Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Best Homer Translation EVER

Anyone who has never read (or heard of) J. Henry Dart's translation of Homer's Iliad is missing something fantastic. There was only one publication (sometime in the 1860's I believe) and has not been reissued since. This is a shame, to say the least. Dart manages to render the entire Iliad in English hexameters; he follows all the metrical constraints that would bind a line of Greek hexameter. Quite a feat, though there are other original poems written in English hexameters (Longfellow's Evangeline, for instance).

Some other people have tried it; in 1847 a group of poets got together and attemped hexameter renderings. Dr. Thomas Hawtree chose a passage from Book III of the Iliad. Here's what he came up with:

Clearly the rest I behold of the dark-ey'd sons of Achaia;
Known to me well are the faces of all; their names I remember;
Two, two only remain, whom I see not among the commanders,
Kastor, fleet in the car--Polydeuces, brave with the cestus--
Own dear brethren of mine--one parent loved us as infants.
Are they not here in the host, from the shores of lov'd Lakedaimon?
Or, tho' they came with the rest of the ships that bound thro' the waters,
Dare they not enter the fight or star in the council of Heroes,
All for the fear of the shame and the taunts my crime has awaken'd?
So said she;--they long since in Earth's soft arms were reposing,
There, in their own dear land, their Father-land, Lakedaimon.

For those who don't know, hexameter meter is basically a long syllable followed by two shorts. In Greek this is determined by vowel lenth; it's a bit more shiftly in English as we don't really have designated long and short vowels the same way Greek does. The two shorts can be substituted for a long. This pattern is repeated 5 times, with the sixth time being a long followed by either a long or a short. Here I will use '-' for long and '+' for short. The first line would be scanned as follows:

- + +/- + +/- + +/ - - / - + +/ - -
Clearly the rest I behold of the dark eyed sons of Achaia

The 'ea' in clearly I take as a dipthong. The 'eye' of eyed I take as one vowel unit; it is pronounced this way and thus should be taken as one unit.

Anyone who doesn't read Greek but wants to get a sense of Homer's meter should try their hardest to find Dart's translation. It's the best one I've found.

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