Homer’s Iliad I.1-47. Translation in the epic hexameter, the meter of the Greek.

Sing of the wrath, my goddess, of Peleus’ son Achilles,
doomed and destructive, which gave the Achaeans numberless sorrows,
sending so many robust souls down to the house of Hades,
spirits of heroes, but bodies abandoned as meat for the dogs and
flesh for the birds, and the will of God was all but accomplished
right at the outset of strife, at the moment they clashed, when the conflict
parted Atrides, master of men, from godlike Achilles.

Which of the gods had brought them together to wage such a quarrel?
Leto and Zeus’s son Apollo: enraged at the king, he
stirred up a plague through the army; and people all over were dying,
all because Atreus’ son had dishonored the priest of Apollo,
Chryses, who’d come to the swift Greek ships to buy back his daughter,
bearing a boundless ransom, and holding a golden scepter
tied with the banner of far-shooting archer Apollo—he pled with
all the Achaeans, but most of all he beseeched the Atridae,
both of the sons of Atreus, marshals of men and the people:
“Sons of Atreus, and you other Achaeans with strong greaves,
truly, may all of the gods who dwell on Olympus give you
Priam’s city to plunder, and then safe passage homewards;
but, may you let my child go free, and accept this ransom,
honoring Zeus’s son, the far-shooting archer Apollo.”

Then all the other Achaeans cried out with shouts of approval,
out of respect for the priest, and to reap the magnificent ransom;
but, unmoved in his heart, the king Agamemnon Atrides
harshly dismissed him, and speaking with powerful words, he commanded:
“Don’t let me find you again, old man, by the hollow vessels—
lingering here today, or returning again tomorrow—
or else the scepter and banner of god will no longer protect you.
As for the girl, I will never set her free until old age
comes to her, back in my house in Argos, far from her homeland,
working away at the loom, and sharing my bed beside me.
Leave us, and try not to vex me, so you may return in safety.”

Thus he spoke; and the old man feared him, obeyed his commandment,
silently walking away by the shore of the rumbling ocean.
Then, going farther away from them, over and over the old man
prayed to the Lord Apollo, whom fair-haired Leto gave birth to:
“Hear me, god of the silver bow, who keeps watch around Chryse,
sacrosanct Cilla, and Tenedos, where you reign with power:
Smintheus, if I ever built you a roof on your beautiful temple,
or if I ever have burned you the slivers of rich fat thighs of
bulls and of goats, then you can accomplish for me this one prayer:
make the Danaans pay for each of my tears with your arrows.”

Thus he spoke in his prayer; and Phoebus Apollo had heard him.
Down from the heights of Olympus he came, with rage in his heart, his
bow in his hand, and a covered quiver slung on his shoulder,
arrows behind him clattering as he departed with fury,
plummeting forth, and the raging god came down like nightfall.

 

Click here to read more on the website of the translator, J. Simon Harris. Or click here for the first 100 lines of the translation, with the first (stressed) syllable of each metric foot highlighted. 

J. Simon Harris lives with his family in Raleigh, NC. He is a graduate researcher in Materials Science at NC State University. Much of his poetry, including his ongoing translation of Homer’s Iliad in dactylic hexameter and samples of his translation of Dante’s Inferno in terza rima, is available on his website (www.jsimonharris.com). His novel, Lemnos, is available now on Amazon Kindle.”

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7 Responses

  1. "Crude" Abe Lewis

    1. Mr. Harris’ attempt at a translation of the Iliad in dactyls, trochees, and spondees is noteworthy. Accomplished, it would be on a par with Longfellow’s “Evangeline.” I wish you the best of luck in such a formidable task. It consumed Pope from age 25 to 32. Samuel Johnson claimed Pope’s translation was the greatest translation ever achieved in English (or any other language).

    2. Homer, who refers to himself as a blind man from Chios, is the first and greatest poet of Greece, the West, perhaps the world. His epic poems express human greatness: strength, courage, loyalty, struggle, tragic loss and the hope of happiness. ἁλις πάντεσσιν Ὅμηρος, wrote Theocritus.

    3. Here are the first seven lines of Homer’s “Iliad”:

    μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
    οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,
    πολλὰς δ᾽ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν
    ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν
    5οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι, Διὸς δ᾽ ἐτελείετο βουλή,
    ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε
    Ἀτρεΐδης τε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.

    4. Here are the first seven lines in Pope’s translation:

    “Achilles’ wrath, to Greece the direful spring
    Of woes unnumbered, heavenly goddess, sing!
    That wrath which hurl’s to Pluto’s gloomy reign
    The souls of mighty chiefs untimely slain;
    Whose limbs unburied on the naked shore,
    devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore.
    Since great Atrides and Achilles strove,
    Such was the sovereign doom, and such the will of Jove!

    5. Here are the first seven lines of Richard Lattimore’s translation:

    Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus
    and its devastation, which puts pains thousandfold upon the Achaians,
    hurled in their multitudes to the house of hades strong souls
    of heroes, but gave their bodies to the delicate feasting
    of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished
    aince that time when first there stood in division of conflict
    Atreus’ son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus.

    6. Here are the first seven lines in Robert Fitzgerald’s translation:

    Anger be now your song, immortal one,
    Akhilleus’ anger, doomed and ruinous,
    that caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss
    and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
    leaving so many men dead—carrion
    for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.
    Begin it when the two men first contending
    broke with one another—the Lord Marshal
    Agamemnon, Atreus’ son, and prince Akhilleus.

    7. Here are the first seven lines in Robert Fagles’ translation:

    Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Schilles,
    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,
    feast for the dogs and birds,
    and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
    Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
    Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.

    8. Here are the first seven lines of Mr. Harris’ translation:

    Sing of the wrath, my goddess, of Peleus’ son Achilles,
    doomed and destructive, which gave the Achaeans numberless sorrows,
    sending so many robust souls down to the house of Hades,
    spirits of heroes, but bodies abandoned as meat for the dogs and
    flesh for the birds, and the will of God was all but accomplished
    right at the outset of strife, at the moment they clashed, when the conflict
    parted Atrides, master of men, from godlike Achilles.

    9. First off, it’s impossible to capture the Greek and put it into English; that is a given in all translations of great works. So one question always is What is lost and what works? Even though placement could never be perfect, for the most part your translation follows the aural and visual order of the Greek. The number of lines in Homer’s epic corresponds to the number of lines in your translation.

    10. I really liked the phrase, in line 11, “…the priest of Apollo,” though it is not in the Greek text in line 11; because it is accentu’lly and syllabic’lly perfect. How often does that naturally happen in English? Though rare, I do enjoy spondees at the ends of the lines, not like “strong greaves,” but rather like “nightfall,” “daylight,” or the trochaic “ransom”; because they help bring a line to a natural closing, even when it continues on in meaning.

    Reply
    • J. Simon Harris

      Thank you, Abe, for your thorough review, your kind comments, and your encouragement. I’m glad you posted selections from most of the major English translations, because I find it very helpful to compare against multiple interpretations.

      I agree with Samuel Johnson about the Pope translation. It is a masterpiece in itself, independent of Homer even. Of the remainders, my favorite is the translation by Robert Fagles. Of course, both Pope and Fagles take significant liberties with the Greek. In my version, I have tried to maintain as much fidelity to the Greek as possible without sacrificing the poetry. As you noted, I’ve kept the same number of lines as Homer, although specific words and phrases may appear on different lines in my version due to English syntax and, frankly, whether a certain word ordering sounds better in English.

      It is interesting that you brought up Longfellow’s “Evangeline.” That poem is what convinced me that a translation of Homer in the epic meter could actually be done, and it taught me what the epic meter should sound like in English. I really admire Longfellow for his mastery of meter, even if some of his language is a bit dated today. “Evangeline” has probably one of the most memorable beginnings of any poem I know of, and this is largely due to the epic hexameter that he uses.

      I hope you continue to follow along as I write more of this translation on my website. The progress is very slow right now, but I hope to write more regularly after I finish graduate school this summer. I will always welcome comments and suggestions along the way. Thanks again for everything you’ve written here.

      Best,
      J. Simon Harris

      Reply
  2. James Sale

    I really like Crude Abe’s analysis and also presentation of so many variants, but at the end of the day – what? What a great translation J. Simon Harris – this absolutely sings off the page. The language contains that sense of repressed violence and energy, and this does what all poems should want to do: make us read on. Bravo – a fabulous start.

    Reply
  3. Evan

    Dear Abe, your analysis is anything but crude, to me anyway. I may actually use this when teaching my students.

    Dear Mr. Harris, a brilliant translation, I would rank it only below Mr. Pope’s and even at that, only with qualification since Pope’s translation often uses archaic language and sometimes excessively distorts Greek from what I have heard.

    A question for Abe and Mr. Harris: the Harris translation seems to have incorporated alliteration (purposely I would think) in this section, such as in “house of Hades” and “master of men” “covered quiver”… does the Greek use alliteration? I suspect not, but I do like it, as I do Pope’s rhymes.

    Thank you both.

    Reply
    • J. Simon Harris

      Pope’s translation is legendary, so I’m pleased to be mentioned favorably in the same breath as him. Thank you, Evan.

      As for your question, the alliteration is often, but not always, my own. From your three examples: “house of Hades” translates a single word in the Greek, so no alliteration there; “master of men” renders two words that arguably alliterate in the Greek, although one has a stressed first syllable and the other does not, I believe; and “covered quiver” does not alliterate in the Greek.

      The things I primarily focus on for Homer are meter, meaning, repetition, and flow (and of course, the overall “feel” as well, but that is a more nebulous concept). Other literary devices may be mine or Homer’s, depending on the situation. Thank you again for your kind words and for a great question.

      Reply
  4. "Crude" Abe Lewis

    I understand Samuel Johnson’s praise of Pope’s epic forays; but whether Pope’s “Iliad” is superior in translation to the King James Bible translation from the Hebrew and Greek I am not sure. The latter certainly has had a greater influence.

    Fagles’ translation does have an admirable rugged quality (By the way, forgive my occasional typo.); but I do like the ideals you are striving for. I do understand how hard it is to do what you are attempting.

    Since you speak of the memorable opening of Longfellow’s “Evangeline,” I thought I would include it here.

    This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
    Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
    Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
    Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
    Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighbouring ocean
    Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

    This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it
    Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman?
    Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers,—
    Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,
    Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?
    Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed!
    Scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October
    Seize them, and whirl them aloft, and sprinkle them far o’er the ocean.
    Naught but tradition remains of the beautiful village of Grand-Pré.

    Ye who believe in affection that hopes, and endures, and is patient,
    Ye who believe in the beauty and strength of a woman’s devotion,
    List to the mournful tradition, still sung by the pines of the forest;
    List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of the happy.

    1. Notice how Longfellow places adjectives after nouns, e.g., in lines 1-6: primeval; green; sad and prophetic; hoar; disconsulate.

    2. Throughout he uses repetition, “This is the forest primeval”; “Stand like”; “tradition”; “Ye who believe”; “List to.” [I am of two minds about Mr. Fagles’ repetition of “rage” in his first line.]

    3. The expansive similes in the opening lines are followed by others, not as successful, in the second section.

    4. The overall natural setting, along with phrases, as “leaped like the roe,” seem Wordsworthian.

    5. One of the interesting effects of his hexametres is the emphatic first syllable. There are a striking number of verbs, adjectives, and adverbs at the starts of the lines.

    6. In reference to Mr. Mantyk’s question, I would note that the alliteration draws more attention to itself than in Homer’s “Iliad,” where the poetic beauty resides more deeply within the lines: in Longfellow’s lines, the m’s in the opening one-and-a-half lines; “garments green”; “harpers hoar”; “rocky caverns”; “accents disconsolate”; “rivers that water the woodlands”; “the farmers forever departed”; “home of the happy.”

    Reply

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