Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Translations, mules, briars

Dwight Garner, writing in the New York Times:

The most plain, direct and noble translation of The Iliad into English, at least for that generation of college students who had it pressed into their lucky, sweaty palms, has long been Richmond Lattimore’s of 1951, though Robert Fitzgerald’s translation of 1974 and Robert Fagles’s of 1990 have their fierce adherents. Lattimore’s version, once read, doesn’t leave you: it is supple, unvarnished, morally complex and, in a word, thrilling.
It is unusual to find such words as plain, direct, and supple applied to Lattimore’s work. Here is Guy Davenport on Lattimore, in an essay I’d recommend to anyone who reads in translation. Davenport is writing about Lattimore’s Odyssey, but still, the shoe fits:
[H]e is writing in a neutralized English wholly devoid of dialect, a language concocted for the purpose of translating Homer. It uses the vocabulary of English but not its rhythm. It has its own idiom. One can say in this language such things as “slept in that place in an exhaustion of sleep” (for Homer’s “aching with fatigue and weary for lack of sleep”) and “the shining clothes are lying away uncared for” (for “your laundry is tossed in a heap waiting to be washed”).

Professor Lattimore adheres to the literal at times as stubbornly as a mule eating briars.

“Another Odyssey,” in The Geography of the Imagination (Jaffrey, NH: David R. Godine, 1997), 35.
My favorite translations of Homer: those of Robert Fitzgerald and Stanley Lombardo.

Related reading
All Homer posts (Pinboard)

comments: 1

Slywy said...

I read Fitzgerald's, which was relatively new and all the rage at the time. Too bad I can't read the originals.