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October 22, 2011 5:29 AM   Subscribe

The Economist wants to know: Are four new translations of Homer’s “Iliad” a bit much? After nearly 3,000 years, does the “Iliad” really need translating again?
posted by Fizz (71 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Translations reflect their milieu; times change, and increasingly quickly, so why shouldn't there be new translations every once in a while?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:39 AM on October 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Translations reflect their milieu; times change, and increasingly quickly, so why shouldn't there be new translations every once in a while?

Translation: What is old becomes new again.
posted by Fizz at 5:42 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


From reading this article, you would think that nobody dared a translation between Lattimore and these recent three. No mention at all of Fitzgerald, Fagles, or Logue.
posted by Iridic at 5:50 AM on October 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have a copy of the Fagles translation for both The Iliad and The Odyssey and I enjoy it's blend of prose/verse. But, I do recall a number of critics hrumphing and gruffing in their reviews when the book was released. To each their own.
posted by Fizz at 5:55 AM on October 22, 2011


“To hell with that man…I don’t give a damn about him.”

In Mr Verity’s translation, Achilles’s outburst above becomes the prim “I abominate his gifts, and I value him no more than a splinter.” Such differences may seem slight in comparison

Slight? What? One translation includes NOUNS that the other does not. That seems pretty fucking significant. I am not a translator but it seems nouns should be neither added nor cut.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:59 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Rage, rage, rage! Give me voice, oh Muse, to sing of the rage of the Economist whose anger did send many an anarcho-syndicalist soul to the gates of hell; their bodies for the carrion think-tanker"
posted by jadepearl at 5:59 AM on October 22, 2011 [19 favorites]


I'm a big fan of Lombardo.
posted by HeroZero at 5:59 AM on October 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


To get a better idea of how the subtleties of the translations differ I'd love to see the same segment (more than just a single line) from each of the books (and any other previous translations) together. That would be a great way to understand how much latitude there is when translating a work. It seems to me like they shouldn't differ THAT much, but the article makes it sound like the translations can impact the experience far greater than I think.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 6:08 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Peculiar not to mention Fagles or Lombardo, but the real flaw is ignoring Logue, who would seem to be the perfect point of comparison with Oswald's 'Memorial'.

For those unfamiliar with Logue, an excerpt:

"Setting down her topaz saucer heaped with nectarine jelly,
Emptying her blood-red mouth—set in her ice-white face—
Teenaged Athena jumped up and shrieked:

'Kill! Kill for me!
Better to die than live without killing!'

Who says prayer does no good?"
posted by BigSky at 6:15 AM on October 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm still waiting for a translation of Joyce's Ulysses.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:15 AM on October 22, 2011 [17 favorites]


The Iliad is well worthy of new translations, especially given the fact that our cumulative understanding of the ancient world is weaker and less nuanced than it's ever been. But to be honest, the Iliad gets too much attention from translators, and the Odyssey doesn't get nearly enough; and devastatingly bad translations by such luminaries as Richmond Lattimore (who confesses in the introduction that he thinks the book is terrible) have meant that the Odyssey hasn't gotten a really good translation of precision and grace in decades.
posted by koeselitz at 6:17 AM on October 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Pope or nothing.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:24 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll see your Pope and raise you a Chapman.
posted by Bromius at 6:26 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


To get a better idea of how the subtleties of the translations differ I'd love to see the same segment (more than just a single line) from each of the books (and any other previous translations) together.

Not too many months ago I followed a link, I think originating from Mefi, to just such a page. It was the first sentence from either the Illiad or the Odyssey, I don't remember which, from over 100 translations. The differences were enormous. I seem to remember Pope was the most appealing to me. Memory is getting so bad.
posted by 3.2.3 at 6:29 AM on October 22, 2011


I'm a big fan of Logue.

I tend to believe that poetry is best translated by poets.
posted by kyrademon at 6:31 AM on October 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


3,000 years, and still no lolcat translation? "Y U mad, Peleus?"
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 6:32 AM on October 22, 2011 [17 favorites]


I'll see your Pope and raise you a Chapman.

eh...I looked into it.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:34 AM on October 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'm still waiting for a translation of Joyce's Ulysses.

No, it's Finnegan's Wake that requires translation into English.
posted by lathrop at 6:39 AM on October 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm still waiting for a translation of Joyce's Ulysses.

But Joyce's Ulysses IS a translation of The Odyssey.
posted by Fizz at 6:43 AM on October 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


As long as no one tries to update Romeo and Juliet I'm OK.
posted by TedW at 6:45 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lots of translations compared at this page.
posted by blob at 6:49 AM on October 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


As long as no one tries to update Romeo and Juliet I'm OK.

And I wonder if foreign audiences of old works of literature are at an advantage since new translations are less of a taboo than modernizations within the same language.
posted by Anything at 7:04 AM on October 22, 2011


A better informed discussion of translation(s) would be gained by reading the new book out on the subject (teranslations) called Is That A Fish In Your Ear by David Bellos
posted by Postroad at 7:06 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I read Fagles in college along with translating a book of Iliad myself (a bit at a time, along with other classmates, and I was abysmal at both Homeric and Attic Greek), and I was happy with it. I always thought that Fagles was quite right to pick "rage" as his opening word.

Lattimore and Fagles were the two most commonly favored translations of Iiad with my freshman class for Greek at St. John's College in 1991. I don't doubt that those two still dominate, though there have been one or two new translations of note since then. SJC takes no position on which translation of the books a student should read, neither institutionally nor on a per class basis. Partly for that reason, I didn't put much thought into which translation I chose—people get really snobbish about their favored translations and I was determined to not buy into that. Those who favored Lattimore were among the worst in this regard.

However...
It seems to me like they shouldn't differ THAT much, but the article makes it sound like the translations can impact the experience far greater than I think.Slack-a-gogo
If you ever get the chance to study a language and translate an important text, you should do so. Seriously. It'll give you a lot of insight into many related things and you'll understand just how formidable a task translation truly is. Because it's very difficult to do well and, yes, translations can differ hugely. Especially with works of poetry.

As I wrote, while in college, reading all these great works, many of which were in translation to English, I never worried very much about their relative quality. Lately, though, I've been rereading some of the Russian classics I read then and reading for the first time some that aren't on the SJC curriculum. I recently read Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita (about which I can't praise enough) and, notably, The Brothers Karamazov (as you might have guessed from my username). The Brothers K translation I read was the Pevear/Volokhonsky. I also have their Notes from Underground, but haven't read it. The Bulgakov was Diana Burgin's.

I'd researched the best translations of classic Russian literature and had read numerous good things about about Pevear & Volokhonsky (particularly this really good New Yorker piece, The Translation Wars) and I must say I am very impressed with the Brothers K. In fact, in their introduction the write at length about how Dostoyevsky wrote fully "in character" and much of what many critics and translators of Dostoyevsky—including many who ought to know better—has dismissed as stylistically bad writing was important, deliberate choice on the author's part. Understanding that, it becomes very important, and difficult, to retain this. This is especially important in Notes from Underground.

Anyway, this is all to say that I've become much more concerned about the quality of translation these days. In the New Yorker article, the writer talks about how Constance Garnett has long been the gold standard translator of Dostoyevsky (and other Russians) in the anglophone world...and this is very much undeserved. The irony is that people can be snobbish about translations because what's thought to be good is really no more than received wisdom. There's a lot of conservatism involved in which translations are favored and which are not.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:08 AM on October 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Analogously, yesterday someone complained "Do we really need more recordings of the Beethoven piano sonatas?"

In both cases I'm left wondering, "What's it to you, pal?"

Seriously, do these people feel that our culture is suffering from excessive attention being paid to high art?
posted by Trurl at 7:15 AM on October 22, 2011 [16 favorites]


Because the best minds of our generation are being vacuumed up by Big Translation when they should really be in finance.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 7:20 AM on October 22, 2011 [22 favorites]


After nearly 3,000 years, does the “Iliad” really need translating again?

FTA: A poet known for her landscape verse, Ms Oswald read classics at Oxford. The result is a work by someone who not only understands Homer’s Greek, but who also has an ear for modern verse. It is a delight to read.

So, apparently, yes. After all a poem about a bloody, 10-year war with a religious touch seems quite relevant nowadays. And, besides, poem translations by poets also count as new poems, so the more the merrier.

And I wonder if foreign audiences of old works of literature are at an advantage since new translations are less of a taboo than modernizations within the same language.

That's a good point. There was recently a new modernisation of the Iliad and the Odyssey, which is a lovely piece of work and attracted many listeners at open readings.

koeselitz, FWIW in Greece Odyssey seems to be the more appreciated of the two poems.
posted by ersatz at 7:24 AM on October 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ok, I write this having not yet seen the Verity or Oswald works. And I've also been in conversations at least a couple of times with the U Chicago Press about producing the update to Lattimore's translation, so I may be a bit biased, but perhaps that provides a bit of perspective as well.

Does the world NEED new translations of the Iliad? Probably not. Is it better off for having more and newer translations? I would argue yes. In my perfect world, everyone would be able to read Homer in the original Greek. (Actually, in my truly perfect world, everyone would be able to hear/watch a rhapsode or aoidos perform the Iliad, but that's a different conversation.) The closer one can get to appreciating art in the same way as it was understood by its original audiences, the better the overall experience is going to be. But not everyone reads ancient Greek (and in particular Homeric Greek, which is a literary dialect of Greek that borrows from several different dialects found in the Greek world at different points in time and was thus never actually spoken in everyday conversation by anyone); so what do we do? Would we rather people just never experience any of the art associated with this foundational poem of Western literature? Or would we rather people still become acquainted with it in some way, even if that knowledge is at a large remove from the poem's original interpretive context? There are, of course, risks to interpreting art in new contexts, since much of art's intended meaning is contextually situated and therefore interpreting it outside of that original context can sometimes result in missed or contrary meanings. Nevertheless, I would guess that most people would still argue for trying to get people to explore the Iliad in a new way rather than forget it entirely.

Which then brings us to translations. And what the article for the most part misses is that a translation isn't meant to be a faithful reproduction of an original, just in another language. Instead, each translation has its own purpose and shoould be used accordingly. And if someone has a need for a type of translation that is not yet being met by existing translations, then I say go for it: produce a new translation. Just make it clear what your translation is supposed to do. And that's what forewords, prefaces, and reviews are for. Unfortunately, though, when most people come to buy a translation, they themselves don't know why they're buying it, and so they may or may not end up getting what they need so that their reading experience is as good as it can be.

And, yes, as many here have already pointed out, the article misses several of the most important translations. The Fagles omission is ridiculous, but some of the others not mentioned are almost as bad, especially with Lombardo's version gathering steam in classrooms across the U.S. (thanks in large part to its cover, I think). But, still, the important thing is to know what you're going to get out of a translation. Fagles translation is probably the best translation if what you're interested in is a poem that sounds good when read aloud in English; that's what he was going for. On the other hand, Fagles doesn't even stay reasonably close to the Greek in some places. (Which is why, when I was at Princeton where Fagles wrote his version, when it came, none of the faculty in the Classics Department actually used his version.)

At the other extreme is the Lattimore translation, which attempts to stay as close to the original Greek as possible while still maintaining a poetic rhythm in English. But Lattimore's translation is now 60 years old, and while it's still the one that I use because it's the only one that retains repeated traditional formulas intact, it has the problem of being a bit out of date linguistically and scholarship has also moved forward since L's time. There are about 600 "errors" that currently need to be fixed in his translation.

Most of the other translations out there are somewhere in the middle between these two. Lombardo's flows especially well while retaining quite a bit of the Greek wording. And then there are the others, both new and old. Not to mention those that are done in prose, which no one other than a Greek student who needs a translating crutch should use. One of the more interesting versions is that associated with the Chicago Homer project, where one can explore Homer with as much Greek or English as one likes. Hyperlinked texts are becoming an increasingly important way of exploring ancient texts, and this site is a good example of why.

So, TLDR: Is it good for there to be more translations of the Iliad? Yes. Does the world need to learn more about how best to use those translations? Absolutely.
posted by zeugitai_guy at 7:27 AM on October 22, 2011 [25 favorites]


I'd like to see the Ebonics version.
posted by Renoroc at 7:32 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love literature, but for the overwhelming majority the Iliad is something you are required to read in school, not something you go to the bookstore to buy just because. Given its length and subject matter, it will never be popular reading, even with a blockbuster movie tie-in.
posted by tommasz at 7:40 AM on October 22, 2011


The Economist wants to know: Are four new translations of Homer’s “Iliad” a bit much?

People need new stuff to put on their shelves and not read.
posted by jonmc at 7:47 AM on October 22, 2011


filthy light thief wants to know: what value is the review of The Economist in topics of literature that don't relate to markets somehow? (other reviews include Renaissance Florence: Cradle of capitalism and 15th-century Florence: Medici moolah)
posted by filthy light thief at 7:59 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whether we need another translation or four of the Iliad is a silly question, whether we need another Stephen Mitchell translation is less so.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:04 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Siri, tell me about when Peleus's son got hella mad"
posted by Greg Nog at 8:18 AM on October 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


I wonder if the translations of these two texts over and over again mean, in a round about way, we get less translations of other ancient texts---The last significant translation of Heraclitus was a decade ago, and it's not great, for example
posted by PinkMoose at 8:38 AM on October 22, 2011


Trying to read one translation of Anna Karenina years ago, and then picking up the Volokhonsky and Pevear translation taught me just how much different a translator makes. Not speaking Russian, I don't know what got lost (because something *always* gets lost), but as a reader, I can tell you it made a huge difference.

I recall picking up the Odyssey around 7th or 8th grade and finding it really hard to stick with it. At the time, I was chewing pretty steadily through the canon. The translation was just so wooden. I'm all for having numerous translations, provided they are done conscientiously.
posted by smirkette at 8:55 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


After all these years, does the world really need yet another magazine article wringing it's hands over whether the latest crop of books is "necessary" or not?
posted by straight at 9:11 AM on October 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Iliad represents the transition from oral history to written text, and probably only represented one or, possibly, a few poets' version of the story.

One of my professors went on at length about how there were likely different poets, with different versions, who would travel from city-state to city-state (or village, etc.) embellishing different parts depending on the audience, (specifically, he mentioned there was probably a version that really elaborated on the horrors Achilles inflicted on Hector's corpse) and Homer's version was a safe version to use as a primer in schools.

I like to think of the Iliad as a pinhole of human evolution, through which many versions of the story existed before, and many many versions of the story exist long after.

The Alice Oswald approach sounds promising, but I am stuck with Lattimore.
Every time I compared what I translated in a week of Greek classes with what he wrote (or the Loeb version), I was impressed by his wordsmithing. He unfailingly wrote it better than I could have. It especially helped to read it aloud.

Also, Constance Garnett was sort of a hack, though I, like most others fell in love with Dostoevsky thanks to her translations. I cannot hold her responsible for the dearth of better translations
posted by Busithoth at 9:15 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


You would think The Economist would assume nonsatiation.
posted by ~ at 9:19 AM on October 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I always think of the bit in Nabokov's "Pnin," where he comes to America, learns english, and finally gets to read Shakespeare in the original, but he is disappointed to find that he likes the russian versions better.

I listened to a course of lectures on Illiad and the prof said she has always wanted to do a translation of the poem wherein she would leave θεός untranslated, because, no matter what, "God" just has too much foreign baggage attached.

I had a lot of fun listening to those lectures, and I recommend them (for interested amateurs). Elizabeth Vandiver is the prof, and they're from The Teaching company.

And for Caps lock day:

HIS ARMOUR FELL RATTLING AROUND HIM!!
posted by Trochanter at 9:38 AM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've nothing I can really add here but I just wanted to say that it's nice to be (a very small) part of a virtual community in which conversations like this take place. I've been working hard to remind myself lately that life is not all science and engineering.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:44 AM on October 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


The Good News Iliad.
posted by rhizome at 10:11 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, apparently, yes. After all a poem about a bloody, 10-year war with a religious touch seems quite relevant nowadays. And, besides, poem translations by poets also count as new poems, so the more the merrier.

This is why I like William Cullen Bryant's Iliad, published in 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War and reeking with the blood of American boys as least as much as that of the ancient Greeks and Trojans.

Oceans of gratitude to blob for the link, despite my terror over global warming's progression to the point that he's thawed enough to post to MetaFilter.

Even though it's probably better suited to the salad course, please at least save Seattle for dessert, OK?
posted by jamjam at 10:36 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd read all four to scrub the memory of the horrific E V Rieu / Penguin Classics jolly hockey sticks style translation from my brain.

It is THAT bad. Anachronistic just doesn't describe it adequately.
posted by bifter at 11:13 AM on October 22, 2011


I'm still waiting for a translation of Joyce's Ulysses.

But Joyce's Ulysses IS a translation of The Odyssey.


It was - into at least German, French, and Russian.

It isn't.
posted by njohnson23 at 11:39 AM on October 22, 2011


Lattimore and Fagles were the two most commonly favored translations of Iiad with my freshman class for Greek at St. John's College in 1991.

When I was a freshman at SJC Annapolis in 2001, Fagles and Lombardo were by far the most popular. The Lattimore was generally regarded as stodgy and irrelevant. I really enjoyed the Lombardo because it was so lovely and sparse and sharp, with the sort of tone I imagine a Don DeLillo translation might have (though I don't really remember how faithful it was to the Greek - it's been awhile, and Greek was definitely not my favorite class).

I am also thrilled to see people talking about Pevear and Volokhonsky's Dostoevsky translations! Their Brothers Karamazov is amazing and beautiful, and I couldn't put it down for a second. I also loved their translation of The Idiot. If anybody has had trouble maintaining interest in reading Dostoevsky, or didn't really find it enjoyable, I really can't recommend their work enough. They really capture the suspense and tension in his writing in a very visceral, immediate way (and without sacrificing any of the depth), and I haven't seen any other translations that even come close.

I still tear up thinking about Ilyusha, the poor dear little fellow....
posted by dialetheia at 12:24 PM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


In a very useful essay called "Another Odyssey," Guy Davenport, who knew Greek backwards and forwards, took a look at some issues in translating from Greek to English, warning
Translation involves two languages; the translator is in constant danger of inventing a third that lies between, a treacherous nonexistent language suggested by the original and not recognized by the language into which the original is being transposed
and going on to say
Professor Lattimore is like an engraver copying a painting. The color of the original must everywhere appear in his work as monochrome shades...He has written a sprawling poem that imitates Homer along certain aesthetic lines. It is sometimes severely controlled, stately, grave; it is also a mussy poem, flaring out of control, losing contact with both Greek and English.
I've always found Lattimore rather dull and awkward while I've had few experiences with a book as thrilling as reading Fitzgerald's Odyssey.


Also, while I've never read their translations and don't know any Russian, it's worth pointing out that the Pevear and Volokhonsky translations aren't exactly uncontroversial among a number of mefites who do.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 12:49 PM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


it's worth pointing out that the Pevear and Volokhonsky translations aren't exactly uncontroversial among a number of mefites who do.

Fair enough, and that's good to know. I don't know from hype machine, I just found their Brothers Karamazov translation on the sale shelf at Powell's and really enjoyed their prose. I'm personally agnostic on the relative value of a perfectly faithful translation, so mileage may vary for people who value that differently.
posted by dialetheia at 1:12 PM on October 22, 2011


I don't disagree with you; I read both War and Peace and Anna Karenina in Rosemary Edmonds' translations and adored each so much that I wouldn't care if it turned out she made up every other word.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 1:28 PM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


nathancaswell: "I am not a translator but it seems nouns should be neither added nor cut."

Idioms use nouns. Foreign idioms can confuse a text. A Chinese translation of "she had a bee in her bonnet about pancakes for breakfast" would be obtuse if it made any mention of bees or bonnets.

Also, remember that The Illiad is poetry. There are well respected* poetry translations where they preserve rhythm and assonance and totally neglect any preservation of meaning.

* by poets of my acquaintance at least, which should count for something
posted by idiopath at 1:39 PM on October 22, 2011


The Iliad represents the transition from oral history to written text, and probably only represented one or, possibly, a few poets' version of the story.

One of my professors went on at length about how there were likely different poets, with different versions, who would travel from city-state to city-state (or village, etc.) embellishing different parts depending on the audience, (specifically, he mentioned there was probably a version that really elaborated on the horrors Achilles inflicted on Hector's corpse) and Homer's version was a safe version to use as a primer in schools.

I like to think of the Iliad as a pinhole of human evolution, through which many versions of the story existed before, and many many versions of the story exist long after.


There isn't any consensus on this. A number of classical scholars disagree with the Millman Parry theory on the composition of the Illiad and Odyssey, among them Bernard Knox and Stanley Lombardo.

-----

The last significant translation of Heraclitus was a decade ago, and it's not great, for example

Why do we need another translation of Heraclitus after Charles Kahn's?
posted by BigSky at 1:43 PM on October 22, 2011


Look, if scholars aren't churning out translations of epic poems four at a time how are they ever going to keep up with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies? Those things are filmed two at one time and we have to keep things in the wedding ratio: for every something new, something old, and for every modern sequel that gets rechurned, a classic should be retranslated. I say they should do an extra three or four now, just to bank up a reservoir in case more Terminators start popping up now that Arnold's got free time.
posted by Kiablokirk at 2:01 PM on October 22, 2011


Count me as another who didn't realize there was a P&V "hype machine" and has found that I like their translations for their own sakes.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:13 PM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


There isn't any consensus on this. A number of classical scholars disagree with the Millman Parry theory on the composition of the Illiad and Odyssey, among them Bernard Knox and Stanley Lombardo.

This is not exactly a true statement. (Oh, and Milman and Iliad both have one "l".) Though many scholars debate the exact nature of the composition process at the core of our versions of the Iliad and Odyssey, not even hard-line Analysts believe that there wasn't an oral tradition of such poetry for hundreds of years before the poems were written down. For that matter, we even know quite a bit about variants that persisted into the Classical Period. It is of course possible that our versions were indeed written (and even revised) with pen in hand. (See M. L. West's new volume, The Making of the Iliad, for an extreme position with regard to such literacy.) It is also possible that the poem was orally dictated to someone writing it down. And in fact, both could be true. The version that has come down to us today was edited and re-edited many, many times. And it could incorporate versions committed to writing in several different ways. We don't know anything for sure.

What we do know is that our texts are still indebted to this oral tradition in the ways that they generate meaning. There are many phrases, scenes, and even larger patterns that rely on audience expectations to complete their meaning. If someone says "if ever" (ei pote) in a prayer, it's going to be successful. Whoever has the longer arming scene before a battle is going to win. If someone wears "elaborately wrought" armor, you know they are going to be safe. How did the audience know? Because they'd heard these stories over and over again, and certain phrases/scenes got used over and over again in specific contexts that eventually imparted extra meaning to such traditional units. (For a modern example, if someone says "a guy walks into a bar", you know what's coming next. Or if someone mentions a "log cabin," the phrase denotes much more culturally and historically than a small building made from logs.) And many of these meanings make their way into our early Greek poetic texts, not only in epic but even in lyric and elegy. In one sense, it doesn't even matter that much how the texts came to be written down as long as we realize that both oral traditional techniques and literate editing techniques made their mark on the poems over hundreds (or even thousands) of years.
posted by zeugitai_guy at 2:42 PM on October 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Another Christopher Logue. I taught one piece of his project, _War Music_, in a literature of war class, and it did very well.
I still shiver at that two-page spread for "APOLLO".
posted by doctornemo at 5:27 PM on October 22, 2011


This is not exactly a true statement. ... Though many scholars debate the exact nature of the composition process at the core of our versions of the Iliad and Odyssey, not even hard-line Analysts believe that there wasn't an oral tradition of such poetry for hundreds of years before the poems were written down. For that matter, we even know quite a bit about variants that persisted into the Classical Period. It is of course possible that our versions were indeed written (and even revised) with pen in hand. (See M. L. West's new volume, The Making of the Iliad, for an extreme position with regard to such literacy.) It is also possible that the poem was orally dictated to someone writing it down. And in fact, both could be true. The version that has come down to us today was edited and re-edited many, many times. And it could incorporate versions committed to writing in several different ways. We don't know anything for sure.

Thank you for your response, I enjoyed your comments the last time we discussed this.

I'm not disagreeing there was an oral tradition of poetry that preceded Homer, I'm claiming there is no consensus that the Iliad was composed by a group of poets over a few generations.

In his introduction to Fagles' translation, Knox is clearly skeptical that the Iliad could be the result of a collaborative effort pointing to both the length of the poem and its structural complexity. He also speculates that the use of the dual tense in Chapter 9 came about from the late addition (by the original author) of the final appeal to Achilles and that the earlier dual tenses were left unchanged out of respect for the received text. If it had been a collaborative effort those earlier uses of the dual tense would have eventually been corrected.

From this interview with Lombardo:

Leddy: From the way you speak of ‘Homer,’ it’s pretty clear that you see the poems as the work of a single imagination. Is this something of a poetic intuition?

Lombardo: Yes.

(Oh, and Milman and Iliad both have one "l".)

Dully noted.
posted by BigSky at 5:44 PM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Metafillter: dully noted
posted by idiopath at 6:27 PM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm claiming there is no consensus that the Iliad was composed by a group of poets over a few generations.

This is of course true, with the stipulation that by the Iliad you mean only the specific version of the particular story that has come down to us today (and not Iliadic stories in general which are attested in various versions from throughout the Greek world). The only thing that I would add, though, is that no single person in Greece would have heard or read this fossilized text in a vacuum without knowledge of many, many stories that were similar to this one in one respect or another. Therefore, even if we have a single master poet crafting a monumental poem without precedent (which is a somewhat diffcult position because of the technology leap that would be required, but we can at least entertain the possibility), his audience is still going to interpret it against the backdrop of the tradition itself and their experience with it. So tradition still leaves its mark. Within such a cultural outlook, then, the best art (including a work such as the Iliad) is always going to occur at the point where true individual genius meets a powerful tradition. Without a tradition, the audience doesn't know how to interpret such work meaningfully, and without the individual artists, the tradition is never activated in the first place.
posted by zeugitai_guy at 6:41 PM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have no particular insights to add on the topic at hand, but two somewhat divergent thoughts:

1) I imagine the translators of Georges Perec's La Disparition deserve a hug.

2) Pulling out my copies of The Iliad and The Odyssey to check which translations I came across a book I'd forgotten I had called Shakespeare's Insults.....

Metafilter: They are arrant knaves, and will backbite.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:47 PM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


La Disparition became a completely different novel in each translation - the constraint was preserved (well, in the case of Spanish, the constraint was translated, forbidding a rather than e), character, plot etc. was very liberally altered to accommodate the constraints.
posted by idiopath at 6:59 PM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Translations reflect their milieu; times change, and increasingly quickly, so why shouldn't there be new translations every once in a while?

I don't know what it means, but that's such a pretty sentence.
posted by four panels at 7:36 PM on October 22, 2011


Screwl against the dying of the lit.
posted by nola at 7:56 PM on October 22, 2011


SJC takes no position on which translation of the books a student should read, neither institutionally nor on a per class basis.
Along with my acceptance letter to the class of 2013, I received a copy of the Lattimore translation with a note indicating that I ought to read it prior to matriculation; while I didn't attend, and subsequently was not part of any classroom discussion, I would imagine that this constitutes some position on the translation to be read.
posted by Judith Butlerian Jihad at 8:47 PM on October 22, 2011


Same thing happened to me with Reed (where I didn't go either), only they didnt give me a book, just told me to have read the Lattimore before the start of classes.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 9:01 PM on October 22, 2011


Count me as another who did not like the V/P War & Peace. I had read the New Yorker piece on them and was excited to experience W&P afresh. It was disappointed. YMMV.
posted by stargell at 9:19 PM on October 22, 2011


Judith, did they include the whole thing? Freshman are expected to have read the first few books before the first Seminar and I suppose they've started doing this as a means of encouraging it. (Sigh. If an incoming freshman can't be bothered, I'd prefer it that the tutors take note of this and, if things continue to not go so well, encourage them to seek education elsewhere.)

Anyway, if they decided to send out parts or all of the Iliad for incoming freshman to read, they had to pick a version. Lattimore is the conservative choice, in all senses.

But, at any rate, the long-standing policy at the school is not to prefer any particular translation of any of the books on the Program. I never once heard a tutor (professor) indicate to a student that the student ought to use one translation over another.

The ethos there is that the students are intellectually responsible, or will learn to be. They are expected to make these decisions for themselves.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:33 PM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Obviously Troy was an abomination but, ya know what? Brad Pitt "got" Achilles -- just an angry rage battery.

And I like the Lattimore just fine.
posted by bardic at 11:03 PM on October 22, 2011


Achilles is just an angry rage battery?

So that whole scene in the poem where he admits that his inaction really fundmentally stems from a massive existential crisis he had upon realizing that struggle and glory is ultimately meaningless in the face of the inevitability of death?

That was ... angry rage?
posted by kyrademon at 7:11 AM on October 23, 2011


hey, sometimes the batteries have to sit a while before delivering another charge.

The movie Troy was the ultimate epic fight between my inner voices of "that's not right" and "well, that was entertaining"

and for the record, I wasn't stating that there was a consensus about the 'Iliad' authorship, only that it was a popular story told and retold by a number of poets before, and after it was written down in the version we have inherited today.
posted by Busithoth at 9:53 AM on October 23, 2011


Are four new translations of Homer’s “Iliad” a bit much?

I don't even understand the question.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:13 AM on October 24, 2011


I'd read all four to scrub the memory of the horrific E V Rieu / Penguin Classics jolly hockey sticks style translation from my brain.

Uh, I've read the Rieu version, and I thought it was okay. I might have an unsubtle palate.
posted by ovvl at 6:25 PM on October 24, 2011


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