Fagle's translation of THE ODYSSEY in the Penguin edition is an almost perfect act of publishing. The translation itself manages to be enormously readable, highly poetic, and extremely accurate, all at the same time. The Introduction by Bernard Knox should serve as a model for all scholars who are called upon to write critical introductions for classic works of literature. And the book design is is extraordinary; this edition of Homer's classic is easily one of the most attractive paperback books in my library. I had read this once before in translation (in the old Rieu version), and then later translated much of it in a second year Greek class. But in neither instance did I enjoy it as much as reading the Fagles's translation.
Aristotle did not think that people should study philosophy too early in life, and perhaps that is also true of reading Homer. Part of me feels that we make a mistake in our education systems by making students read THE ODYSSEY before they are in a position to appreciate it. If one looks through the reviews here, a very large number of very negative reviews by a lot of high school students can be found. I find this unfortunate. In part I regret that we are forcing younger readers to read this book before they have fully matured as readers. Perhaps the book and the students themselves would be better served if we allowed them time to grow a bit more as readers before asking them to tackle Homer.
THE ODYSSEY is so enormously enjoyable (at least for this adult reader) that it is easy to forget just how very old it is. What impresses me is how readable it is, despite its age. There are very, very few widely read works older than THE ILIAD and THE ODYSSEY. And the gap between how entertaining these works are and those that come before them is gigantic. Try reading THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH or even THE HESIOD and then turning to THE ODYSSEY, and one can grasp my point. This is a very, very old work of literature, but it wears its age lightly. In the end, the greatest praise one can pay THE ODYSSEY is the fact that it can be read for fun, and not just because it is a classic.
on October 7, 1997
Since you ask me, you word-hungry Amazonians,
How I came solate in life to the end of a tale
That schoolchildren read in comicbooks,
A tale that is one of the sturdy legs
Of the table on which our culture rests
Since you ask, I will tell you, and gladly, too.
My journey started, though you grin in disbelief,
In ninth-grade Latin class, where "Ulysses"
Duped the cyclops by calling himself "Nemo."
Then a deep sleep fell over me,
And I knew no more Homer, not in Greek or Latin
Or English or even the strange tongue
Of the network miniseries, while Sun
Drove his blazing chariot round Earth
One hundred hundred times.
In this sleep I wandered the world of letters,
Homerless but unable to avoid the homeric:
Achilles' heel, the Sirens' song,
Calypso, the Trojan Horse, and swinemaking Circe--
Crouched like Scylla, aswirl like Charybdis,
Threatening cultural death to epic ignorance.
At last I found my literary Tiresias,
The New York Times Book Review.
I shook from this seer the name Fagles,
And so guided, I made my way home at last,
Through a translation that rings of a heroic time,
A time when men were stronger and grander than we,
When women were more beautiful,
And when, granted, sexual equality wanted
A few millennia's labor;
But even so, a rendering as modern
As anything DeLillo, new god of the underworld,
Or the infinitely jesting Wallace
Can lay before us.
The best, in fine, of both worlds, an epic worthy
Of the blind bard and of his heroes, his heroines,
And the deathless denizens of Olympus.
on June 19, 2001
As noted on earlier reviews these two, the first "The Iliad", and now "The Odyssey" have become the translations read for pure enjoyment. No longer does one `know' of the classics but never read them, now we read them too. Thankfully, Robert Fagles has produced a translation worthy of the original sense of Homer's great poem. It captures well the suffering and tragedy Odysseus went through in his journey full of trials and tribulations from the great ogre, the Cyclops, to the beautiful Calypso and finally one of his greatest tests, the suitors seeking his wife's approval after 20 years absence from his homeland.
As usual the introduction by Bernard Knox (NB my earlier mistake in the review on The Iliad) is highly informative and shows real depth of understanding of Homeric poetry, an invaluable aid in the full comprehension of the poem. In addition the extra maps of the Homeric word as well as a glossary of terms and a section detailing some of the characters in more depth provide an excellent background which may be missing in a non-classical education. Certainly this is the transaltion to use when teaching of classic poetry in schools since the child is captivated by the flow of the story and the fast pace which keeps one glued to the book, although not as pacy as The Iliad it is a different sort of story. Unlike the Iliad which is replete with battles and war, The Odyssey is the story of a journey and is of a different tune. I once tried to read an earlier translation of The Odyssey a few years ago and found it stuffy and staid, this is no longer true of Fagles work, were it only the case of other great classics. I felt throughout that Fagles kept to the aura of the original even when substituting more modern expressions for the older ones eg "holding nothing back" is obviously a modern phrase but it captures what the poem is saying and that is what is important ie capturing the poem as a whole. This has been ably achieved. An excellent book.
on March 3, 2006
I knew I'd never get around to reading it. But after all, for its first five hundred years, nobody read it--they listened to it, as the bard sang it, from memory. Now we have a chance to listen again (and again) as Ian McKellen reads this powerful prose translation by Robert Fagles.
Now I count myself lucky to have long road trips (six and a half hours each way) to listen to this epic. I've listened clear through at least three times. My thirteen-year-old son (not particularly literate, like most kids these days) listened through for extra credit in history class. And the whole family enjoyed the first three books on a one-hour drive into the mountains.
The box includes an excellent 112-page introduction by Bernard Knox and eleven CDs nicely packaged. Keep it in the glove box. It's better than coffee on a long drive.
on May 16, 2003
Most reviewers love this translation, but after reading it, and comparing it to others (and to the Greek), I don't see why. It claims to be modern and energetic, but in fact its language is quite odd and hard to read -- excessively jaunty, with word order distortions entirely uncharacteristic of Homer. One wonderful thing about Homer is the smoothness and straightforwardness of his sentences. That's completely gone in this translation.
In addition, Fagles radically distorts one of the distinctive features of Homer's verse -- the repetitive and famous epithets: "wily Odysseus", "much-suffering godlike Odysseus" etc. Many of them are just gone, but others are transformed beyond all recognition. The repeated formula "polumetis Odysseus" ('resourceful Odysseus'), for example, which ends 68 different lines in the Odyssey, turns out (by my count) to receive 48 different translations, only 12 of which have the form Adjective+Odysseus! Fagles did this on purpose: he wanted a modern-sounding text. If you like it, fine. But don't think this is a translation of the Odyssey! It's something between a translation and a retelling, and (in my view) a clumsy one at that.
This review is not a review of the story of Odysseus, but rather a review of Robert Fagles's translation of the Odyssey. Fagles's work in this translation is sparkling. I absolutely love the way he's revived this classic tale.
Let me begin with nuts and bolts. The Penguin Classics version of Fagles's translation is simply a great book to hold in your hand. The book FEELS good. Also, the book has some extras that make it essential. First, Barnard Knox has written an excellent introduction to the text. He explains Homer's cultural and literary context, and he covers the various debates regarding the poem's creation and transmission in a thorough, non-technical manner. Highly recommended reading. Second, the book has some helpful maps of the Greek-speaking lands to help orient the reader. Third, in the back of the book is a pronunciation guide and glossary. Some of these names are a bit strange, so it's helpful to refer to the back sometimes to get some help. Every character and place in the book, no matter how minor, is explained in the back.
In addition to all these benefits, this translation of the text is my absolute favorite. Fagles has produced a verse translation, which preserves the poetic nature of the original. If you're looking for a prose version of Homer, then this book might not be for you (but I'd suggest you give the verse a try). Fagles's main competition for a verse version of the Odyssey is Richard Lattimore's which was published in the 1960s. Some people feel that Lattimore's version is still superior, but I think those people are just being snobby. Lattimore's version is a little more rigid, maybe a little closer to the Greek, but not as poetic and enjoyable.
One of my favorite things about Fagles over Lattimore is that Fagles has abandoned the pretentious adherence to Greek spellings. In Lattimore we read about Athene, Kalypso, Aithiopians, Kronos, and Ithaka, while in Fagles we read about Athena, Calypso, Ethiopians, Cronus, and Ithaca. It's an Enlish translation so translating the names into their traditional English forms makes for a superior reading experience. Also, Fagles has a better ear for English poetry. So he refers to Odysseus as "the man of twists and turns," while Lattimore calls him "the man of many ways." Lattimore is more literal, but he doesn't capture the essence of the Greek meaning or poetic nature as well as Fagles does. One more example from the first page, Lattimore says that those who made it home from the Trojan War "escaped the sea and the fighting." Compare this with Fagles's far more literary "escaped the wars and waves."
Buy this Fagles translation. Read this Falges translation. Love this Fagles translation.
on April 16, 2008
Robert Fagles' translation of The Odyssey puts the text into modern language that makes this book ideal for teaching in a high school English classroom. I read this in my high school English classroom and, contrary to most students my age, enjoyed it immensely. He keeps the flow of Homer's prose while making the text easy to understand.
This is a great book, and as a Kindle owner, I was happy to see it available. I would also like to see The Iliad as translated by Fagles available for the Kindle.
on January 4, 2011
We just started reading the Odyssey in my 9th grade English class. I got a free version on my Kindle a few weeks ago (the Pope version), and I didn't like it at all. But Fagles's version is great. He translates it in a way that is easy to understand, and makes you want to read on. I recommend this to everyone, young or old.
on December 5, 2005
I've read a few translations of The Odyssey and this is the ONLY one that truly reflects the poetry of the work.
I don't think Homer's epic tale of Odysseus and his trials would have lasted through the centuries if it was meant to be read like a dry textbook and Fagles sets out to create a counterpoint for those translations.
Although I was required to read this book for a class, it never felt like work. The beauty of the language stands out in such perfection that it gaves me chills on more than one occassion.
I like that Fagles didn't attempt to "dumb down" the language of the work, but kept the poetry vivid and fluid--yes, it'll take a few pages to get used to the structure, but once you do, the motion and rhythm of the words themselves with carry you along with them.
I remember groaning when I found out that I had to read all 560 pages, but it really didn't seem like it took any effort at all.
I give very high praise to Fagles for bringing back to life such a valuable piece of literary art in a way that even Homer would have approved.
on January 17, 2002
This is an attractive book with a lot to like inside. It has a knowing and substantial introduction by Bernard Knox that talks of the Odyssey in some detail, and of the world the Iliad and Odyssey depict. (Incidentally, his introduction to Fagles's Iliad is identical in its more general parts, but unique where it discusses the particular poem at issue.) Robert Fagles supplies an afterword in which he discusses the reasons for his approach, and some of his strategies. There are maps, a few family genealogies and a list for further reading. Bernard Knox also supplies the notes to the poem. Finally, the poem's own line numbers are tracked, as well as those of the (Oxford) Greek edition which was its source (deviations from that source are noted).
This book also includes a valuable pronouncing glossary covering virtually every place-name and person-name used in the story. The translator made a fine decision to render the names in their Latin, instead of Greek, forms. In their Latin forms they can be said using ordinary English sounds for the most part, and these pronunciations are sanctioned by long usage in English literature. Thus, you do not have to stop and explain to someone that by "Kir-kay" you really mean whom they know as Circe ("sir-see").
The primary decision for a translator of Homer is whether to use verse or prose. Fagles wishes to bring across the Odyssey as a song or chant, as in the original, so quite properly uses verse. Homer's line was strict: its syllable count was always twelve, and while variation was permitted within the line, the last few syllables always had a narrowly-prescribed form. In addition, each line was typically a syntactic unit. These two facts control the feel of an Homeric recitation, which must have been quite rhythmic, especially with a strummed accompaniment.
This Homeric line is not consonant with the genius of English metrics, but Fagles constructs his lines with Homeric song in mind. They tend to be six beats and loosely iambic, but he does not hesitate to go longer or shorter at need. He also tries to keep the lines syntactic wholes - phrases or clauses - but if not the slopover is usually graceful (in that one can pause slightly at line-end without doing violence to some partially-completed phrase). His language, too, is interesting, a non-literary, plain-spoken diction larded with quaint colloquialisms (e.g. "heart to heart", "my hopes ride high") cheek by jowl with exotic allusions to the gods that I think has the intent (it certainly has the effect) of depicting the narrator as a bit old-fashioned but honest, and his story true.
I have also read Robert Fitzgerald's translation of The Odyssey a couple times and enjoyed it, and have partially read the verse versions of Mandelbaum and of Lattimore. I like Fagles better than these. Fitzgerald and Mandelbaum use five-beat lines; Fitzgerald's is loose, but Mandelbaum's a strict pentameter. Both of these versions read very well, but for Homer I prefer the six-beat line. Lattimore does use a consistently six-beat line, but his verse is inferior - it seems more like evenly-sliced prose. And none of these editions has the support sections the Fagles edition has (particularly that lovely pronouncing glossary).
As to how well the Fagles Odyssey plays, I have listened to Ian McKellan's recording of it: he does a great job - it is clearly the marriage of a fine actor and a superior text. The only thing I could wish for is someone strumming a lyre in the background.