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Best translation of the Iliad?

Geeks who love the Classics

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Mar 14, 2007, 8:00am Top

Heyho everybody!

Which would you guys recommend as the best translation of the Iliad? I've heard good things about Fagles' translation. I want one which is easy and enjoyable to read rather than a straight translation. Any help appreciated, thanks!

Mar 14, 2007, 8:45am Top

Partly, it depends what you want to read - prose or poetry.

The latest poetic translation, which was well received, is available on the web - The Iliad. I thought it was very good.

The dedication to his son gives a good feel of the style -
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.

Edited: Mar 14, 2007, 5:37pm Top

Best is pretty subjective, but I find Richmond Lattimore's translation of the Iliad and the Odyssey to be quite good.

Edit: Good if I could spell the guy's name right.

Mar 15, 2007, 11:20am Top

I also enjoyed the Lattimore translation of The Iliad, I found it to be more accessible than the Fagles translation although I only read a little of the latter.

Mar 17, 2007, 8:43am Top

This is just my opinion, but you can't read the Iliad in prose. It just doesn't have the same effect. But I much prefer Fagles translation to the older ones. Especially when you read it aloud. You can hear the words play off each other. Its really quite brilliant.

6derekwalker First Message
Apr 14, 2007, 2:52pm Top

I have to throw in a vote for Robert Fagles, given the criteria. As I see it, Lattimore has produced a better translation, and one that gives a better idea of what Homer wrote, but Fagles has produced a better and more enjoyable English epic poem.

Apr 14, 2007, 7:09pm Top

I'm not sure where he's up to with it, but Christopher Logue was translating it piecemeal and the first one - War Music - was brilliant.

Jul 8, 2008, 1:38am Top

I started out reading both the Lattimore and Fagles translation and gave up on the Fagles after I got a feel for the characters and flow. Many people prefer the Fagles.

I also watched The Teaching Company Vandiver's DVD's (can get them on cassette or audio too) on both the Iliad and Odyssey, and she quotes from the Lattimore translation.

Jul 10, 2008, 3:41am Top

Thanks for starting this topic! The Iliad is on my list, and I've wondered what translation would be best to read.

Message 2- it looks like they've changed the location of that translation. Is this it? I went looking and this looked like the right thing. http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/homer/iliad_title.htm

Aug 15, 2008, 1:25am Top

Has anyone tried the translation by Stanley Lombardo?

Edited: Aug 25, 2008, 2:15am Top

Lombardo's version is what one might call "cutting-edge:" less concerned than conventional ones with straightforward translation of the Greek text in a way that closely represents its archaic milieu. I think it's fair to say that he's more interested in a kind of style that the current generation can read and relate to. His translations (he has produced many) are highly regarded, but not because they most faithfully represent the Greek: he wants to modernize the timeless qualities of Homer so that current readers can appreciate them within the culture with which they are familiar.

My preference is strongly in favor of a more straightforward, traditional translation that represents the Greek text: its language, the legendary world in which it is grounded, and its elevated, heroic style. (Elevated style, of course, is one of the defining features of epic in general, and it is Homer in the Iliad who established the epic form for the Western world.) By far the best straightforward translation, according to the criteria that I have just enumerated, is that of Richmond Lattimore, The Iliad of Homer http://www.amazon.com/Iliad-Homer/dp/0226469409/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&a...

I recommend Lattimore's version in the strongest terms. It is more challenging than most (or probably all) of the widely used translations; but rising to the challenge--keeping in mind the fact that you will not understand everything the first time (nobody even comes close to doing so)--will take you as close as possible, unless you learn Greek (an enterprise from which I would not discourage you), to the founding work (and still one of the greatest works) of Western literature.

There is a commentary for beginning readers of the poem--I think by M. M. Willcock, but I'm not sure--that is designed to complement the Lattimore version. I've never used it, but I have glanced through it; I surmise that it would be helpful. In any case, the work becomes more manageable to read when somebody who understands it explains a few points here and there.)

Edited: Aug 25, 2008, 2:38am Top


Please note that Logue's work is not a translation; it is an adaptation. Logue does not even know Greek, or at least didn't at the time War Music was completed. (Stanley Lombardo said that when I took a graduate seminar with him in 1992. I have not read any of Logue myself.)

Sep 7, 2008, 4:31pm Top

Criels, thanks. I didn't realise that.

Maybe that's what makes it poetry, unlike a lot of translations.

Sep 14, 2008, 10:59pm Top

I second the recommendation for the Lattimore translation, which is as close to the original Greek as any translation into modern English is ever likely to get, including the hexameter (these translators are crazy....).Lattimore keeps all those features of the Greek which make the Homeric texts so endlessly fascinating: the archeology of the text, the evidence of oral formulae, the ring structures, the real nature of the similes. The introduction is especially interesting, in pointing out some of these things. This is why universities always choose the Lattimore.
There is also an excellent commentary to Lattimore's translation of the Odyssey, by the way, by Peter Jones: Companion to Homer's Odyssey.

On the other hand, if Homeric studies do not interest you, and you simply want to read good (modernist?) poetry, the Fagles is the one to go for.

Incidentally, Ezra Pound included a 'reworking' of book 11 of the Odyssey in his first Canto:

"And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on tha swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, so winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe's this craft, the trim-coifed goddess."

Makes me wish he had translated the whole thing...

Oct 22, 2008, 11:05pm Top

I'd say, these days, for me, it's tie between Lattimore and Fagles. If I was forced to choose, I'd probably go with Lattimore for sentimental reasons: I've been reading it for 20 years off and on, and it also helped me with some tough passages in the original Greek when I was in college.

Lattimore's fidelity to the original Greek is quite good, though not perfect. With Fagles, I can't say, since I have tried to use his translation to try to cheat my way through the original.

Edited: Oct 23, 2008, 2:58pm Top

I referred earlier to Malcolm Willcock's Companion to the Iliad as an aid to understanding that work in Lattimore's translation. I have since looked through a copy of that book and found that I can now recommend it even more highly than before. Also, I found that there is the same kind of work by the same author for the other Homeric poem, A Companion to the Odyssey by Malcolm M. Willcock (not to be confused with the commentary by Jones in #14).

Oct 23, 2008, 10:49pm Top

To my consternation, I now can't find the Willcock guide to the Odyssey that I was sure I had seen somewhere. Maybe I actually saw the Jones book instead and falsely attributed it to Willcock. But I think I so clearly remembered such a book by Willcock that I'm seriously disturbed about my memory if I didn't. I hope I'm not falling apart.

Oct 27, 2008, 12:37am Top

I think you might be thinking of the Jones commentary, criels. to the best of my knowledge there is no Wilcock's commentary on the Odyssey.

if you find yourself falling apart, I find scotch tape always helps.

Oct 29, 2008, 9:18pm Top

I'm afraid this job calls for duct tape, at the very least.

Oct 29, 2008, 10:21pm Top

Hello, I have to preface this with a caveat that I've only read through the Fagles translation in full, and read snippets of the Lattimore and Lombardo.

There probably is no single "best" translation. Some people want a reading experience that flows as easily and quickly as prose as possible, while others seek a translation that hews closely to the original Greek.

I personally feel that Fagles and Lombardo are easier to read than Lattimore, with some important reservations. I've only glanced through Lombardo, and it seemed to be a very "visceral" translation but one that occasionally used modern slang. I felt that effect was too jarring for my tastes.

Fagles reads easily, but in his translation he sacrifices the mnemonic set phrases that are used to describe key characters. If you're not familiar with this, I'll try to explain: certain characters are evoked again and again by descriptive phrases that are repeated throughout the poem: "Broad-armed Hector" or something like that. The phrases may have functioned as mental bookmarks for storytellers long ago.

Fagles doesn't use those phrases, or rather he rewords them as he sees fit. Whether or not that matters to you is a matter of taste.

Lattimore, from what I gather, is the closest translator to the original Greek. He may be too close for some tastes, because he uses unfamiliar, archaic spellings for the characters -- Hektor, Akhilleus, etc. -- and his sentence structure isn't like spoken English. He also uses the set phrases that I wrote about. However, his language probably best captures the air of epic events.

Fagles has very detailed notes about the characters and cultural references. Lattimore has an index of characters, and I don't remember what supplements come with Lombardo's translation.

I hope this long response helps. Above all, I suggest reading each translation to see what works best for you.

Dec 13, 2008, 5:07am Top


Thanks for posting this question. In preparing to soon make the investment of time and money required for reading/listening to the Iliad, this discussion post has been most helpful. It is sad that so many people have their first exposure to many classic works not originally written in English (or meant for those whose primary language is English) via the form of out-dated or poor translations. I was fortunate to realize early on that many of these works were not originally written in English, that translations are a creative work in their own right (more or less so depending upon the translator's philosophy and aim) and that which translation is chosen may make a huge difference for gaining understanding and proper appreciation for the original work.

- Moshe

Dec 31, 2009, 8:38pm Top

Robert Fagles.

May 5, 2011, 4:01pm Top

Best to learn Greek of course.
I first read the Penguin version by E V Rieu and I found it curiously unsatisfactory but the Pope version retains the awful horror and is conveyed beautifully in my own language.

"The Souls of mighty Chiefs untimely slain;
Whose Limbs unbury'd on the naked Shore
Devouring Dogs and hungry Vultures tore.
Since Great Achilles and Atrides strove,
Such was the Sov'reign Doom, and such the
Will of Jove."

Edited: Sep 25, 2011, 7:43am Top

I'll second robarc's suggestion - Alexander Pope's translation into verse. Some of it is quite striking. A favorite example, from an address of Ajax to the hard-pressed Greeks at the end of book 15:

...No friends to help, no city to defend.
This spot is all you have, to lose or keep;
There stand the Trojans, and here rolls the deep.
'Tis hostile ground you tread; your native lands
Far, far from hence: your fates are in your hands.

And yet another: W. H. D. Rouse's translation. The very first line is:

"An angry man - there is my story." Slam bang you're started. He's pretty good, I think.

Oct 2, 2011, 7:04am Top

Does anyone have any experience with the Theodore Alois Buckley translation of the Illiad? Is it a good translation to read from or should I look for another?

Jan 15, 2012, 5:19pm Top

I have read both the Fagles and Alexander Pope translations. While Fagles is not in rhyming verse. I enjoyed it, but would urge readers to read both Pope and another translation. For those who say they want a simple version, I reccomend they go to the children's section of their library.

Jan 16, 2012, 2:27pm Top

These sound great. I'm listening to Stephen Mitchell's translation and it's rather drab and modernized.

Sep 7, 2012, 2:26am Top

I enjoyed Fitzgerald's translation.

Jan 11, 4:52pm Top

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Feb 8, 3:13pm Top

I love Martin Hammond's translation of "The Iliad".

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