translanted by Robert Fagles, introduction by Bernard Knox
I really wanted to like The Iliad more. But so much of it is just a bloody casualty list. (B...moretranslanted by Robert Fagles, introduction by Bernard Knox
I really wanted to like The Iliad more. But so much of it is just a bloody casualty list. (Bloody being the operative word ...ba-boom-tish.)
You don't need me to tell you about the Illiad, do you? So I'll stick to talking about the translation & intro.
...After explaining the missing star. Much like some books of the Bible, numerous characters appear in two-line walk-on parts, we're given next to no idea about them apart from their dads' names, then they promptly die. In the Homeric case, that's from a spear in the lungs during the flower of youth, rather than Fortean extremes of old age. This gets a bit dull after a while.
Translation I've had this edition for well over ten years; it's a lovely copy with deckled edges, and Fagles was the most readable and exciting of perhaps three translations I'd looked at in bricks & mortar UK bookshops. (In one of the shops, when I initially couldn't find the book, I asked an assistant... who couldn't spell Iliad and didn't know what it was. I smugly bitched about this to a number of friends in subsequent weeks, but given some people's expressions, realised I'd been a bit cruel.) But now I wasn't so happy with the modernity of Fagles; I was as interested in the Iliad as part of British literary and social history at least as much as an Ancient Greek text. If I could read the version read by British writers of the past and used in schools up to c.1980, I would. But many studied the original and I couldn't go off and learn good enough Greek just like that, nor was one translation used for a century or two by the middling sort of scholars who didn't know Greek. Old translations are often a bit dry, in any case. The narrative is not bad when not dominated by the listing of names, there is a subtle rhythm (although no rhyme) to it, but my sense of being transported into the midst of an alien and ancient world was never so enduring as in the Kalevala or Gilgamesh. In Clive James' Divine Comedy I liked the sly pop-culture references yet here I was annoyed by similar. (I'm writing this paragraph not long after encountering something that reminded me of a David Bowie lyric, having gone through a momentary process of wondering if Bowie had read this at school and got it from there... No of course not, though his words may have been echoing in Fagles' head as he translated.) Dante seems fairer game to play with; he doesn't have such a long English tradition, and was never so universally read and studied here, plus Fagles just doesn't have the same strong authorial voice to get away with mischief as Clive James does.
A very interesting point made in a review on here, perhaps of the Odyssey - that compared with the heroes of the classical Indian epics, their Greek counterparts have very little scope for different interpretation (and thus the Greek epics are less rich).(less)
The Epic pulses with primitive rhythm and the mesmeric quality of repeating structures constructed under the oral tradition. Some lines of this transl...moreThe Epic pulses with primitive rhythm and the mesmeric quality of repeating structures constructed under the oral tradition. Some lines of this translation feel as if they could be chanted and accompanied by drums.
It was scary, as well as fascinating: here is a voice from a time when life everywhere was harsher, when values were different - 1500-2000 years before Buddha or Jesus - and so many things we know wouldn't exist for millennia hence. We are very very far from home. At the same time the larger than life characters are still recognisably human, prone to raw emotions of anger, lust, friendship, sorrow, fear of death.
The book was unexpectedly easy to read in terms of actual structure, though the deep strangeness of the work demanded attention.
I feel driven to write this review whilst uploading some books I read a long time ago. The Epic of Gilgamesh is still haunting, five years after reading.
On a practical note, it's also usefully short and doesn't require the time commitment you need to read Homer unabridged, for example.
Not that I know about ancient Sumerian, but this book reads as if the translator, Andrew George, has done a very good job. His version is highly evocative.(less)