expressions).
If you really want to go down to business with every word instead, then Chicago's Homer tool is a life saver.
But I don't have the time nor the inclination for this nowadays, apart from the odd, occasional, brief fragment.
Just got the Verity's one. I'm mid-way and I'm loving it. I can't put it down.
It is very clear and modern. And it reads very fast. It feels more like a recent, original work than a translation.
Sometimes I miss more poetic versions but it still manages to retain quite some poetry in such an easy read.
Personally, my favourite Iliad was Lattimore's but I was recommending Fagles or Buttler first to most people.
I might still prefer Lattimore's "spirit" but it looks like I'll be recommending Verity's first to most people now.
Many thanks boldface for the great suggestion. Without it, I would have missed this gripping read.
I'm glad you're enjoying the Verity. Your description of its qualities is very apt, and like you I find it very hard to put down. I always end up reading twice as much as I intended!
I went through it. Very, very good. Thanks again because I would have never read it otherwise.
I knew about it back then but after a couple of initial lukewarm reviews I decided to pass on it.
Big mistake. I also hope he is working on the Odyssey now. "Please, sir, I want some more".