“Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is that man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another.” ― Homer, The Iliad
By Alex P. Vidal
NEW YORK CITY — Without hesitation, I admit that two of the best translations of “Iliad” were written by Caroline Alexander and Stanley Lombardo.
But the translation by Richard Lattimore with copywright 1951 by the University of Chicago is probably one of the best, easier to understand, very interesting and, most importantly, arguably the best collector’s item about the subject matter.
I am lucky to obtain this gem, a rare copy seldom displayed in major bookstores anywhere in the United States and in the Philippines.
William Arrowsmith of the Hudson Review calls Lattimore’s book as “the finest translation of Homer ever made into the English language.”
“The best modern Iliad is that of Richard Lattimore…Lattimore is as much a scholar as a poet,”writes Hugh Llyod-Jones.
“Certainly the best modern verse translation,” confirms Gilbert Highet.
Many books have been written about the Iliad and Odyssey.
Many translations from Homer’s original script have been submitted by different authors in antiquity and in the modern times.
In fact, many of us have already wrestled with this best of all the greatest ancient Greek epic poems ever written in history when we were in high school and college.
The ”Iliad” is a 15,000-line work that began as an oral composition in a preliterate culture; amplified and revised by the various bards who performed it over the centuries, the poem was probably set down in writing sometime during the eighth century B.C. and achieved its present form in Athens about two centuries later. Traces of its oral origins and multiple authorship remain, presenting the translator with particularly thorny problems. The frequently repeated stock lines and epithets — ”rosy-fingered dawn,” for example — which allowed the ancient composer-performer to fill in the metrical blanks while thinking ahead to his next line, are pointless in a written text. And there are syntactical anomalies and narrative inconsistencies that suggest unresolved competition between two or more earlier oral versions.
In her version, which came out on November 24, 2015, Alexander wanted to bring the epic down to earth.
Alexander said she wanted to break down that assumption for readers, as she translated the work.
“I felt it was so the opposite of that, and that there was a need to sort of give people, average readers with no classical background, the poem on its own terms,” she said. “I feel that the Iliad has been so appropriated by academia, that it has been made into this very different text that’s a sort of embodiment of high culture — the Everest of literature.”
She said, as a classic text, “The Iliad” has its “own charisma,” which has drawn readers for hundreds of years. Part of its appeal is that it deals with themes that are timeless — namely, war and mortality, she said. “It is actually saying something true about a dimension of our life that will always matter, and that dimension is mortality, and particularly mortality as it is most exposed, which is in times of war.”
Lombardo, a classicist at the University of Kansas, makes no attempt to curate Homer, either by replicating his sinewy hexameter lines or by mimicking his craggily archaic diction, as Richmond Lattimore did in his 1951 translation (long popular among classicists, perhaps because it practically is Greek); nor does he try to reproduce the amplitude and momentum of the original, wonderfully captured in Robert Fagles’s excellent 1990 translation.
New York writer Daniel Mendelsohn, lecturer in classics at Princeton University, pointe dout that there are probably too many departures from the Greek text here, and too many blatantly ”contemporary” resonances, for this to become the standard Homer of university classrooms.
“But in a way,” he explained, “those departures, those ruptures with philological exactitude, may make this ‘Iliad’ an ideal vehicle for teaching the poetic tradition that we owe to its creator — the oldest, deadest, whitest European male.