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The Iliad Hardcover – October 1, 1990

4.4 out of 5 stars 694 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

Why another Iliad? Just as Homer's work existed most fully in its performance, so the Homeric texts call periodically for new translations. With this in mind, Fagles offers a new verse rendering of the Iliad. Maneuvering between the literal and the literary, he tries with varying degrees of success to suggest the vigor and manner of the original while producing readable poetry in English. Thus, he avoids the anachronizing of Robert Fitzgerald's translation, while being more literal than Richard Lattimore's. Fagles's efforts are accompanied by a long and penetrating introduction by Bernard Knox, coupled with detailed glossary and textual notes.
- T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong State Coll., Savannah, Ga.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 683 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (October 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670835102
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670835102
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (694 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #450,705 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I won't try to give yet another summary of the Iliad's plot nor give my insignificant opinion on the importance of Homer to Western Culture. More important is to discuss this translation and the translation of Homer in general.
When it comes to classic works of poetry in translation, such as those of Homer, Vergil, Dante and others, the translation makes all the difference. The type of translation, whether in rhyming verse, blank verse, prose etc., whether it is a strict line by line or more liberal translation, whether the wording and idioms are old fashioned or modern, can play such a great role that one translation may be completely different than another. This fact is probably often overlooked and attributes to the neglect of these classics, since a bad or difficult translation makes the poem seem tedious or dull.
Since Chapman's first translation of Homer into English in 1611 there have been dozens of others. Chapman's translation remains a classic, though its heavy and elaborate rhyming Elizabethan style and old wording make it quite laborious to read today. The next great translation was that of the renowned Enlightenment poet Alexander Pope; his Iliad was published progressively between 1715 and 1720. Pope's translation is in rhyming verse with his heroic couplet and is eminently poetic. It is considered the greatest translation of Homer into English (Dr. Johnson called it "the noblest version of poetry which the world has ever seen") but it is not as plain and straightforward as Homer apparently is in the original. It is mostly for this reason that Pope's translation has been critized as being more the work of the poet Pope than the poet Homer.
Of the more recent verse translations a few are worth recommendation.
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Format: Paperback
Robert Fagles's translation of Homer's Iliad is spiritually if not literally true to the original. Both versions repeat set speeches and descriptions in precisely the same words, and the translation exhibits a fairly regular rhythmic beat. But Homer's Greek was chanted, and the set passages were like refrains in which listeners could, if they chose, join in as a chorus. In English, the repetitions sometimes become tedious, especially when the same speech is given three times in two pages, as in the relay of Zeus's orders in Book II. Especially noteworthy is Bernard Knox's long and fascinating Introduction, a masterpiece of literary criticism and scholarship which conveys Homer's grim attitude toward war, the interplay of divine and human will, and the ancient concepts of honor, courage, and virility in the face of the stark finality of death. Knox also includes a succinct explanation of the quantitative, rather than accentual, basis of Greek (and Latin) verse. For easy readability, Fagles's translation is without rival. For elegance and poetry, however, I recommend Richmond Lattimore's older but still gripping and fluent translation.
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Format: Paperback
Fortunately, Homer is so wonderful that even fairly imaginative renderings of the text, like Fagles', can't obscure his genius.

I guess I have a bit of a problem with Fagles' translation. When I read Homer, I want to read Homer, not Robert Fagles re-writing Homer. This version reminds me of the comment made to Alexander Pope after he published his version of "The Iliad" - "a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer".

This translation is kind of a modern play on the Fitzgerald - something of an "artistic" version rendered into a kind of de rigeur semi-elliptical poetry-speak, relying on a reconfiguration of lines and sentences, replacement of Homer's own phrases, etc. If that's your bag, by all means get this.

But for me, the best translation out there is that which translates Homer as faithfully as possible consistent with comprehensible English. Fagles' cavalier handling of the source text eliminates this as the "best" translation for me.

Both the Loeb and Lattimore versions are very faithful, but I think some readers may find them fairly difficult, and then stop reading the book altogether, which would be a great shame since The Iliad is well worth reading even in the worst translation.

My two cents is that the translation out there which does the best job of combining fidelity to the original with readability is the Jones/Rieu put out by Penguin. It doesn't have the packaging of the Fagles nor the great essay by Bernard Knox in the front, but I think it does the best job at maintaining transparency, really letting Homer shine through. (But if you have the stomach for the Loeb, you could go hardcore and try that, too. But don't try this unless you're familiar with the entire story first...).
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Format: Paperback
Some general thoughts....

First, there are several reasons for translating the Iliad. Obviously, it is one of the greatest pieces of literature that has as much to offer modern readers as it did those of antiquity. On the surface, it offers raw emotions, visceral action sequences and colorful characters you admire and hate, often at the same time. But it is much, much deeper than that. The scene where Hector bids his young wife good-bye and holds up his infant son to the gods, praying that the boy will one day be a better man than ever he himself was, has never been equaled as a statement of what it means to be a man, husband or father. The debates about honor and duty are still the same we face every day. The humanity, insight and profound philosophy are remarkable-especially for a work now 3,000 years old.

There are other considerations beyond aesthetics. Recent scholarship has revealed that Homer has much to tell us about real places, people, ideas, actions and politics. Gone is the great Classical scholar Finley's view that the Homeric poems are mostly fictitious and cannot tell much about the heroic Bronze Age. Therefore, there is a need for an accurate, line-to-line translation that can convey the feel of the original meter and still use the full range of words, places and objects that can often be "streamlined" in an adaptation.

This is where Lattimore's translation comes in. This still is probably the most "accurate" translation, preserving the structure of the poem, the full meaning of the Greek words and the original "tone" of the Greek. If you're wading thru the original Greek and want to have something to check against, this translation wins hands down. Also, if your interest in Troy is historical/archaeological, Lattimore is a must.
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