Tom's Reviews > The Odyssey

The Odyssey by Homer
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's review
Sep 26, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: forever-reading-as-the-mood-strikes, poetry
Recommended for: any lover of Homer

Actually, I'm writing about Chapman's Iliad translation, which I can't seem to locate here, not his Odyssey.

It doesn't take more than a few lines reading to realize why Keats was so moved to write a famous sonnet about Chapman's work. It's both arch and wild, something for the Oxford Dons sipping brandy in globular snifters and for the bouncers chasing shots of cheap tequila with even cheaper beer. To the modern ear, Chapman's poetry sounds so rich and dense that I can't imagine that even Keats read the whole thing. I certainly have no desire to read it start to finish, but of all the translations I've read -- Lattimore, Fitzgerald, Pope (some), Fagles -- Chapman is the one I turn to when I just want to dip into favorite passages. It can take some effort to adjust to his rhythms and, to us, archaic spellings, and therefore I do suggest reading several "chunks" just to catch the flow of his language, but once you get that flow, what a window-rattling treat you're in for.

The famous scene (ok, they're all famous, true) of Achilles chasing Hector is a good sample of work:

Nor more stay now; all ports were left; he fled in feare the hand /
Of that Feare-master, who, hauk-like, aire's swiftest passenger, /
That holds a timorous dove in chace, and with command doth /
beare /
His fierie onset; the Dove hastes; the Hauke comes whizzing on; /
This way and that he turnes and winds and cuffes the Pigeon /
And still he trusse it his great spirit lays hote charge on his /
wing:
So urg'd Achilles Hector's flight; so still feare's point did sting /
His troubl'd spirit. He knees wrought hard; along the wall /
he flew.

Chapman can be an acquired taste, but if you have the ear and patience for this baroque style, it will make your arm hair bristle.
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