the art

"ond þe þæt selre geceos, ece rædas; oferhyda ne gym"

"choose what is better, the eternal wisdom; heed not the blinding pride"

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Vote for the greatest translator of Homer's Iliad

Who is the greatest translator of Homer's Iliad?

Because our culture was founded in the image of his mythological vision, translating Homer, and retranslating Homer, will be a practice that we always find intellectually rewarding and emotionally exciting.  I do not believe that these new translations serve the purpose to make Homer more accessible to us.  Rather, we are so profoundly indebted to his influence, that we constantly yearn to make ourselves more accessible to him.  In this unbearable state of wish fulfillment, we will always be translating Homer in an attempt to offer a better translation of our own existence in nature.

With this in mind, the question of his particular identity is mostly irrelevant.  In Plato's Ion, the poet's inspiration has no definition, a seemingly endless chain of bolts which fades away beyond the eye's furthest discernible horizon.  The poet attaches him or herself to a tradition of art that he or she is able to embody, but has no ability to explain.

The Greek "ekstasis" literally means out of stillness, or away from balance.  Plato considered the poet's ability not so much a skill, but a transcendent state, a disruption of life's equilibrium which thrusts the poet, and quite unexplainably the audience, into a wild being of intellectual and emotional ecstasy.  Trying to understand this effect on the observer would become the basis of Aristotle's Poetics and the foundation for western literary criticism.

The scene I have chosen for comparison occurs at the end of Book XIII.  Zeus prohibits the Gods from interfering in the war, which leads to a series of Trojan victories on the battlefield. Camping at the edge of Greek territory, the rows of massive fire pits emblazon the night's skyline, like red comets hanging just above the planet's crust.

George Chapman, publishes The Complete Works of Homer in 1616,

When the unmeasured firmament bursts to
disclose her light,
And all the signs in heaven are seen, that
glad the shepherds heart;
So many fires disclose their beams, made
by the Trojan part.
Before the face of Ilion, and her bright
turrets showed
A thousand courts of guard kept fires, and
every guard allow'd
Fifty stout men, by whom their horse eat
oats and hard white corn,
And all did wishfully expect the silver-
throned morn.

Alexander Pope, publication of his Iliad is completed in 1720,

When not a breath disturbs the deep serene,
And not a cloud o'ercasts the solemn scene,
Around her throne the vivid planets roll,
And stars unnumber'd gild the glowing pole,
O'er the dark trees a yellower verdure shed,
And tip with silver every mountain's head:
Then shine the vales, the rocks in prospect rise,
A flood of glory bursts from all the skies:
The conscious swains, rejoicing in the sight,
Eye the blue vault, and bless the useful light.
So many flames before proud Ilion blaze,
And lighten glimmering Xanthus with their rays.
The long reflections of the distant fires
Gleam on the walls, and tremble on the spires.
A thousand piles the dusky horrors gild,
And shoot a shady lustre o'er the field.
Full fifty guards each flaming pile attend,
Whose umber'd arms, by fits, thick flashes send,
Loud neigh the coursers o'er their heaps of corn,
And ardent warriors wait the rising morn.

Stephen Mitchell, publishes The Iliad in 2011

So, with elated hearts, they sat up all night
on the battlefield, and their watch fires blazes all around them.
As, in the night sky, around the light of the moon,
the stars emerge, when the air is serene and windless,
and the stars shine bright, and the heart of the shepherd rejoices:
just so, before Ilion, the watch fires the Trojans had set
blazed midway between the ships and the river Xanthus.

A thousand watch fires were burning upon the plain
and around each, fifty men sat in the glow of the firelight,
and the horses stood alongside the chariots, munching
white barley and oats, and waited for dawn to arise.

This Link takes you to a comprehensive list of the translations of Iliad, many of which are followed by the corresponding text,

1 comment:

  1. I'm an enormous fan of Fitzgerald's Odyssey, but I'm surprised his Iliad is doing so well