Iliad Translation Issues
This page introduces some of the many translation issues that I had to confront and resolve when rendering a 2,500-year-old product of ancient Greece. See links at the bottom of the page.
Many of the issues relate to readability of the finished product, a quality that most commenters have noticed. Others relate to diction and, more broadly, to the tone of the verses. There is a tension between twin imperatives of, on the one hand, using diction sufficiently contemporary for modern readers and, on the other, maintaining an aura commensurate with the ancient, mythic quality of the epic and its legendary subject matter and characters.
In seeking a balance, I eschewed dated words like "woe," and "hurl." I sought to employ contemporary diction--but not informal. For example, I avoided all contractions and use of words such as "awesome," which for the moment have become very informal through usage.
In general I attempted to heed the warning of Alexander Pope--whose 18th Century version of the Iliad is nothing short of a masterpiece--not "to lose the spirit of an ancient, by deviating into the modern manners of expression." My poetry mentor, Henry Taylor, described the result: while Jordan's Iliad has "remarkable energy and immediacy, it nevertheless retains that slight flavor of cultural remoteness without which no rendition of so ancient a text can be believed."
Apart from issues of readability and tone, there were of course issues of meaning and accurate rendition--accurate but not literal.
How literal should the translation be?
Call them Achaeans, Argives, Danaans, and/or Greeks?
How--and whether--to translate "winged words."
What did the Greek wall look like?
Huts, tents or camps?
Spelling Homeric names: Akhilleus or Achilles? Aeantes or Ajaxes?
Click here for an essay on the creation of Homeric verse and the identity of its creator.