Literal vs. Essential Translation
of Homer's Iliad
In 1951 Richmond Lattimore's quite literal translation of the Iliad appeared, and marked a milestone in the history of English translations of Homer. Lattimore undertook essentially a line-for-line, verse translation with almost every word in the original accounted for. The accuracy of his work has made Lattimore's translation a durable fixture, particularly among teachers and students of classics, for whom it is valuable as a "pony."
Lattimore's translation, however, did not fare as well among those who sought a pleasing read, not necessarily shackled to the words in Homer's original lines of verse. To many such readers--then and now--Lattimore has seemed "painfully literal." (Calum Maciver in Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 1/15/09).
In 1974 Robert Fitzgerald's translation appeared, followed in 1990 by that of Robert Fagles. These were far from literal translations. They were poetic works effected in part to display the authors' lyrical responses to the story units in Homer's epic. Rather than hew to the original, Fitzgerald and Fagles expanded it substantially in accordance with their own poetic lights. Both translators added approximately 2,500 lines to Homer's poem: more than 16%. Both translations, however, remain popular.
In the preface to his tour-de-force rendition of the Iliad, Alexander Pope declared: "It is certain no literal translation can be just to an excellent original in a superior language."
The present translator sought a middle ground, by adhering closely to a line-for-line, blank verse rendition. This approach results in verses limited to a dozen syllables, and precludes translation of many words in the original lines which contain around sixteen syllables each. The omitted words are mostly repetitious epithets and patronyms, and particles which have no English equivalents. These words add little--if any--meaning. They are present in the original owing to the imperative of composing--and filling out--dactyllic hexameter verses "on-the-fly" by pre-Homeric bards reciting orally.
The object of the present translation is to capture the essence of each of Homer's lines--in both meaning and tone--in a single, corresponding line of blank verse, unlike any of the translators mentioned above.
Ideally, the translated lines should be displayed on right-hand pages facing left-hand pages which contain the corresponding original lines with interlinear, word-for-word translations which retain the Greek word order and sentence structure. See the example reproduced below. By this method--and only by this method--can the student or reader see a truly literal rendition, juxtaposed with both the original and an English version. Among other benefits, the thoughtful reader is enabled to see the issues which the translator confronted--and the compromises made--in order to put this original into English.
Similar editions of other works have proven successful. E.g., Merwin, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Knopf 2003.
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