Christopher H.'s Reviews > The Iliad

The Iliad by Homer
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This is my review of Robert Fitzgerald's translation (1974) of Homer's The Iliad--

This makes the third translation of The Iliad that I've read over the past year or so, and I quite liked it. While Fitzgerald's translation is perhaps not as rhythmically poetic as that of Robert Fagles (1990), or perhaps as ruthlessly faithful to the Greek text as Richmond Lattimore's verse translation (1951), it really is incredibly lyrical and reads very, very well. The Iliad is one of the greatest works of literature of all time, and this translation stands up tall with the best of them, in my opinion.

I think what I really came to love the most about Fitzgerald's blank verse translation was that he doesn't waste any words. It is spare and remarkably hard-hitting, but still maintains a rugged and distinctly powerful lyricism. You can almost feel the 'tramp' of marching feet and the reverberation of bronze swords crashing against ox-hide shields, or hear the 'thrum' of bow-strings snapping as they launch arrows into the sky. It is visceral and living poetry that Fitzgerald has assembled and presented in his translation. Of course, I can't read the original Greek text and I can't judge if his translation fully captures and incorporates the essence of those ancient words, but I can tell you that this text is compelling and enthralling from the get-go.

One of my favorite examples of the eloquence and pathos of Fitzgerald's translation is in Book 24, near the end of the poem, when Akhilleus and Priam meet late at night, and Akhilleus says to the King--
"Come, then, and sit down.
We'll probe our wounds no more but let them rest,
though grief lies heavy on us. Tears heal nothing,
drying so stiff and cold. This is the way
the gods ordained the destiny of men,
to bear such burdens in our lives, while they
feel no affliction. At the door of Zeus
are those two urns of good and evil gifts
that he may choose for us; and one for whom
the lightning's joyous king dips in both urns
will have by turns bad luck and good."
That small section has always very powerfully affected me, and I have come to realize that young Akhilleus is an amazingly mature and astute man, wise well beyond his years.

Personally, I am of the opinion that Fitzgerald's translation is a very comfortable fit for a modern reader in our modern time who is reading an epic poem of nearly 16,000 lines that was first written down nearly three millenia in the past, but may well have existed in the oral tradition a thousand years before that. I think what I'm really trying to say is that Fitzgerald has crafted an interpretation of the poem that flows with regularity and dignity, and is very respectful of Homer and his legacy. In so doing, Fitzgerald has not simply made his blank verse contemporary, nor has he erred and slipped into sounding stilted, archaic or pedantic. This translation is a good one--a very good, and one that I highly and unhesitatingly recommend. Read it, savor it, speak and hear it; and most of all, just enjoy it!
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Reading Progress

10/04/2011 page 97
15.0% "Okay, call me crazy, but I've just embarked upon reading my third different translation of Homer's The Iliad. I've read translations by Lattimore and Fagles, now it is Fitzgerald's turn. I only have Stephen Mitchell's to go, and it is being released on October 11th. So far, I am really loving Fitzgerald's translation!"
10/07/2011 page 343
54.0% "I'm just getting into Book 15, and I have to say that I very much like Fitzgerald's translation. While extraordinarily rhythmic and lyrical, it reads very well almost like prose. Fitzgerald is earthy, graphic, and doesn't waste any words. So far, I can see why this translation has received the plaudits of those in the know."
10/09/2011 page 463
73.0% "Into Book 19, and things are accelerating at breakneck speed. It really is such a tragic, tragic story, but so damned compelling. A true 'study in command.' I really, really like Fitzgerald's translation too. 'Tis a keeper!" 1 comment

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