Comparing Translations Of The Odyssey Essay, Research Paper
The Iliad: Comparing the Works of Fagles, Lattimore and Pope
Regardless of the subject matter, a writer?s work always reflects something of the writer himself. Although an author may attempt to remain completely objective and invisible to the reader, something of his beliefs, background, education and biases inevitably permeates into the writing. This phenomenon is even true with and especially evident in translations. While the translator would ideally remain faithful to the original author and his text, each individual?s unique style, perception and voice inextricably tinge the finished product. This idea is clear in regards to the numerous translations of The Iliad. Robert Fagles, Alexander Pope, and Richmond Lattimore each developed English versions of The Iliad which, although based on the same work, are undoubtedly distinctive.
In general, it seems that Lattimore?s translation is the most authentic and true to the original in terms of word choice and placement. However, he seems to lose some of the poetic qualities of the piece. Lattimore?s translation seems to be more for reading and are not as conducive to oral interpretation.
Pope is able to recapture some of the flow of Homer?s epic poetry. While he takes more liberties with his translations, he does so in order to capture some of the musical and rhythmic aspects of Homer?s work. Pope believed that it was acceptable to diverge from the verbatim translation of the Iliad so that in the long run his translation would convey the same lyrical feeling of the originally oral work.
The translation of Fagles lies within these two extremes. While he attempts to maintain accuracy in regards to the original text, he also tries to preserve a certain poetic quality. His writing is also more rapid and faster flowing than that of the other two translators. It is interesting to note that Fagles?s translation is also the most recent, written in 1996. His writing style is reflective of the conventions of the present.
Even looking at a small excerpt from each work describing the same scene reveals many of the differences in rhetorical and stylistic devices utilized by each translator. For example, slight differences in the passage in which Patroclus is killed exist in each of the three translations.
In Fagles?s version, he tends towards usually slightly cliched phrases. In reference to Apollo?s attack of Patroclus, he states that Patroclus ?never saw him coming?(XVI, 917). This statement seems very modern and slightly anachronistic. In contrast, Lattimore?s conveys the idea that Apollo surprises Patroclus simply by saying ?nor did Patroklos see him?(XVI, 789). It is probably more similar to the original. Pope makes no mention of the fact that Patroclus was unaware that Apollo?s attack was imminent.
Other such phrases like ?fired for the kill?(XVI, 911) seem almost reminiscent of a hunting or sports competition. While this quotation does not seem like something that would have been said in ancient Greece, it does correctly convey the type of mentality that Fagles must want to impart to the reader. Patroclus was ready to go into the thick of battle or perhaps into the pivotal moment of the game.
In the analogous sentence in Lattimore?s work, his statement that Patroclus ?charged with evil intention?(XVI, 784) gives an entirely different feeling to the audience. Evil almost suggests that Patroclus?s motives and driving force are not quite as noble as one would think and lacks the idea of sportsmanship and valor that Fagles?s word choice had. Pope refers to Patroclus at this point as ?breathing slaughter?(XVI, 947), which is probably far from a direct translation of the text, yet imparts a vivid image to the reader nonetheless.
Fagles?s description of Hector imparting the final deathblow illustrates how small syntactical and rhetorical differences can alter affect. After, being stabbed by Euphorbus:
?Patroclus stunned by the spear and the god?s crushing blow
was weaving back to his own thronging comrades,
trying to escape death?
Hector waiting, watching
the greathearted Patroclus trying to stagger free,
seeing him wounded there with the sharp bronze
came rushing into him right across the lines
and rammed his spearshaft home,
stabbing deep in the bowels, and the brazen point
went jutting straight out through Patroclus? back.?(XVI, 949-958)
This passage seems to strongly support Patroclus. It begins by describing Apollo?s blow as ?crushing.? This word seems to justify Patroclus?s dazed state more than Lattimore?s ?the god?s blow?(XVI, 816) or Pope?s ?divine arm?(XVI, 983). Similarly, Fagles?s description of Patroclus as he tries to flee his impending demise seems much less cowardly than in the version by Lattimore where he ?shun[s] death and shrink[s] back?(XVI, 817) in an attempt to ignominiously ?get away?(XVI, 819). Shrinking has the connotation of cowardice and trying to ?get away? suggests guilt of some kind such as in the case of a bank robber or some other such villain ?trying to make his getaway.?
Another interesting point involves the description of the spear ?jutting straight out through Patroclus?s back.? Where Lattimore?s Hektor ?drove the bronze clean through?(XVI, 821), Fagles?s Hector is portrayed as less innocent. The mention of the back is reminiscent of the idea of stabbing someone in the back, a gutless, shameful act without valor. In Lattimore?s version, the blow is ?clean? and seems to have been fair and in good taste thus condoning Hector?s deed.
Fagles?s use of ellipses in linking the fleeing of Patroclus and the approach of Hector is also worth noting. It seems to allude to the dwindling down of Patroclus?s life. Also the line break that he uses directly after the ellipses serves as a point of transition for the reader. There is a clear difference between the lines which are more attuned to Patroclus and then those lines more of one mind with Hector. As Patroclus is dying, we lose his perspective and move onto that of Hector. Lattimore places a paragraph break several lines earlier than Fagles?s ellipses and Pope provides no break at all.
While these variations in syntax and vocabulary clearly and dramatically affect the reader?s perception of the events in the epic poem, the question that still remains is which translator?s rendition is most accurate and on what basis is this exactness judged: accuracy to each word, or accuracy to the essence of the epic poem?