Last week I discovered David Frauenfelder's blog Breakfast with Pandora ("For a Diet Rich in Myth and Logos," says the subtitle). One post that I found particularly engaging comments on a passage from Iliad 1 as translated by Stanley Lombardo and Robert Fagles. Achilles is promising Agamemnon generous compensation if he will return the captive woman Chryseis (whose father is a priest of Apollo and has asked that god to send a plague upon the Achaean forces). Here is the passage in Lombardo's translation:
All right, you give the girl back to the god. The armyAnd here's Frauenfelder's comment:
Will repay you three and four times over -- when and if
Zeus allows us to rip Troy down to its foundations.
Robert Fagles' translation was trumpeted when it came out in the early nineties, but it looks like a tricycle next to Lombardo's Ferrari.These paragraphs are a great example of how to characterize tone in a persuasive way: the clichéd loftiness of "massive ramparts" becomes instantly clear.
Fagles cannot resist retaining just a little of that formal diction that makes readers go cold. . . :
So return the girl to the god, at least for now.
We Achaeans will pay you back, three, four times
if Zeus will grant us the gift, somehow, someday,
to raze Troy's massive ramparts to the ground.
By boiling down "raze Troy's massive ramparts to the ground" to "rip Troy down to its foundations," Lombardo saves only one word, but over the course of the poem these add up. Plus, who wants to read "raze" when "rip" will do just as well or better? And why would you put "massive ramparts" unless you wanted someone to read the translation in a Monty Pythonesque voice ("HUGE tracts o' land")?
I'm biased, yes. Maybe there are Fagles enthusiasts out there. I came from Richmond Lattimore's translation, which is very close to the Greek, but which, as my mentor used to say, always sounds better after you've gotten through the better part of a pitcher of beer.
I'd add that "somehow, someday" is a very strange (intentional? unintentional?) echo of "Somewhere" from West Side Story.
Link: Comments on Iliad Book One (from Breakfast with Pandora)