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Robert Fagles' Translation
of Homer's "The Iliad"

The Iliad (Classics on Cassette)



5 out of 5 stars =    Hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls

Reviewer: The Rebecca Review.com

Although the facts remain in doubt, Robert Fagles brings a vigor to Homer’s 2,700-year-old story of the Trojan War. This translation is read by Derek Jacobi and narrated by Maria Tucci.

This story begins with an explanation by Maria Tucci which tells of a time when a sea nymph married a mortal and all the gods and goddesses attended the wedding. The “Goddess Strife” threw a golden apple among the guests declaring it as a prize for the most beautiful goddess on Olympus. Three goddesses claimed the apple. Zeus then instructed Paris to make the choice. Aphrodite offered him the love of Helen, the mortal daughter of Zeus, therefore, he gave her the apple. The other two goddesses were angered and went to plot the destruction of Troy.

I have always been interested in why men would give up their lives to save a woman. Is the woman worth saving or giving your life for? This is not really answered in the Iliad.

If you are interested in Greek Mythology, this is a good introduction to various gods and goddesses.

There are many descriptions of absolute cruelty and brutality that if viewed onscreen would probably be a bit intense. However, it is helpful to remember when this was written and how men viewed war at this time. Have things changed? Are we more civilized now? Perhaps we respect life and death more now and while warriors saw their death as the ultimate sacrifice then, perhaps warriors of today wish to not only defeat the enemy, but also to preserve their lives and the lives of as many as possible on the way to peace. It does seem that today, in war, we try to find ways to not kill as many people. Here the brutality explodes and there is a passionate energy to kill. It is very primal.

Here in the scenes presented, it seems like death is the only objective at times. The savage fighting hand to hand is almost enjoyment for the gods. Woman are also seen as “war prizes.”

I was surprised by how lyrical the translation is. This is not about war. It is also about he observation and there are magnificent metaphors to be had. I was surprised by the sensual images like when the dawn has red fingers and rises from bed or the goddesses and food are described. While I can’t say I love goat cheese, you will probably want to go have a barbecue. Savory smoke swirling up towards the skies and an endless ocean with salt green depths and churning surf add depth and color to the story.

There is also humor to be had. Derek Jacobi’s voice is adorably cute when he changes and reads the “goddess” parts. I can’t explain why it is funny, just listen and you will see. It is as if the goddesses are the ultimate in femininity. They do present themselves as the most delicate of woman, while the gods are ferocious and seem to represent the ultimate in male behavior. Be that good or bad. Zeus is not especially interested in saving life. His “sport” seems to be to watch humans in battle. He commands the storm clouds and has a wife that nags him. Sounds like any normal human relationship to me. And I thought the gods would be above this. However, they seem to have the same desires as humans, yet seem detached from the pain of human suffering.

There is a huge difference in the Pope vs. Fagles translation.

For example, in the Alexander Pope's translation it reads:

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

Robert Fagles:

Rage -- Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles,
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
feasts 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.

What a contrast! You can definitely appreciate the majesty of the second version. It sings, it shouts beauty even in death. It doesn’t try to fit into a “poem” format. It flows and drives along like a story should. You wait for each word with almost an anticipation in the Fagles version. In Alexander Pope’s translation, you stop, start and are more concerned with the rhyme than the story.

I’m pleased to know I picked the best translation to listen to. If you are going to spend this much time (9 hours) then it is well worth buying the “Robert Fagles” version.

A wonderful introduction to Homer and it sure beats reading this all in bed for days. I’d rather listen to The Iliad than pour over pages for hours. I think listening gives an added benefit that reading alone can never hope to achieve.

I’m now completely “in love” with audiobooks! I can’t wait to hear how the Odyssey is read. That has always been my favorite because of the “sirens” and travels. Now, I won’t be able to decide my favorite until I listen to the Odyssey audiobook version.

The Odyssey (Classics on Cassette)



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