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Important New Translation of the Iliad:

Professor Christian Kopff of CU-Boulder recently wrote the introduction to a new translation of the Iliad; I interviewed him about why this new version is important. 33 minutes.

Stephen C. Carlson (www):
Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά, Πηληιάδεω Ἀχιλῆος / οὐλομένην, ...
5.29.2009 7:34pm
ys:

Stephen C. Carlson (www):
Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά, Πηληιάδεω Ἀχιλῆος / οὐλομένην, ...


Гнев, богиня, воспой Ахиллеса, Пелеева сына
...

שִׁירִי, בַּת אֵלִים, חֲרוֹן אַף אַחִילֵס בְּנוֹ שֶׁל פֶּלֵיאוֹס
5.29.2009 8:18pm
Jonathan F.:
For those of us who don't have 33 minutes (or who are, e.g., at work), the book is, I believe, this one.
5.29.2009 8:30pm
Stephen C. Carlson (www):
Herbert Jordan's translation of this line is:

Sing, goddess, of Peleus' son Achilles' anger, / ruinous, ...
5.29.2009 8:32pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Looks like an interesting translation. I might have to get it. Eventually I hope to read it in the original Greek though. I do appreciate attempts to carry form over as much as possible though and so this sounds like a very good translation.
5.29.2009 8:33pm
Stephen C. Carlson (www):
Based on my reading of the first seven lines, that's exactly what Jordan does: attempt to carry the form over as much as possible.
5.29.2009 8:46pm
Anderson (mail):
Interesting, and given the looser translations so easy to find nowadays, quite welcome.

I would love to see Homer done in a pastiche of Milton ... anyone here read Donna Tartt's Secret History, where the erudite Henry is translating Paradise Lost into Latin? "Why?" the narrator quite reasonably asks. Henry replies that he just doesn't think English can carry Milton's syntax, or something to that effect ....
5.29.2009 10:51pm
Latinist:
I thought Kopff had interesting things to say about the Iliad, and about the general practice of translating it, in the interview; but he didn't really say much about the merits of the Jordan translation (I guess I should read his introduction for that). And I have to say, I wasn't too impressed with Jordan's version of Sarpedon's speech; it seemed a little clunky. But I was distracted while listening, so I should probably give it another try.

Also: David Kopel seemed remarkably hostile to Homer. Some of that, I assume, was just an interviewing tactic, giving Kopff something to refute, but he really thinks all the Greeks are jerks, huh? No love for Achilles at all?


[DK: Yes, basically an interviewing tactic. I bear no ill will towards Homer. As I said in the interview, I've only done the Iliad once, over 10 years ago, as a book on tape, but I was sincere in not remembering much that was admirable about the Greeks. Professor Kopff of course did a great job in addressing the issue. I will say that I liked Achilles better in 4th grade, when my class read the story of Trojan War as a fairly long short story in English, than when I listened to the Iliad itself.]
5.29.2009 10:51pm
Cornellian (mail):
I like the audiobook version of Robert Fagles' translation of the Odyssey, read by Ian McKellen. Very good for long car rides.
5.30.2009 1:10am
Pro Natura (mail):
he really thinks all the Greeks are jerks, huh? No love for Achilles at all?
There's good reason for this. After all, the Illiad starts with Achilles and Agamemnon arguing on whose got first dibs on raping Briseis, a very young girl who saw these thugs killing her family before dragging her away for their later pleasure. Makes the Crips and the Bloods look like gentlemen scholars.
5.30.2009 10:22am
Nelson Lund (mail):
Dave's interviewing tactic was a good one. Unfortunately, Kopff missed the opportunity to explore the significance of Homer's decision to present the barbarian Trojans as more sympathetic characters than the Greeks.
5.30.2009 11:38am
dmv (www):
einhverfr:

Use Clyde Pharr's Homeric Greek. It was the book I used, and was recommended to me as the book to use for Homeric Greek. I knew Attic, so that was obviously helpful, but I don't remember that it was necessary for using Pharr to pick up Homeric. Just helped, insofar as that I only had to adjust to the differences.
5.30.2009 11:41am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
Aye, a new attic- there's the homer-erotic, and just the tip o' the Trojan. Crips &Bloods? Gentlemen poids, even whose Delphi are covered by Troyds.
5.30.2009 2:21pm
luagha:

I didn't think you were ever supposed to like Achilles.

I mean, he gets superpowers, he comes in as a mercenary, he's sulky about how he's used in the fight, his best friend who goes out to fight for him because he's being a whiner gets killed, he kills an honestly heroic guy who is defending his homeland, and he gets his tragic comeuppance and dies.

What's to like? Isn't he more of a cautionary tale about what to do with power?
5.30.2009 2:24pm
Anderson (mail):
Isn't he more of a cautionary tale about what to do with power?

Possibly this difficulty with Achilles is an indication of how different Greek values were from our own?
5.30.2009 2:42pm
boo:
David, please in the future mention the book and its author. Since you're interviewing someone about why the book is "important," you'd think this would be an obvious thing to do. More generally, and I mean this as constructive criticism, not to be asinine, your posts sometimes (often?) (esp with your soccer posts) are incredibly self-indulgent and/or self-flattering (look at me, how amazing I am, for appreciating soccer while listening to jazz and reading the iliad). I mean, you might as well have not even mentioned the person you were interviewing either...


[DK: The book is called "The Iliad." The author is Homer. The translator's name, and the publisher, are mentioned repeatedly during the podcast. I have never posted a single word regarding soccer or jazz. And BTW, as the podcast made clear, I have never read The Iliad. I listened to it as a book on tape.]
5.30.2009 2:59pm
Jim C:
The translation of the first line (per Stephen Carlson above), "Sing, goddess, of Peleus' son Achilles' anger, / ruinous,.." is not promising. The first word in the line in Greek is Μῆνιν, and the translation has to find a way to start with that word (since it reflects the entire theme of the poem -- the relation between mortals and gods in terms of that unstable in-between mortal, the hero). Also, though "anger" is a typical translation for Μῆνιν, it is actually misleading. Μῆνιν is only ever used of divine anger except here where it used in reference to "godlike" Achilles. The translator has to find a way to distinguish this divine anger from ordinary mortal anger. I would do it like this: "Rage, sing goddess the destructive rage of the son of Peleus, Achilles ..." In other word, Μῆνιν is more than just ordinary anger.
5.30.2009 3:10pm
Jim C:
The translation of the first line (per Stephen Carlson above), "Sing, goddess, of Peleus' son Achilles' anger, / ruinous,.." is not promising. The first word in the line in Greek is Μῆνιν, and the translation has to find a way to start with that word (since it reflects the entire theme of the poem -- the relation between mortals and gods in terms of that unstable in-between mortal, the hero). Also, though "anger" is a typical translation for Μῆνιν, it is actually misleading. Μῆνιν is only ever used of divine anger except here where it used in reference to "godlike" Achilles. The translator has to find a way to distinguish this divine anger from ordinary mortal anger. I would do it like this: "Rage, sing goddess the destructive rage of the son of Peleus, Achilles ..." In other word, Μῆνιν is more than just ordinary anger.
5.30.2009 3:10pm
Michael F. Martin (mail) (www):
The Fagles translation is the best per Jim C.'s criticism

"Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus'
son Achilles,"

You classicists -- where can I read up on the influence of Heraclitus's logos on Aristotle and Augustine? Somebody was telling me that Augustine didn't have access to Aristotle, only Plato. Can that be right?
5.30.2009 3:22pm
dmv (www):

Isn't he more of a cautionary tale about what to do with power?

Possibly this difficulty with Achilles is an indication of how different Greek values were from our own?

If you can get access to it, read Bernard Knox's brilliant essay, "Achilles," in Grand Street, vol 9, no. 3 (Spring 1990), 129-50.

In short, Anderson, the answer to both the previous question and yours is, "No."
5.30.2009 3:29pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
DMV: Thanks for the reference. I still have to become more comfortable in Old English and Old Norse first since my reading list in those languages are longer.

Jim C:
Translation is a pain.... Often times when we look at cased languages and try to translate into English the subtleties of emphasis based on word order are lost. Consider the following in Old Norse:

Deyr fe
Deyja fraendir
Deyr sjalfr it sama
Ek veit ein aldregi deyr
Domr um daudhan hvern


(without accents, dh for eth, etc).

The typical translation usually is something like:

Cattle die
Kinsmen die
Everyone dies too
I know one that does not die:
The judgement of the dead man slain


I would actually translate differently to try to keep the form but it sounds very unnatural:

Dies the cow
Dies the kinsman
Dies the self the same.
I know one that never dies
The glory of the one who's dead


It is too bad that modern English word "doom" lost its connections with "glory" and "judgement" and merely seems to refer to death. Otherwise it would be better to translate the last line as "The doom of the dead man."
5.30.2009 4:52pm
Latinist:
Homer's decision to present the barbarian Trojans as more sympathetic characters than the Greeks.

I'm not sure that's quite right. Hector, sure, is probably the most sympathetic character in the poem, and Sarpedon, in his one significant speech, comes off looking very good. But Paris is a Trojan too, and not a very pleasant guy.

And I'd like to stick up for Achilles, at least a little bit. The conflict with Agamemnon doesn't actually start with Briseis. It starts when Calchas is asked to prophesy how to stop the plague, and says, more or less, "if my prophesy upsets someone powerful, who will defend me?" Achilles volunteers. This is the flip side of the arrogance that comes with his incredible fighting ability. On the one hand, his lack of respect for authority (in particular, Agamemnon) causes all sorts of conflict; but on the other hand, it makes him willing to defend an honest prophet when he's threatened by a king who doesn't like what he says. If you wanted to really squint through all the cultural differences, you could see Achilles as a defender of free speech.

And another thing: everybody here seems to have forgotten the end of the poem, where Achilles pities Priam, and returns his son's body without ransom. Because even though, in the midst of his rage about Patroclus, he's basically a wild animal, not caring about any social bonds ("there is no truce between men and lions"), in the end, he comes back to humanity, and sees his own father in Priam.

So: obviously we can't expect an ancient Greek warrior to behave entirely in ways we approve of, and even allowing for that, Achilles has his faults. But there's still a lot to admire in him, and if you dismiss that, you're missing some of the best parts of the Iliad.
5.30.2009 6:47pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Somewhat off-topic but probably warranted humor on this forum. As some may know, there is a lot of emphasis on an approach to web application design called Asynchronous Javascript And XML, or AJAX. I have come up with two Iliad-based comments about this trend:

AJAX, "when second best is good enough."

And:
AJAX: Software which goes into a jealous rage, kills your cash cows, and commits suicide!
5.30.2009 6:58pm
Nelson Lund (mail):
Latinist:

You're right, my statement was too broad. And I certainly agree that Achilles is not an unsympathetic character. But neither is Paris. Perhaps I could revise what I said as follows: It's significant that Homer treated the barbarians with at least as much sympathy as the Greeks.
5.30.2009 7:56pm
Javert:

Somebody was telling me that Augustine didn't have access to Aristotle, only Plato. Can that be right?
No.

"When Augustine was about twenty, he read Aristotle's Categories, a basic text of logical analysis which was available in Latin translation. He found it very clear, but he says it was a further obstacle to his thought about God, whom he imagined in Aristotelian categories as a subject with attributes, not as greatness itself or beauty itself." (From Gillian Clark's Introduction to her Cambridge Latin edition of Confessions, Books I-IV.)

Why are you asking?

You classicists -- where can I read up on the influence of Heraclitus's logos on Aristotle and Augustine?
The best comprehensive source for all such "influence" issues is A History of Philosophy, by Wilhelm Windelband.
5.30.2009 11:15pm
tarylcabot2 (mail) (www):
Recently listened to Iliad on CD &will state unequivocally that Homer should always be listened to - not read. Homer created Iliad &Odyssey as audio works &they should be enjoyed in that format.

Have to contradict some comments about Achilles - he allows Priam to take Hector's body back to Troy because one of Zeus's messengers orders him to; he does not release Hector's body out of sympathy for Priam (not sure why folks make that false statement) - he even chastises Priam not to presume too much regardless of how many messages he receives from the Gods, though he does allow a 3-day truce for Hector's burial.
5.30.2009 11:22pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Michael F. Martin:

On Augustine and Aristotle: yes and no. Many of Aristotle's works in the original were 'lost' to the early Christians (the Arab philosophers kept them alive, and they came 'back' to the West in time for Aquinas to re-direct the Church in a more Aristotleian direction).

The nature of the 'loss' is a matter of dispute. It used to be believed that, somehow, only Plato's texts were kept around in the West; recent work suggests that the neo-Platonic Christian converts wanted - in effect - Plato to be the philosopher of Christianity. (Really, he fits better.) So, Aristotelian texts were not so much simply lost, physically, as moved out of the bounds of acceptable Greek sources for Christian theologians.

As for the Heraclitus/Aristotle connection: you have to look at how Plato responded to/dealt with Herclitus and then look at how Aristotle both responded to his own teacher (Plato) and reviewed Heraclitus on his own. Aristotle was always playing this kind of double game: responding to Plato and the later Platonists and taking his own look at earlier thinkers to make his own response to them.

If you are really interested in this, I can do some looking for you. You can always go to JSTOR or another database (Philosophers' Index) to find what you might want. Personally, and with all due respect to Javert, Wildebrand is pretty dated. I loved his work when I was an undergraduate, but there has been a remarkable amount of work done in Greek Phil in recent years.

At any rate, let me know if you want me to do some biblio research for you.
5.31.2009 12:08am
ChrisTS (mail):
Hey, does anyone know of a textbook for Attic Greek that would be useful for philosophers (rather than literary studies folks)? I have a great deal of difficulty moving from literary Attic Greek to philosophical Greek.
5.31.2009 12:09am
MichaelS (mail):
For those interested in a re-interpretation rather than a new translation, I would highly recommend Christopher Logue's War Music. The final piece is yet to be written.

An excerpt from All Day Permanent Red, one of the books describing the Greeks and Trojans getting ready for battle.

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16599
5.31.2009 1:30am
MichaelS (mail):
If anyone is interested in a reinterpretation rather than a new translation, I highly recommend Christopher Logue's War Music. It using modern poetic idioms and imagery, but is still set in Ancient Troy.

The cycle current consists of 5 books, with the 6th (and final) not yet written.

Here is an excerpt from All Day Permanent Red:

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16599
5.31.2009 1:33am
Latinist:
tarylcabot2: he allows Priam to take Hector's body back to Troy because one of Zeus's messengers orders him to; he does not release Hector's body out of sympathy for Priam (not sure why folks make that false statement)

Well, I don't know exactly why folks make the statement either, but Homer seems to be one of the folks who make it: "Those words [of Priam] stirred within Achilles a deep desire/ to grieve for his own father." (Fagles translation). Thetis tells him to give back Hector, too, but that's the sort of double-causation, divine and mundane, that you find all over the place in Homer.
5.31.2009 9:20am
dmv (www):
Javert and ChrisTS, on the reception of Aristotle issue:

I'm pretty sure that the majority of Aristotle was "lost" to the Latin West by the time Augustine came around. However, Augustine would have been familiar with Aristotle's logical works, as it seems they survived stably throughout, as well as possibly his zoological works. One scholar (can't find the paper right now--it's in a folder with about 100 other articles, and they are all just numbered: eep) noted a reference to De doctrina christiana, XXXIX, 59, suggesting that Augustine was recommending drawing on Aristotle among others for obscure zoological knowledge when reading Scripture. Of course, if you read the relevant text, you won't see anything specifically pointing to Aristotle. So, I'm not sure what led to that reference. Porphyry wrote a commentary on Aristotle's Categories, and he also wrote what was sort of the standard text on logic for the medieval West, the Isagoge. So it's probable that Augustine learned Aristotle's logic through the mediation of Neo-Platonists (like Porphyry and Plotinus, suitably translated into Latin, of course, since Augustine never learned Greek). There's actually a good chunk of writing out there about the reception of Aristotelian logic in Neo-Platonism.

ChrisTS, on Attic for philosophy:

If you can read Attic, generally, you may just want to work your way through a philosophical text with a good commentary attached to it. Maybe it was just my experience, or it's just the way my brain works (assuming it does), but I always found that it was slow-going whenever I transitioned between authors, but that once I got a basic feel for how the author wrote, I would start moving more quickly through it.

To that end, you may want to check out what Textkit has available. They're all free (you may have to register for the site, but registration is free as well). It's really a brilliant website. Or you could check out what Perseus has available. Perseus, of course, is among the best electronic classics resource out there, though you can't actually download texts like Textkit.
5.31.2009 10:13am
Stephen C. Carlson (www):
Clyde Pharr's text book was designed to be a first-year Greek introduction. His theory was that beginning Greek students should start with Homer and then go on to later Greeks.
5.31.2009 12:18pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):

You're right, my statement was too broad. And I certainly agree that Achilles is not an unsympathetic character. But neither is Paris. Perhaps I could revise what I said as follows: It's significant that Homer treated the barbarians with at least as much sympathy as the Greeks.


Well, typically in oral traditions, this is how we see things. For example, if we read (or listen to) the Niebelunglied, the Huns certainly seem at least as sympathetic as the Burgundians! Hint: It isn't the huns who drink the blood of their defeated enemies......

A lot of this has to do with a sort of agonal element to oral poems. They are about conflict but the point isn't who is good vs evil, but who is best vs merely good. There is hence a tendency to build up opponents both in strength and sympathy so that they are worthy of conflict. This seems surprising to modern readers, but it is quite common in the ancient world and not something I think Homer consciously chose to do.

BTW to those who suggest listening to Homer, the same goes for Beowulf. Take a look at this performance.
5.31.2009 12:36pm
CDR D (mail):
I read the Lang, Leaf, and Butcher translation over 50 years ago. I loved it, and I read it over and over and over.

I was a pre-teen then, and Hector was my hero. I always seemed to side with the "underdog".
5.31.2009 9:02pm
Anderson (mail):
If you can get access to it, read Bernard Knox's brilliant essay, "Achilles," in Grand Street, vol 9, no. 3 (Spring 1990), 129-50.

May we infer that whatever Knox writes there, he includes in some form in his introduction to Fagles?

I would agree that at least some Greeks saw something of a cautionary example in Achilles, but I imagine they had an array of interpretations; Alexander would, I suspect, have been an Achilles fan.

... For anyone who (1) cares and (2) doesn't already know, a classic essay on the challenge of Homeric translation is Guy Davenport's "Another Odyssey," in his The Geography of the Imagination. Must-read stuff.
5.31.2009 10:44pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Anderson:


I would agree that at least some Greeks saw something of a cautionary example in Achilles, but I imagine they had an array of interpretations; Alexander would, I suspect, have been an Achilles fan.


Myths are meant to be experienced. Ideally, live some elements of the lives of the heroes in some way. Try to avoid others.
6.1.2009 12:46am
Michael F. Martin (mail) (www):
Javert, ChrisTS, and dmv

Thank you for the helpful pointers and kind offers. The proximate cause for my question was this thread over at Larry Lessig's blog on "Jefferson's Remix of Augustine." See especially the comment from Seth Schoen here. MattJ's reply is more or less consistent with what the three of you are saying.

I'm particularly interested in tracing the various interpretations of Heraclitus's logos on Aristotle and Augustine, for reasons that the quote from Augustine linked make pretty obvious.

Thanks again for the replies. I love teh interwebs. :-)
6.1.2009 1:21am
tarylcabot2 (mail):
Latinist:

Per Homer, Achilles reason for releasing Hector's body to Priam is definitely the message from Jove, not Priam's pleas (Project Guttenberg translation)


Silver-footed Thetis did as the god had told her, and forthwith down she darted from the topmost summits of Olympus...."(Achilles) Now, therefore, heed what I say, for I come as a messenger from Jove; he says that the gods are angry with you, and himself more angry than them all, in that you keep Hector at the ships and will not give him up. Therefore let him go, and accept a ransom for his body."

And Achilles answered, "So be it. If Olympian Jove of his own motion thus commands me, let him that brings the ransom bear the body away."




Achilles looked at him sternly and said, "Vex me, sir, no longer; I am of myself minded to give up the body of Hector. My mother, daughter of the old man of the sea, came to me from Jove to bid me deliver it to you. Moreover I know well, O Priam, and you cannot hide it, that some god has brought you to the ships of the Achaeans, for else, no man however strong and in his prime would dare to come to our host; he could neither pass our guard unseen, nor draw the bolt of my gates thus easily; therefore, provoke me no further, lest I sin against the word of Jove, and suffer you not, suppliant though you are, within my tents."
6.2.2009 2:42pm

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