(for Stefan Hagemann)
I'm teaching the Iliad again, in Stanley Lombardo's 1997 translation, and we just hit a line that always sticks in students' minds, Hector's rebuke of his brother Paris in Book 3. As the opposing forces mass for battle, Paris steps out and offers to fight the Greeks' best man to the death. Menelaus steps up -- he's not the best Greek, but he is Helen's husband after all. Paris, suddenly pale, runs back to the Trojan lines. Hector then speaks with impatience and contempt:
"Paris, you desperate, womanizing pretty boy!"I just recommended Lombardo's Iliad to my friend Stefan Hagemann, so I'll make a case for my choice by looking at how the other members of the Big Four -- Richmond Lattimore (1951), Robert Fitzgerald (1974), and Robert Fagles (1990) -- handle this one line. Here's Lattimore:
"Evil Paris, beautiful, woman-crazy, cajoling."Yes, Lattimore is close to the Greek (Lombardo too, as you can see here). The problem with Lattimore's line, to my mind, is that it's nearly impossible to imagine someone saying it in English. It's very difficult to hear cajoling, for instance, as a term of rebuke. And what's urgently missing is the word you, the inevitable pronoun of rebuke in English ("Why you little . . . .").
I love Robert Fitzgerald's Odyssey, but like many readers, I find him less at home in the Iliad. Here's Fitzgerald's Hector:
"You bad-luck charm!Fitzgerald leaves out any overt reference to Paris' beauty (in the Greek, he is "best in form," or "best in figure"), a curious omission, as Homer has just noted Paris' glamorous leopard-skin (he is the only warrior in the poem to wear one). As for "You bad-luck charm!" -- that phrase introduces a tone of high camp that I find bewildering in this context.
Paris, the great lover, a gallant sight!"
Robert Fagles has picked up all the establishment honors, but his translations of Homer (and Aeschylus) seem to me to strain too hard for a faux-lofty, Yeatsian rhetoric. Rarely do they, for me, ring true. Here's Fagles' Hector:
"Paris, appalling Paris! Our prince of beauty --What I first notice here is the sheer verbiage: what Homer does in five words, Lattimore and Lombardo in six, Fitzgerald in eleven, Fagles does in sixteen. Fagles' Hector speaks with stagey repetition (he seems to have a British accent, methinks) and (like Fitzgerald's Hector) with two! -- two! -- exclamation points. Another problem: Fagles' translation seems a little misleading for new readers of the poem, for Paris has lured neither Helen nor any other woman. (There is no "them all.") The Iliad presents Helen as the victim of a sexual kidnapping of sorts, a woman filled with contempt for her keeper. It's not at all clear that she's been "ruined": though she's filled with shame and self-hatred, the poem never passes judgment on her, treating her rather with compassion and generosity.
mad for women, you lure them all to ruin!"
Facing multiple translations in a bookstore, it can be difficult to know what choice to make. Picking some scattered lines for comparison can sometimes illuminate the differences among translations to a remarkable degree. Looking at this line in four translations reminds me of why I choose Lombardo's Iliad when I teach.
Translators at work and play
Aeschylus in three translations
Interview with Stanley Lombardo