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The Iliad Hardcover – October 1, 1990
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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.
The Iliad: Book 1. The Rage Of Achilles
The Iliad: Book 10. Marauding At Night
The Iliad: Book 11. Agamemnon's Day Of Glory
The Iliad: Book 12. The Trojans Storm The Rampart
The Iliad: Book 13. Battling For The Ships
The Iliad: Book 14. Hera Outflanks Zeus
The Iliad: Book 15. The Achaean Armies At Bay
The Iliad: Book 16. Patroclus Fights And Dies
The Iliad: Book 17. Menelaus' Finest Hour
The Iliad: Book 18. The Shield Of Achilles
The Iliad: Book 19. The Champion Arms For Battle
The Iliad: Book 2. The Great Gathering Of The Armies
The Iliad: Book 20. Olympian Gods In Arms
The Iliad: Book 21. Achilles Fights The River
The Iliad: Book 22. The Death Of Hector
The Iliad: Book 23. Funeral Games For Patroclus
The Iliad: Book 24. Achilles And Priam
The Iliad: Book 3. Helen Reviews The Champions
The Iliad: Book 4. The Truce Erupts In War
The Iliad: Book 5. Diomedes Fights The Gods
The Iliad: Book 6. Hector Returns To Troy
The Iliad: Book 7. Ajax Duels With Hector
The Iliad: Book 8. The Tide Of Battle Turns
The Iliad: Book 9. The Embassy To Achilles
-- Table of Poems from Poem Finder®
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Peter Green states in the introduction that he is following in the footsteps of Lattimore, to preserve as much of the poem in Greek--wording, sentence structure, meter, and so on--in English, but to also make it declaimable. It is a translation to be read aloud. Thus, it is also a challenge to Fagles's translation, among whose virtues is how well it works as an audiobook.
To review, there are several major verse modern translations of the Iliad. Lattimore's is closest to the original Greek, and for undergraduate work can substitute for the original well enough. There is the Fagles translation, in modern free verse, is wonderful to read aloud. The Fagles Odyssey was on Selected Shorts once, and for a long time after I insisted that there was no other worthwhile contemporary translation of Homer. I swore by it. Lombardo's translation is pretty common in colleges because of the price and the slangy presentation. Then there is Fitzgerald, which some swear by, but Fitzgerald's translation is loose with the Greek and mannered and fey in its English. It even translates Odysseus as "Ulysses," a sure sign that fidelity to the Greek is not worth the translator's trouble. I am missing some others, I'm sure.
So let us begin at the beginning. In the Greek, the Iliad has "μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος" Quite literally, "Rage! sing goddess of the son of Peleus Achilles." μῆνιν means, more or less, the anger that engenders revenge, rage, wrath, anger are all ok to some degree. (It's complicated, an entire scholarly treatise is written on the meaning of the word.) Green gives, "Wrath, goddess, sing of Achilles Peleus's son's [/ wrath]." Fagles gives "Rage--Goddess sing the rage of Peleus's son Achilles." Lattimore gives "Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus." Green and Fagles are right to put the first word first. This is poetry, after all, the order of the words matter, the first especially. The first word is the theme of the poem, the way it is directed first against Agamemnon, then toward the Trojans, and then tempered for a common moment of humanity, is the internal trajectory of the whole epic. Wrath might be best of all, since it conveys that it is anger in a sense that is unfamiliar to modern readers.
Once, in my second year of taking Greek, I was told that there was no use of literal translations. Take it far enough, and you wind up with a textbook on how to read the book in the original Greek. Make it into readable English, and you wind up with a host of compromises where thousands of close translations might do. Go far enough you wind up with Girardoux's "The Trojan War Will Not Take Place," worthwhile on its own, but not really a "translation." That professor preferred Fitzgerald, but easy for her to do, she could read anything in Greek without any help. For us mortals with mostly forgotten Greek, or no Greek at all, closeness to the original in a translation should be treasured.
In the end, translating Homer is a game of compromises, How much of the strangeness of 2500 year old lines and 3200 year old motivations do you keep? Dactylic hexameter calls for lines much longer than any form of English verse, so shorter lines or not? And so on. For me, Fagles is as far to compromise with how English verse should go as I am willing to accept. For what it's worth, Lattimore's English verse is better than his critics complain of.
Starting from no knowledge of Greek, I'd choose Green. Over Lattimore because it's friendlier for the beginner and not worse as far as I can tell for a serious third reading. Over Fagles because the true-to-the-Greek line lengths convey the way the poem drives itself forward better in Green's line by line than in Fagles's free verse.
Also. The introduction includes a plot summary of the whole Trojan War, of which the Iliad only covers a small portion. I have never seen such a succinct and complete synopsis before. There is also a synopsis of the poem keyed to the poem in the back matter to help find your place, an enlightening glossary of names and concepts to help you through your first read, and footnotes to inform the reader of context that has since been lost.
Word to the wise re: Kindles. These are long verse lines. To get complete lines on a Kindle screen, you need a Kindle that allows text to display in landscape mode.Even then, complete lines only work in a very small font size. Get this in hardback for now. The hardback is stitched and bound to keep, so it is worth your money.
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. The latest translation is usually better than its predecessors, though each one is different. That of Richmond Lattimore takes a strict approach. His verse lines are long and the syntax unfortunately seems somewhat unnatural because he is attempting to imitate the stress patterns and flow of the original Greek hexameter. His translation tries to stay as close to the original Greek as possible and retain the form of epic language. The next translation is the one here, that of Robert Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald's translation is more modern, uses a shorter verse line and a natural English syntax. His translation is much easier to read and still retains the nobility of an epic poem. Finally, there is the translation of Robert Fagles. His translation is in blank verse, modern, rapid, simple and flowing. The noble simplicity of Greek style that the art historian Winkelmann so praised should also be found in a good translation of Homer. Like Fitzgerald, Fagles strives towards this and most approaches the ideal set out by the English poet and scholar Matthew Arnold for a translation of Homer: "Homer is rapid in his movement, Homer is plain in his words and style, Homer is simple in his ideas, Homer is noble in his manner." Fagles also uses the accepted Latin form of most Greek names: rather than "Akhilleus" he uses Achilles, rather than "Kyklops" he uses Cyclops. Lattimore and Fitzgerald sometimes annoyingly use the Greek versions, for no valid reason. They should have followed Arnold's advice on this point, who called such unnatural effect "pedantry" and claimed that the insistance on using the Greek variant for well-known names makes us "rub our eyes and call out 'How exceedingly odd!'." Finally, the narrative prose translations are in my opinion the remotest from epic poetry and should be avoided, especially since there are good verse translations available.