Jim Coughenour's Reviews > Iliad

Iliad by Homer
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Jul 09, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: greekmythology
Read in July, 2007

"Sprung out of bitterness, the philosophy of the Iliad excludes resentment." Thus Rachel Bespaloff, stating the seemingly impossible. Years ago I read the Iliad in Fitzgerald's fine translation, but every page had the heavy cadence of a "classic." Now I'm reading Fagles' and Lombardo's translations back to back, and am surprised how much I'm enjoying the poem. I don't dispute those who judge Fagles the superior translator, but for me the Lombardo version is far more stirring.

Consider the opening lines. Fagles translates:

Rage--Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters' souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.

Lombardo captures the rage and waste in way Fagles does not:

Rage:
Sing, Goddess, Achilles' rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks
Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls
Of heroes into Hades' dark,
And left their bodies to rot as feasts
For dogs and birds, as Zeus' will was done.

This is bitterness on the edge of blasphemy. It sounds like the war we're reading about every morning, where soldiers' bodies are blown to shreds and the bloody will of God is invoked by each side. Lombardo also brings an unexpected poetry to the brutality of the poem, reminding me of the best of Logue's ongoing masterpiece. For example, in Book 6, Hector returns to Troy for a rushed moment and is met by the wives of men dying on the plain.

He told them all,
Each woman in turn, to pray to the gods.
Sorrow clung to their heads like mist.

Again, more bitterness -- the gods regard the heroes as little more than chess pieces to be sacrificed in the course of their game. The final line evokes not only grief but the blind futility of faith. (Fagles translates the line, inertly, as "Hard sorrows were hanging over many.")

Whether this is your first go at the Iliad or if you're ready to re-read it, I recommend Lombardo's performance version, with its "heroes more godlike than the gods, and more human than men." (Bespaloff again -- from her essay "On the Iliad." NYRB recently republished it, along with Simone Weil's magnificent "The Iliad, or the Poem of Force" under the title "War and the Iliad," a slim volume which page for page beats any commentary on the Iliad I've ever read.)


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05/10/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Linera Thanks for this comprehensive review. I've been thinking about reading Homer again, and will give Lombardo a try.


message 2: by Xio (new) - rated it 5 stars

Xio In addition to the Simone Weil, which is magnificent and I believe ought to be included in any version of the poem, there is an interesting book called 'Achilles In Vietnam' about Combat Trauma. It is fascinating. I have it in my pile o books somewhere.


message 3: by Xio (new) - rated it 5 stars

Xio Yes! I've read the 'Achilles in Vietnam' but didn't know about its companion. Thanks, I will look that up.


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