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The Iliad (Wisehouse Classics Edition) Paperback – September 15, 2017
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A Look Inside: The Iliad [Click Images to Enlarge]
From Publishers Weekly
More than almost any other book, Homer's Iliad is meant to be spoken aloud, so it's a natural fit for audiobooks. With his fluid translation of ancient Greek into the rhythms of contemporary conversation, Lombardo has rendered the story of the final stretch of the Trojan War and its plethora of jealous, vengeful gods and warriors feasting, battling and endlessly speechifying, more boldly modern and recognizable than the remote marble tableaux conjured by most other versions. Lombardo's expert reading makes the tale's convolutions easy to follow despite its length, and though he doesn't always reach for the extremes one might expect (Achilles' crashing rage sometimes sounds like mere irritation, and soldiers faced with certain death can seem less than petrified), his voice does become mesmerizing. The interruptions between books, in which Sarandon reads synopses of the next, are jarring and unnecessary, since the synopses are printed in a handy booklet, along with a useful map and list of names and places. Similarly, while the thrumming cello and percussion theme that opens and closes each book sets the tone nicely, the electronic chords that sometimes accompany dreams, deaths or appearances of the gods are rather off-putting. Such quibbles notwithstanding, Lombardo's Iliad both sings to 21st century ears and holds true to Homer's original vision; the blind bard would be proud. Lombardo has also translated and narrated Homer's Odyssey for Parmenides.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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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.
At the brink of war, two great nations fought for the sake of glory and honor. One for the rescuing of Helen, the wife of Agamemnon, who was stolen by Paris, and the other for the protection of the fate of Ilium. On the defensive you have the Trojans of Ilium (commonly referred to as Troy), and on the offensive you have the Achaians (commonly referred to as the Greeks). The defenders have Hector as their champion of war, as well as Paris, who is the slimy man who stole Helen from the Greeks. The offenders have Achilles, Patroklus, Agamemnon, Odysseus, and the fuel of indistinguishable rage.
On the one hand this is a battle of mortals, fighting to the death for the honor of an afterlife they aren't even sure is pleasant. On the other hand this is just a microcosm for the chaotic power struggle between the gods of which Zeus is king. Hera, Athena, and Poseidon fight for the Achaians, while Aphrodite, Apollo, and Artemis fight for the Trojans.
Life Is A Battle
One can only wonder what Homer was trying to convey by portraying the entire religious and human constitution as a battle. To be human, according to Homer is to be a warrior, battling through life and death for the ultimate prizes that surpass wealth: honor and glory.
Honor is that human quality that has to do with moral dignity. Best exemplified in Odysseus, it is standing your ground in the face of death in order to fulfill the duty of a soldier to his fellow warriors, to fight for them as well as yourself. To be an honorable warrior is not the same thing as being a glorious warrior.
Glory is that god-like quality of seeking victory and domination for the sake of one's own name. Best exemplified in Achilles, he sought glory in the slaying of Hector, and vengeance in his disgrace. While Achilles was glorious in his victory he was dishonorable in his conduct towards Hector. One can achieve glory without honor just as much as one can achieve honor without glory.
Written in Homeric Greek, this long narrative is actually a poem. Its rhythm exemplifies tension and conflict, rage and warfare. The gore and detail of the battles show that this is a poem about death and mortality more than it is about life and victory. This point cannot be overstressed: the lives of the Achaians and the Trojans were lives of conflict, battle, war, and rage.
A World of Chaos
In the end, the chaotic struggle between men and men, gods and gods, exemplifies the arduous chaos of human life. To be human, according to the Iliad, is to be a fighter. To not fight is to lose, and to not struggle is to be defeated. Whether it be the gods, man, or beast, the good life is the life of constant battle and war.