Customer Review

51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the finest reading experiences of my life!, March 1, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Iliad of Homer (Hardcover)
I have been reading two translations of Homer's Iliad over the past several weeks: Robert Fagles' 1990 translation and Alexander Pope's 1743 translation. I have read the two translations in tandem, one "book" at a time. I first read Mr Fagle's translation, then the notes of Mr Pope, and finally his translation.
I would call this one of the finest reading experiences of my life.
I read both translations out-loud, or at least in a whisper.
This winter-time reading experience has been, for me, a labor of love, a stimulating intellectual experience, a study in contrasts, and a return to the sources of Western Literature.
I find Homer as fascinating as Alexander Pope claims him to be. Although his long narrative describes only a few days of the ten years war between Greece and Troy, he makes it interesting by his variety of metaphors, his close description of characters, and his attention to detail. Every man who dies is a person, with family, friends, history, and personality. Some are likeable, others are not; but in any case there are no ciphers in Homer's war.
I am fascinated too by the developing theological issues of this six century BCE civilization. We might have to worship these meddlesome gods and their All-powerful Zeus, but do we always have to respect them? They seem to be all too human. In fact, the gods themselves seem to be trapped in an eternally frustrating struggle. Zeus is condemned to defend his sovereignty against a panoply of gods who must always resent his authority. Meanwhile, he is lonely, and he cannot stop himself from occasionally confiding in "that bitch" his sister and wife, Hera. She reminds me of a woman in a recent movie who said "Sometimes being a bitch is the only way a woman can save her self-respect." (Or something to that effect.) "Hera" represents that eternally angry woman who will not and cannot buckle under male domination.
I find myself being grateful to this western tradition which has honored and preserved the memory of Homer and kept these ancient books in tact. I grieve at the thought of ancient celtic, african, and native american epics that have been lost or so badly mangled that they cannot be restored.
I understand that there has been an enormous flurry of excitement over Mr Fagles' translation and I am certainly caught up in it as well. He tells these stories with excitement and conviction; they are as plausible and coherent today as they must have been to the privileged listeners who sat at the feet of Homer.
But I am also grateful to Penguin Press who last year celebrated their 50th anniversary by republishing this magnificent translation by Alexander Pope. I only wish more of the reading public had heard about the celebration.
I hate to admit that I was an indifferent student in college. I had other things on my mind. But now, in my middle years, I am glad to have the time and opportunity, to curl up with two great translations of Homer's Iliad on a winter's evening, to discover again the joy of reading superb English.
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