Friday, October 21, 2011

New from Homer

Here from The Economist is a review of a new edition of a venerable translation of the Iliad (Richmond Lattimore), two new translations (Stephen Mitchell, Anthony Verity), and a free adaptation (Alice Oswald): Winged Words. About Lattimore, the reviewer and I will have to disagree: the “certain grace” that he or she finds in Lattimore’s Iliad is missing from my copy. About Mitchell and Verity, I’m inclined to agree: the lines quoted offer little to recommend these translations. Oswald’s project sounds like an obvious imitation of Christopher Logue’s ongoing War Music: I’m surprised that the reviewer doesn’t mention Logue’s reimagining of Homer’s poem.

Mitchell’s bland admission to the Wall Street Journal — “I’ve never been able to read ‘The Iliad,’ actually, until I sat down to do this. . . . I could never get past book one in any translation. I found the language very dull” — raises an odd but relevant question: why might one sit down to translate a work one has never read, either in the original or in translation? Mitchell’s characterization of translations as “dull” makes me think that he must not have sampled Stanley Lombardo’s Iliad. It’s curious then that Mitchell’s colloquialisms — “Don’t talk to me of agreements, you son of a bitch“ — sound very much like the work of a poor man’s Stanley Lombardo.

For me, there’s one great Iliad in modern translation, and it‘s Lombardo’s. It’s the translation that made me understand Homer’s poem. I am interested though in browsing these new translations in a bookstore. (No samples at Amazon.)

Some related posts
Gilgamesh in translation (Stephen Mitchell and N.K. Sandars)
Whose Homer? (the Big Four: Lattimore, Robert Fitzgerald, Robert Fagles, Lombardo)
Translators at work and play (another line by the Big Four)
Three Virgils (Fitzgerald, Lombardo, Fagles)
Translations, mules, briars (Guy Davenport on Lattimore)

[“I could never get past book one in any translation”: why would Mitchell have been limited to reading the poem in translation anyway? Because he had no Homeric Greek? Did he thus invest time in learning a language to be able translate a poem he had never read? Very puzzling. Browse around and you’ll find that other readers have wondered whether Mitchell can read Homer’s Greek.]

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