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The Iliad by Homer
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The Iliad

by Homer

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
22,19422156 (4.05)7 / 950
  1. 230
    The Aeneid by Virgil (Hollerama)
  2. 242
    The Odyssey by Homer (Voracious_Reader, caflores)
  3. 80
    Beowulf by Beowulf Poet (benmartin79)
  4. 30
    Tiger at the Gates by Jean Giraudoux (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Giraudoux imagines the events in Troy when Paris shows up with Helen
  5. 30
    The Tain by Anonymous (inge87)
  6. 41
    Ransom by David Malouf (GCPLreader)
  7. 21
    The Dismissal of the Grecian Envoys by Jan Kochanowski (sirparsifal)
  8. 21
    The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (alalba)
  9. 12
    The Death of King Arthur by Unknown (chrisharpe)
  10. 15
    Paradise Lost by John Milton (Torikton)
  11. 17
    Troy [film] by Wolfgang Petersen (Waldstein)
    Waldstein: Very free interpretation (not adaptation) that in many ways improves on the original. No childish gods, no rambling digressions. Visually spectacular. The dialogue is a bit cringeworthy now and then, but it does have flashes of brilliance. Only for the most broad-minded admirers of Homer - or those who find the Greek bard unsatisfactory. PS Caveat: the Director's Cut is gratuitously gory!… (more)
  12. 17
    The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan (Jitsusama)
    Jitsusama: An ancient classic revolving around Greek Myth. A great help to better understand the mythology of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.
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War. ( )
  JorgeCarvajal | Feb 13, 2015 |
READ IN DUTCH/GREEK

Also by Homer, but less well known than The Odyssey. I translated this book in my Greek class. But I'm still planning to read the whole book (as a book rather than translating) ( )
  Floratina | Jan 4, 2015 |
Homer

The Iliad

Wordsworth Classics, Paperback, [2003].

8vo. xxi+425 pp. Translated by George Chapman, 1598-1611. Introduction [v-xxi] and Notes [413-25] by Adam Roberts, 2003.

This translation first published complete, 1616.
This edition first published, 2003.

Contents

Introduction
Bibliography

The Iliad

Notes

=================================================​

This review consists of comments on this particular edition, including comparison of the translations by Chapman, Pope and Fagles.[1] The two stars are for Homer alone. That’s just about all he deserves without help from his translators (he doesn’t get much from Chapman anyway).

In case you’re wondering how the whole thing was squeezed in a little over 400 pages, the reason is twofold. First, Chapman’s lines are really long. Second, Wordsworth are economical fellows. There are no blank lines to relieve your eyes; the “paragraphs” within the books are marked only by discreet displacement of the first line. One fully printed page contains exactly 43 lines. It is hard on the eyes.

For such a budget edition, Adam Roberts has done a fine job with the editorial work. You mustn’t expect too much from the notes, of course. They are few and far between. But they are helpful to understand obscure words and expressions (Chapman’s English is more 400 years old, after all) or mythological and familial references. It certainly helps to know that “Latona’s son” is no other but Apollo or that “Atrides” means (either of) the sons of Atreus, Agamemnon or Menelaus. I wonder why Mr Roberts never mentions “Pelides”. Chapman uses it only from Book IX onwards, but Pope applies it from the very beginning. I thought this was a new character. “Plucky fellow”, I remember thinking, lost in admiration, “talking to Agamemnon like that.” I couldn’t help laughing at myself when I discovered that Pelides is, of course, Achilles, son of Peleus.

The Introduction is a substantial piece that contains several sections and goes into some detail about the lives of Chapman and Homer, so far as they are known, the times they lived in, the lifelong toil Chapman lavished on his translation, and how his work stands against attempts from later centuries.

George Chapman must have been a fascinating fellow. We know hardly more of him than we do of Shakespeare, but the outlines of an adventurous screenplay nevertheless emerge. Chapman was not just a translator, to begin with. He wrote a number of successful comedies and a good deal of obscure poetry besides. He was a professional writer and suffered from the typical, especially for his age, pecuniary troubles. All his life, in spite of his success as a dramatist, he was plagued by poverty and debts. He had the really bad luck to choose patrons with rather high mortality rate: one was executed (aged 34), another (aged 18) died of typhoid fever. At least twice he ended up in prison, once for unpaid debts and once because the play he wrote in collaboration with Ben Jonson had offended the Scottish sensibility of the King. When he died in 1634, at the age of about 75 (born ca. 1559), Chapman probably did so alone and destitute.

It was as a translator of Homer that Chapman was most respected by his contemporaries and has been remembered ever since his death. The inscription on his grave reads “Georgius Chapmanium, poeta Homericus, Philosophus verus etsi Christianus poeta” (George Chapman: Homeric poet, true Philosopher, and Christian poet). It is difficult to ascertain when Chapman started working on his translation of The Iliad and how long it took him to complete the task. What can be verified by primary evidence is that in 1598 he published eight books (1, 2, 7-11, 18), in 1609 added five more (3-6, 12) to complete the first half, and in 1616 published the full texts of both The Iliad and Odyssey, although the former seems to have been finished by 1611. I am not sure how from these data Mr Roberts deduced “Chapman’s thirty-year long labour to translate Homer”, but never mind.

Mr Roberts is more illuminating on Chapman’s age and working methods. Though it was a “Golden Age of Translation”, translations from Greek were rare, almost non-existent in fact, for Latin was considered more important among educated folk. Chapman didn’t translate Homer from the original Greek straight into English. He used the Latin line-to-line translation by Jean de Sponde (Johannes Spondanus), a Greek-to-Latin dictionary, and the Lexicon compiled by Johannes Scapula. There you have it: a fruitful soil for acrimonious scholarly debate. One F. L. Schoell suggested, or rather insisted, that “Chapman did not translate a single line of Greek verse without checking the sense of one or several words in Divus’s Lexicon.” Mr Roberts calls this “rather reductive view of Chapman’s perspective” and counterattacks with the translator’s own words that those who accuse him of translating Homer from the Latin are “envious windfuckers”[2].

Whatever the constraints of the age or his working methods might have been, there is no doubt that Chapman took, at least by modern standards, considerable liberties with Homer’s text. Mr Roberts summarises them thus:

Generally speaking, Chapman does expand some sections of his original Greek text and compress others, adding supererogatory phrases and on occasion whole lines that are not, strictly, in the original text. He sometimes truncates epic similes, and on occasion reduces entire speeches by characters to brief paraphrases. In other cases, he augments the Greek to underscore an interpretation point. One critic has gone so far as to say that ‘Chapman expands and contracts The Iliad like an accordion to play his own tune upon it’[3] […], and Coleridge thought highly of Chapman’s Odysseyas an original poem rather than as a faithful version of Homer’s Odyssey. To put it like that overstates the extent to which Chapman deforms the original, but there is no doubt that passages undergo a degree of hermeneutic reworking.

Then Mr Roberts defends the translator with the rather compelling argument that “Chapman’s concern was a neoplatonic one with the ‘soul’ of the text, rather than with its ‘body’.” I fully agree with this. I would rather take a translator who offers a personal approach and tries to capture the spirit of the original, than one who dully toils word for word and deliberately keeps himself out of the work he translates. Of course, in the first case the translator himself must have a remarkable personality and, if possible, original poetic gift. Note that Chapman and Pope were also creative writers who left considerable poetic legacy, while Fagles, Lattimore and Fitzgerald have left nothing more original than translations. However creative a translation may be, it can never be regarded as an original work. For if it is an original work, it is logically impossible to remain a translation. I’m not sure that our present age is to be praised because most of the translators are not creative writers.

Mr Roberts chose for his comparison of translations the slaying of Thestor by Patroclus in Book XVI. The episode is completely insignificant, but particularly gruesome and entirely characteristic of Homer’s sick relish for such stuff. I hardly need to add that this is the first and last appearance of Thestor. Dispensing with the prose travesty by E. V. Rieu (1950), the three other versions compared by Mr Roberts are as follows:

[Fagles, 1990, XVI.477-89:]
And next he went for Thestor the son of Enops
cowering, crouched in his fine polished chariot,
crazed with fear, and the reins flew from his grip –
Patroclus rising beside him stabbed his right jawbone,
ramming the spearhead square between his teeth so hard
he hooked him by that spearhead over the chariot-rail,
hoisted, dragged the Trojan out as an angler perched
on a jutting rock ledge drags some fish from the sea,
some noble catch, with line and glittering bronze hook.
So with the spear Patroclus gaffed him off his car,
his mouth gaping round the glittering point
and flipped him down facefirst,
dead as he fell, his life breath blown away.


[Pope, 1720, XVI.486-99:]
Thestor was next; who saw the chief appear.
And fell the victim of his coward fear;
Shrunk-up he sat, with wild and haggard eye,
Nor stood to combat, nor had force to fly:
Patroclus mark'd him as he shunn'd the war,
And with unmanly tremblings shook the car,
And dropp'd the flowing reins. Him 'twixt the jaws
The javelin sticks, and from the chariot draws.
As on a rock that over-hangs the main,
An angler, studious of the line and cane,
Some mighty fish draws panting to the shore;
Not with less ease the barbed javelin bore
The gaping dastard: as the spear was shook,
He fell, and life his heartless breast forsook.


[Chapman, 1611, XVI.381-92:]
Then Pronous was first that fell beneath his fiery lance,
Which struck his bare breast, near his shield. The second Thestor's chance
Old Enops' son, did make himself, who shrinking, and set close
In his fair seat, even with th' approach Patroclus made, did lose
All manly courage, in so much that from his hands his reins
Fell flowing down, and his right jaw Patroclus' lance attains,
Struck through his teeth, and there it stuck, and by it to him drew
Dead Thestor to his chariot. It showed, as when you view
An angler from some prominent rock draw with his line and hook
A mighty fish out of the sea; for so the Greek did pluck
The Trojan gaping from his seat, his jaws oped with the dart;
Which when Patroclus drew, he fell; his life and breast did part.


I don’t quite understand why Mr Roberts accepts as gospel Matthew Arnold’s opinion that “rapid, plain, direct and noble” are Homer’s four most distinct qualities, but so he does. He praises Fagles as “admirably vivid and direct”, more or less the epitome of “direct, plain and rapid” scenes of “visceral power”, but I find him ponderous, verbose and laboured, especially the angling metaphor. Mr Roberts blames Pope for his “bleach[ing] out the vigour of the passage” and his making Thestor a bigger coward. I agree on the latter point, but I don’t see why this is such a great defect. As for Arnold’s quartet of Homeric virtues, for me Pope is just as “direct, plain or rapid” as Fagles – if not more so, for he takes only one line more, but his lines are shorter and the verbiage is stripped away.

Mr Roberts is certainly correct, however, that Chapman makes for the hardest read of the trio, but also that “once the effort is made to engage with the lines and to derive meaning, deeper poetic virtues emerge.” The editor is particularly impressed with Chapman’s choice of word for the deadly blow (“attains”) and his general reluctance to use active verbs; as a result, an ordinary action scene attains (forgive the pun) a timeless quality that otherwise it doesn’t possess. Mr Roberts also notes Chapman’s (no doubt deliberate) piling up of “plosives” in the next line and a half. The broken rhythm is jarring and the sound is anything but euphonious, yet the reader is forced to realise that a human life has just been taken. Obviously this is not “direct, plain and rapid”, but I must disagree with Mr Roberts that it is not “especially noble” either. I think it is at least as noble as Pope and certainly much nobler than Fagles.

Let’s take another example. I am particularly fond of the episode with Simoisius in Book IV. This is another superfluous death of a minor character that is never mentioned later (or earlier), but note the moving personal history adroitly inserted among the gory details.

[Fagles, 1990, IV.547-64:]
And Telamonian Ajax struck Anthemion's son,
the hardy stripling Simoisius, stilI unwed…
His mother had borne him along the Simois' banks
when she trailed her parents down the slopes of Ida
to tend their flocks, and so they called him Simoisius.
But never would he repay his loving parents now
for the gift of rearing – his life cut short so soon,
brought down by the spear of lionhearted Ajax.
At the first charge he slashed his right nipple,
clean through the shoulder went the brazen point
and down in the dust he fell like a lithe black poplar
shot up tall and strong in the spreading marshy flats,
the trunk trimmed but its head a shock of branches.
A chariot-maker fells it with shining iron ax
as timber to bend for handsome chariot wheels
and there it lies, seasoning by the river...
So lay Anthemion's son Simoisius, cut down
by the giant royal Ajax.


[Pope, 1720, IV.542-61:]
In blooming youth fair Simoisius fell,
Sent by great Ajax to the shades of hell:
Fair Simoisius, whom his mother bore.
Amid the flocks on silver Simois' shore
The nymph descending from the hills of Ide,
To seek her parents on his flowery side.
Brought forth the babe, their common care and joy,
And thence from Simois named the lovely boy.
Short was his date! by dreadful Ajax slain,
He falls, and renders all their cares in vain!
So falls a poplar, that in watery ground
Raised high the head, with stately branches crown'd,
(Fell'd by some artist with his shining steel,
To shape the circle of the bending wheel)
Cut down it lies, tall, smooth, and largely spread.
With all its beauteous honors on its head;
There, left a subject to the wind and rain.
And scorch'd by suns, it withers on die plain.
Thus pierc'd by Ajax, Simoisius lies
Stretch'd on the shore, and thus neglected dies.


[Chapman, 1611, IV.502-31:]
The next of name, that serv’d his fate, great Ajax Telamon
Preferr’d so sadly; he was heir to old Anthemion,
And deck’d with all the flow’r of youth, the fruit of which yet fled,
Before the honour’d nuptial torch could light him to his bed;
His name was Symoisius: for some few years before,
His mother walking down the hill of Ida, by the shore
Of silver Simois, to see her parents’ flocks, with them
She feeling suddenly the pains of childbirth by the stream
Of that bright river brought him forth; and so (of Symois)
They call’d him Symoisius. Sweet was that birth of his
To his kind parents, and his growth did all their care employ;
And yet those rites of piety, that should have been his joy
To pay their honour’d years again, in as affectionate sort,
He could not graciously perform, his sweet life was so short,
Cut off with mighty Ajax’ lance. For as his spirit put on,
He struck him at his breast’s right pap, quite through his shoulder-bone;
And in the dust of earth he fell, that was the fruitful soil
Of his friends’ hopes; but where he sow’d he buried all his toil.
And as a poplar shot aloft, set by a river side,
In moist edge of a mighty fen, his head in curls implied,
But all his body plain and smooth; to which a wheelwright puts
The sharp edge of his shining axe, and his soft timber cuts
From his innative root, in hope to hew out of his bole
The fell’ffs, or out-parts of a wheel, that compass in the whole,
To serve some goodly chariot; but being big and sad,
And to be hal’d home through the bogs, the useful hope he had
Sticks there; and there the goodly plant lies withering out his grace;
So lay, by Jove-bred Ajax’ hand Anthemion’s forward race,
Nor could through that vast fen of toils be drawn to serve the ends
Intended by his body’s pow’rs, nor cheer his aged friends.


Again, Fagles is turgid and full of unnecessary details; and the metaphor is overdone, again. In contrast, Pope eliminates the fluff (who cares that Simoisius is Anthemion’s son?) and cuts down the botanical details, thus creating faster paced and easier to understand, yet less gory and more stirring, verse. Chapman, again and predictably, is by far the longest and the freest translation. He takes full 30 lines to tell the story! But note some lovely turns of phrase (“the honour’d nuptial torch”, “vast fen of toils”) and the more affecting descriptions. Symoisius is not just “Anthemion’s son”: he is “Anthemion’s forward race”; his birth and life were “sweet”, his parents affectionate, and his friends full of hopes for him. In the last lines, in case we have forgotten them, his youth (“nor cheer his aged friends”) and the waste of life (he could never “serve the ends / Intended by his body’s pow’rs”) are masterfully recalled. Fagles and even Pope sound mundane by comparison.

Chapman’s translation remains a classic. But it’s a classic for purely historical reasons. It is fascinating to see how a contemporary of Shakespeare understood and translated Homer, but unless you are an Elizabethan scholar, this Iliad will hardly be your first choice. It is worth reading – and even worth having, at a budget price – for its historical importance. That said, if you are willing to persevere, Chapman can be rewarding. He is much harder than Pope, but once you get used to his odd ideas of meter and meaning, he does invest The Iliad with compassion that later translations seem to miss. It is not for nothing that Chapman’s Homer has been the subject of least two poetic tributes. The sonnet by John Keats is too well known to be quoted yet again, but I don’t think this is the case with “Mr Chapman’s Incomparable Translation of Homers Workes” (1656) by one Samuel Sheppard:

What none before durst even venture on,
Unto our wonder is by Chapman done,
Who by his skill hath made great Homers song,
To vaile its Bonnet in our English tongue,
So that the Learned well may question it,
Whether in Greek or English Homer writ.


______________________________________________

[1] Line references to Chapman refer to this edition which does contain line numbers, Pope is sourced from the Collins Classics edition (2011) which does not, and Fagles is taken from the Penguin Classics edition (1990).

[2] Mr Roberts sources this as p. 17 in Chapman’s Homer, vol. 1: The Iliad, ed. Allardyce Nicoll, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 2nd edn., 1967. It comes from Chapman’s “Preface to the Reader” and the full passage (lines 158-71) is a ruthless tirade against his critics:

But there is a certaine envious
windfucker, that hovers up and downe, laboriously engrossing all the
aire with his luxurious ambition and buzzing into every eare
my detraction – affirming I turn Homer out of the Latine only, &c –
that sets all his associates and the whole rabble of my maligners on
their wings with him to beare about my empaire and poyson my
reputation. One that, as he thinkes, whatsoever he gives to others he
takes from himselfe, so whatsoever he takes from others he addes to
himselfe. One that in this kinde of robberie doth like Mercurie, that
stole good and supplied it with counterfeit bad still. One like the
two gluttons, Philoxenus and Gnatho, that would still emptie their
noses in the dishes they loved that no man might eate but themselves.
For so this Castrill, with too hote a liver and lust after his owne
glorie, and to devoure all himselfe, discourageth all appetites to the
fame of another.


The word “windfucker”, Mr Nicoll informs us in his Glossary, means a kind of kestrel and was apparently considered offensive at the time. In some old editions (e.g. 1888, ed. Rev. Richard Hooper), Chapman’s “Preface to the Reader” is given in prose, without line numbers, with modernised spelling and modified punctuation, and the tricky word is “windsucker”. Censorship, typo or alternative version? I don’t know, but I certainly think it’s a pity that Wordsworth didn’t include this preface. It’s a fascinating piece of confessional autobiography.

[3] Muriel Bradbrook, George Chapman, “Writers and Their Work”, British Council, Longman, 1977, p. 28. ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Dec 29, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
It's the Iliad; it is what you make of it. If you compare it to modern story telling, I think a lot of readers will find it lacking, especially with the constant battle scenes. We're used to getting petty drama in our petty dramas, tragic deaths in our tragedies, gory action in our gory action thrillers. This oral tradition has it all mashed up together. ( )
  Andibook | Dec 29, 2014 |
Homer

The Iliad

Collins Classics, Paperback, 2011.

lxx+648 pp. Translated by Alexander Pope, 1715-20. Preface [xlv-lxx] and Concluding Note [619-20] by the translator. Introduction by Theodore Alois Buckley [xiii-xliv]. Glossary [621-48].

This edition first published, 2011.

Contents

Life and Times
Introduction
Pope Preface to The Iliad of Homer

Book I: The Contention of Achilles and Agamemnon
Book II: The Trial of the Army, and Catalogue of the Forces
Book III: The Duel of Menelaus and Paris
Book IV: The Breach of the Truce, and the First Battle
Book V: The Acts of Diomed
Book VI: The Episodes of Glaucus and Diomed, and of Hector and Andromache
Book VII: The Single Combat of Hector and Ajax
Book VIII: The Second Battle, and the Distress of the Greeks
Book IX: The Embassy to Achilles
Book X: The Night-Adventure of Diomed and Ulysses
Book XI: The Third Battle, and the Acts of Agamemnon
Book XII: The Battle at the Grecian Wall
Book XIII: The Fourth Battle Continued, in which Neptune Assists the Greeks: the Acts of Idomeneus
Book XIV: Juno Deceives Jupiter by the Girdle of Venus
Book XV: The Fifth Battle at the Ships; and the Acts of Ajax
Book XVI: The Sixth Battle; the Acts and Death of Patroclus
Book XVII: The Seventh Battle, for the Body of Patroclus. The Acts of Menelaus
Book XVIII: The Grief of Achilles, and New Armour Made Him by Vulcan
Book XIX: The Reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon
Book XX: The Battle of the Gods, and the Acts of Achilles
Book XXI: The Battle in the River Scamander
Book XXII: The Death of Hector
Book XXIII: Funeral Games in the Honour of Patroclus
Book XXIV: The Redemption of the Body of Hector

Pope’s Epilogue
Glossary

=================================================​

The Iliad, or: Lost in Translation

You want to read The Iliad? Too bad! You have to learn ancient Greek. The chances are that everything else will be some sort of vague paraphrase, not even a close approximation, of the original (such as it is). Well, I don’t know about that. I don’t know ancient Greek, either. All comments about translations below refer to them in relation to each other.

Whether or not Homer existed at all, and who he was if he did, I couldn’t care less. We know nothing about this and there is nothing we can do about it. If Shakespeare the man is a blurred figure in a foggy twilight, Homer the man is pure London fog on a moonless night. It really doesn’t matter. If tomorrow an authorised biography from the eight century BC turned up, this would hardly change anything. The poem’s the thing. Or, rather, the translation’s the thing. Or is it really?

Since I don’t regard “newer” and “better” as synonyms, I have read complete only two translations of The Iliad, the one by George Chapman (completed in 1611) and the one by Alexander Pope (1720). Both are famous classics admired as much as translations as they are as original poetic works. Both have been criticised, but Pope much more violently, for the liberties they took with the “original”. Both are in rhymed verse. The interesting thing is that Pope’s translation amounts to 18 947 lines. Some 4500 longer than Chapman’s! How could two verse translations of one verse original differ that much in line numbers? I haven’t the least idea. True, Chapman’s lines are quite a bit longer, but still…

In the introduction to this edition, Theodore Alois Buckley praises “Chapman’s fine, bold, rough, old English” at the expense of Pope’s “elegant paraphrase”. I don’t know how accurate Chapman is, but to me he sounds turgid, verbose and hard to follow. Almost every passage is fascinating for striking turns of phrase or memorable imagery, but I find it difficult to digest the verse in quantity. It doesn’t flow. The lines are mammoth, the rhythm broken, the sense convoluted.

Pope’s translation is pure music; the perfect music. It has Mozartean grace, Beethovenian drive, Lisztian rhetoric and Wagnerian passion. It is astonishingly readable (listenable?) and, what is more surprising, astonishingly easy to understand. It has tremendous emotive power and unique grandeur that suit the subject to perfection. If it also has little to do with Homer’s original – well – so much the worse for Homer!

Translation is a delicate art. Translation of poetry is an impossible art. Chapman tried it and failed. Pope didn’t, and succeeded. If his translation is “bad” (i.e. inaccurate), and it certainly seems so in comparison with all of the rest, then he used Homer as a starting point for creating something new and greater. For my money, Pope captures the spirit of The Iliad better than anybody else, Homer included. Chapman’s considerably and consistently more florid rendition is a fascinating alternative of solid historical importance, but not something I would read for pleasure.

Obviously neither Chapman nor Pope conforms to the standards of modern scholarship. But judging by furtive Looks Inside, sometimes online and sometimes in bookstores, modern translations are no great shakes. If they, on the whole, come closer to Homer, then the Greek bard must rank as the most overrated poet in human history. I have glimpsed into Lattimore (1951), Fitzgerald (1975), Fagles (1990) and Lombardo (1997), and I have not been impressed. None of these translations is particularly beautiful or stirring. All of them suffer, in one degree or another, from ill-advised informality, redundancy, clumsiness and obscurity. They are too timid and humdrum. They may be more natural and readable than Chapman and Pope, but at the heavy cost of that epic grandeur which, for me, is the essence of The Iliad. They may be Homer all right, but they are no less boring for that.

Some alternatives are just awful. The colloquial prose translation by W. H. Rouse (1950), currently available as a Signet Classic paperback, turns a first-rate epic for grown-ups into a third-rate fairy-tale for slow-witted children. The back cover praises this translation as “the nearest contemporary English equivalent to the epic Homer’s audience heard at their banquets.” Thank you, but no. The new translation by Anthony Verity (2011) in the Oxford World’s Classics series is very different but just as disappointing. He claims to respect the original line by line and to allow “Homer to speak for himself”. The result is ugly, twisted, repetitive and incredibly tedious, neither poetry nor prose but a travesty of both.

In general, I don’t see the wit of prose “translations” or such that wilfully destroy the poetry. Can you imagine Shakespeare, Byron or Paradise Lost in prose? Just try! If you do need prose summaries of the books before you start the real thing, nearly all editions of The Iliad I have skimmed through have them, and so does the Web. The “arguments” in Pope’s translation do very much the same work. Chapman’s translation also has arguments, but these are in verse, apparently translated from a Latin source.

I’m well aware that judging the modern translations on such limited basis is a very foolish thing to do. Then again, life is short. And scanty experience was no hindrance in the cases of Chapman and Pope. Both drew me in from the first pages, although Pope was far more successful in leading me to the end. I might conceivably read some of the modern translations in the future, perhaps the praised-to-the-skies Fagles or Lattimore, but I am certainly not anxious to. Nobody, not even those fortunate enough to read the “original”, knows what the spirit of Homer really is, or was. Everybody must create their own version of it. For me, it is Pope.

The Iliad, or: Lost in Battle

As for The Iliad proper, so far as one can obtain any idea of it in English, it is very much like the Bible. Massive historical importance hides indifferent literary quality. The matter is great, but the manner is atrocious. This is not a flawed masterpiece. It is a flawed work that never made it to masterpiece. It is flawed on so many levels that it’s hard to decide where to start.

First of all, it was a considerable disappointment to discover that The Iliad is unfinished, or simply mistitled. It ends with Hector’s funeral! No Trojan horse, no sack of Troy, no death of Priam. It concentrates, in general, far more on Achilles, whose anger starts the whole thing, than on anybody else. The title really should have been “The Achilliad”. But then it would have been unfinished, too. Achilles doesn’t die in the end, while his greatest achievement is obscured by the funeral of his nemesis. On the other hand, it may be argued that Achilles’ sudden bout of magnanimity and compassion is a pretty decent, if decidedly un-heroic, conclusion. Other alternative titles include “The Acheaid” and “The Olympiad”, for the Greeks and the Gods are quite prominent. Ironically, it is the Trojans, the citizens of Ilion and their allies, who most often remain in the background.

Homer seems almost pathologically incapable of developing one storyline and one set of characters. Digressions abound, and so do repetitions. I don’t see why Achilles should tell his mother what she and we already know, and what he knows that we already know. “To tell my woe / Is but to mention what too well you know” (I.476-7), he says, and then wastes some thirty lines to repeat in condensed form the first part of Book I. In the next book, Agamemnon’s dream is similarly repetitious. If this was some stratagem to increase the drama, it was a complete failure. Again in Book II, which by the way is the second longest and one of the six to consist of more than 1000 lines, occurs the notorious “catalogue of the forces”, surely the greatest digression in the whole work. For almost 500 (!) lines, Homer describes the Greek and Trojan armies in the manner of the phone book. Who needs this stuff, O Muse of Dullness? I understand Homer wanted to show the epic scale of the war. Fine. But he could have done it in one tenth of this space.

The wanton excess of characters is staggering! Countless names are mentioned only never to be heard of again, or to be slain in the next line. Sometimes really good material is wasted on unnecessary characters. The brilliant description of the bitter Thersites (II.255-74) and the affecting death scene of Simoisius (IV.542-61) may serve as examples. Many minor characters are unduly prominent. Diomed and Idomeneus have whole books dedicated largely to their “acts”, but we never see them anywhere else but on the battlefield. The former kills Pandarus and dares to wound Venus, the latter slays plenty of Trojans, and that’s that. Why are they so important for the work as a whole? On the other hand, it is surprising to see how seldom some of the “major” characters appear. Most notable by their absence are Helen, Paris and Priam.

Homer’s glorification of war is agelessly indefensible. It will never do to get away with the old, and by now so hackneyed, excuse that “Homer’s world was completely different”. So it was, but the men and the gods who populated it were basically very much the same. Otherwise the work would never have survived to the present day, would it? The only ambition of Homer’s heroes is to leave their names in the annals of history, which is commendable, but the only way they know for doing this is the carnage on the battlefield, which is deplorable. Genocide is their passport for eternity. Not creating a work of art, not adding to human knowledge, not raising a family, not peacefully shaping the destiny of a society, but slaughtering thousands of people for dubious reasons. Greed is the driving force behind Agamemnon and Achilles, greed for gold or greed for glory, but greed all the same.

Homer’s gloriously detailed descriptions of battles are the finest sleeping pills in the world. Not even Pope’s gorgeous verse can save passages as dreadful as these. Enormous part of The Iliad – I repeat: enormous part – is occupied with battle scenes. Look at the table of contents and tell me how many books have “battle” in their titles? Yes, that’s right. Ten! Nor is this all. The fifth book doesn’t have “battle” in its title, but that’s what pretty much all of it is occupied with. It is the longest book of all. 1121 lines of carnage! People are speared, stabbed or arrowed in all parts of their bodies, bleed profusely but heroically, fall down gracefully, water the sand with their noble blood, and finally die as great heroes. Page after page, book after book! Who needs this stuff, O Muse of Gore?

To be sure, there is more in these books than galore of gruesome deaths. But not much more! An astonishing amount of The Iliad is not about war, much less an inquiry into the meaning of war or something like that. It is war, rendered in excruciating detail and exclusively on battle level. The only possible reaction is a Scarlet tantrum: “Fiddle-dee-dee! War, war, war; this war talk’s spoiling all the fun…” So it is.

The Iliad would have been a far greater work without the gods. This is one place where the movie Troy (2001) is Pope-like: a great improvement over the original. Since the Greek gods are just as vain, petty, vindictive and tiresome as human mortals, what is the point of having them at all? What was Homer trying to say, if anything? That gods are human? That humans are divine? Did he just use the gods as a sort human subconscious? Isn’t that a trifle jejune? Perhaps it’s permissible occasionally, but all the time? It’s an amusing spectacle to see the critics racking their brains, trying to make some profound sense of what is merely a lame excuse. I don’t even want to mention Hector and Paris disappearing in clouds of Apollo and Venus respectively, the petty games of Jove and Juno, and so on and so forth, the numerous godly shenanigans that aren’t even on prep-school level.

Worst of all, the gods often have disastrous effect on the main characters. What does Achilles, the mighty hero, do when he is frustrated? Why, he cries to his mommy, and she in turn cries to Jove, to bring defeat to the Greeks! Some hero, indeed! A coward who can’t handle the consequences of his own actions! And not a great warrior either, if the Greeks need divine intervention to lose their battle without him. God knows what would have happened with him if Minerva hadn’t helped him with Hector. Why should Apollo send a deceitful vision to Agamemnon? Couldn’t the mighty King suffer from his own delusions? Hang it all, even Paris and Helen would not have hit on each other without the expert hand of Venus.

In short, if the mortals are merely puppets of the gods, how am I supposed to care about them? And fiction that fails to make you care about the characters is a failure. In the first book, Jove wisely asks (I.672-5) why he should interfere with what is none of his business and Vulcan finely remarks that “The wretched quarrels of the mortal state / are far unworthy, gods! of your debate” (I.742-3). All the same, Jove grants Thetis’ request and his immortal colleagues continue to play with Trojans and Greeks for the next twenty-three books. The gods’ constant meddling in mortal affairs makes The Iliad look like a cheap fantasy.

“Rob human beings of their heavenly and their infernal importance, and you nab your characters of their individuality.” So Graham Greene once pompously wrote. If we reasonably assume that he wanted to portray human beings in his books, The Iliad proves how monumentally wrong he was. The truth is precisely the opposite. The more you harp on the otherworldly significance of your characters, the less individual and the less interesting they become.

The Iliad has its moments, of course; but they are few. Some scenes are deeply moving and/or dramatic – the clash between Achilles and Agamemnon (I.126-401), Hector taking leave of Andromache (VI.505-47), Menelaus defending the body of Patroclus (XVII.1-74), Achilles’ lamentation of Patroclus (XVIII.25-40, 99-162), Priam requesting Hector’s body (XXIV.584-843) – and they add whole new dimensions to the characters. It is stupid to make the gods compel Achilles to relinquish Hector’s body and Priam to go in his adversary’s tent, but the scene between them is a stroke of genius. At least the main characters – Achilles, Agamemnon and Hector, to a lesser extent Odysseus, Menelaus, Patroclus and Priam – come off as agreeably complex and contradictory, yet believable, personalities. (The gods are not characters; they are capricious entities and convenient plot devices; nothing more, nothing less.) One must admire Homer’s objectivity. He sides neither with Greeks or Trojans, nor with gods. He shuns nothing, he spares nobody. He presents the glory and the horror of war, the nobility and the baseness of his characters, with dispassionate impartiality. All this is surely admirable. But for this very reason, among others, The Iliad is a work difficult to get on intimate terms with.

In Conclusion…

In the final run, it seems that the translation is not that important. I do like Pope best of all, for I think he conveys the epic scale and the emotional intensity better than anybody else, and thus elevates The Iliad above the mediocre war fantasy which in fact it is, but even his translation – for it is a translation, albeit a free and imaginative one, no matter what the Homeric purists may say – still cannot cover the poem’s inherent defects.

Taken as a whole, The Iliad is extremely uneven, rambling and badly paced, an odd mixture of several sublime moments and lots of unspeakable drudgery; one of those classics nearly everybody dully pays lip service to, but few actually bother to read. It is still a classic. But it’s getting rusty, and it may soon become dusty. (Just take a look at the LT Popularity statistics.) For me, personally, The Iliad falls in the “glad to have read, gladder never to repeat” category. It’s a work better known by scholarly gossip and spin-offs in other arts. The original, such as it is, tends to ruin one’s illusions. It certainly did mine.

Note on the Collins Classics edition

Collins is a publisher whose motto, apparently, is “If it’s really cheap, it can’t be really good.” It’s wonderful that they chose to reprint Pope’s translation, for it is not readily available on paper otherwise, and it’s even more wonderful that they retained his lengthy preface, never mind that the translator is credited only in extremely small font on the copyright page. Perhaps next time he will have earned a decently notable credit on the title page. Line numbers would have been nice, too. They make references much easier. The Glossary in the end is of dubious value. It is never mentioned where the words occur in this text (if they do!) and the examples of their use are always given from other works, often enough far removed from Pope’s age. The few words I searched for (e.g. hecatomb, coursers, libation) I didn’t find.

There is absolutely no indication when the introduction by Theodore Alois Buckley was written. If it seems too long and ponderous for a modern essay, this is because it is not. I have not been able to discover the exact year of its first publication, but it was certainly in Victorian times. I don’t see the point of reprinting today this tedious piece of dated scholarship. Collins had at least the sense to leave out Mr Buckley’s copious footnotes; both his essay and Pope’s text were originally riddled with them. They should have omitted the last paragraph of the introduction as well; there the notes are mentioned as “drawn up without pretension, and mainly with the view of helping the general reader.” Some of them are indeed helpful. But you won’t find any of them in the Collins Classics edition.

That said, the Collins Classics edition is quite nice for its almost indecently cheap price. The text is complete and the layout is easy to read. There is ample space to pencil your own line numbers and running commentary. The Life and Times section by one Gerard Cheshire provides decent background for perfect beginners. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Dec 23, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Homerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Baskin, LeonardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bendz, GerhardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Björkeson, IngvarTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bruijn, J.C.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Butler, SamuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chapman, GeorgeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cullen, PatrickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
De La Motte, Monsr.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Devecseri GáborTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Due, Otto SteenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fagles, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fitzgerald, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Flaxman, JohnIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Graves, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hammond, MartinIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holland, TomAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jacobi, DerekNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Knox, BernardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lagerlöf, ErlandTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lang, AndrewTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lateur, PatrickTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lattimore, RichmondTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leaf, WalterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Linkomies, EdwinForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lombardo, StanleyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Manninen, OttoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchell. StephenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Myers, ErnestTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perry Jr., William GTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rees, EnnisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rieu, Emile VictorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, AdamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rouse, William H. D.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stawell, F. MelianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stolpe, JanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Svenbro, JesperForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Timmerman, Aegidius W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vosmaer, C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Voss, Johann HeinrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
There thou shalt hear and learn the secret power
Of harmony, in tones and numbers hit
By voice or hand, and various-measured verse,
Aeolian charms and Dorian lyric odes,
And his who gave them breath, but higher sung,
Blind Melesigenes, thence Homer called,
Whose poem Phoebus challenged for his own.


--Milton, Paradise Regained, IV. 245
(Rouse translation, 1938)
These dull notes we sing
Discords neede for helps to grace them

(Lattimore translation)
Dedication
To the memory of my father and my mother
and for Lynne, Katya and Nina ...

(Fagles translation, 1996)
To all times future this time's mark extend,
Homer no patron found, nor Chapman friend
Ignotus nimis omnibus
Sat notus moritur sibi.
(Chapman translation)
For Sarah, and for Ughetta, Benedict, Maria, Michael, Barnaby, and Caterina
(Fitzgerald translation)
TO
MY MOTHER AND FATHER
(Lattimore translation)
First words
Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Achilles' anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Achaens loss on bitter loss
and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men - carrion
for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.
(Fitzgerald translation, 1974)
Rage - Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaens countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters' souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving towards its end.
(Fagles translation, 1996)
Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the
Achaians,
hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls
of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting
of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished
since that time when first there stood in division of conflict
Atreus' son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus.
(Lattimore translation, 1951)
Rage:
Sing, Goddess, Achilles' rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks

Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls

Of heroes into Hades' dark,

And left their bodies to rot as feasts

For dogs and birds, as Zeus' will was done
(Lombardo translation, 1997)
Achilles' banefull wrath resound, O Goddess, that impos'd
Infinite sorrows on the Greeks, and many brave souls los'd
From breasts heroique; sent them far to that invisible cave
That no light comforts; and their limbs to dogs and vultures gave:
To all which Jove's will gave effect; from whom first strife begun
Betwixt Atrides, king of men, and Thetis' godlike son.
(Chapman translation, 1598)
Quotations
"The worst cowards, banded together, have their power but you and I have got the skill to fight their best" -- Poseidon's encounter with Idomeneus at the turn of the battle for the ships
Last words
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Disambiguation notice
Due to the "dead language exception" copies of the Iliad in the original Greek should not be combined with modern language translations. Also, individual volumes should not be combined with other individual volumes or with the complete work.
The original Greek title is “Ἰλιάς”
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[Prior description deleted. Note this field applies to the work and should not be used for edition-specific information]
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140275363, Paperback)

This groundbreaking English version by Robert Fagles is the most important recent translation of Homer's great epic poem. The verse translation has been hailed by scholars as the new standard, providing an Iliad that delights modern sensibility and aesthetic without sacrificing the grandeur and particular genius of Homer's own style and language. The Iliad is one of the two great epics of Homer, and is typically described as one of the greatest war stories of all time, but to say the Iliad is a war story does not begin to describe the emotional sweep of its action and characters: Achilles, Helen, Hector, and other heroes of Greek myth and history in the tenth and final year of the Greek siege of Troy.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:23 -0400)

(see all 11 descriptions)

The centuries old epic about the wrath of Achilles is rendered into modern English verse by a renowned translator and accompanied by an introduction that reassesses the identity of Homer. In Robert Fagles' beautifully rendered text, the Iliad overwhelms us afresh. The huge themes godlike, yet utterly human of savagery and calculation, of destiny defied, of triumph and grief compel our own humanity. Time after time, one pauses and re-reads before continuing. Fagles' voice is always that of a poet and scholar of our own age as he conveys the power of Homer. Robert Fagles and Bernard Knox are to be congratulated and praised on this admirable work.… (more)

» see all 33 descriptions

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