After nearly 3,000 years, does the “Iliad” really need translating again?
BLOODY but beautiful, is there a greater poem than the “Iliad”? Depicting a few weeks in the final year of the Greek siege of Troy, Homer’s epic glitters with bronze spears and the blazing sun. Rich with his famous similes and repeated expressions, it describes a war in which men can pause from fighting in order to speak of their family lineage in terms of “As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity”; in which Gods can yank warriors back by their hair or cover them in a cloud of mist if it is not yet their turn to die. It is both brutally realistic (once you have heard how Phereclus died by a spear through his right buttock into his bladder, you won’t forget it) and belonging to another world—as the Greek epithet for Homer, theois aoidos or “divine singer” suggests. It is no wonder that the “Iliad” is a text that people constantly turn back to, and continually translate.
And yet, it comes as something of a surprise that this month there are four translations competing for the status of a definitive “Iliad”…
The Iliad of Homer. Translated by Richmond Lattimore. University of Chicago Press; 608 pages; $35. Buy from Amazon.com
Memorial. By Alice Oswald. Faber and Faber; 84 pages; £12.99. Buy from Amazon.co.uk