Thursday, September 16, 2004

Paris, pretty-boy

“Paris, you desperate, womanizing pretty boy!”

What is Hector really saying when he rebukes his brother in Iliad 3? I got curious enough this morning to look at the Greek.

That sounds scary, but figuring out the Greek is relatively easy, even if (like me) you don’t know Greek. There are books that help you to go word by word, and there’s a remarkable website, the Perseus Digital Library, where you can zero in on any passage in an ancient Greek or Latin author and click word by word to get a sense of what’s said.

For Lombardo’s line, I stuck with books. Here’s how Hector addresses his brother, word by word (with the Greek words transliterated into our alphabet):

“Duspari, eidos ariste, gunaimanês, hêperopeuta”

The line might be literally translated like this:

“Unhappy Paris, best in figure, mad for women, deceiver”

Duspari = unhappy Paris
eidos = form, shape, figure
ariste = best
gunaimanês = mad for women
hêperopeuta = deceiver

Desperate is an inspired way of bringing Duspari (which sounds like desperate) into English.

Gunaimanes combines the Greek words for women and mad. Paris is literally mad for women. We might say that he's girl-crazy, which would go well with his immaturity, but girl-crazy is probably too light-hearted for the context.

There’s no pretty boy in the Greek, but Hector’s praise of his brother’s looks makes sense only if it’s bitter sarcasm. Pretty boy suggests the right sort of contempt. I wonder if the sound of hêperopeuta inspired Lombardo to think of pretty boy.

It’s amazing what you can find when you go back to the Greek.

comments: 2

Malcolm Z said...

Thanks for this analysis, I'm looking for reasons to read Lombardo and you just gave me some good ones.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for reading, Malcolm. You might want to take a look at this post too, which compares different translations of the line: Whose Homer?

To my mind, Lombardo is a brilliant translator, far superior to Fagles. I interviewed Lombardo a few years back: there's a link in the sidebar, on the right, if you'd like to see it.