Quick as Thought: Jamming on Achilles
Many, many years ago, RT read the Iliad (the Lattimore translation, for the record) in college. Something must have occurred during the process that RT was unaware of: he had been bitten by the translation bug. And so, Gilgamesh.
But Homer is another story, and a much more difficult one. The sheer length of the Iliad and the Odyssey, 30,000 lines apiece, would give any translator pause before diving in. There is also the challenging verse the epics are written in: ancient Greek, in 7-beat, dactylic lines. No, we are not talking blank verse here. And finally, there is the Homer translation industry, in business in English since the 16th century. Many a great mind has worked to make these words available to the English speaker.
But even in the finest, most faithful translation, Homer is not for light reading. The plot is complex, the characters legion, the setting unfamiliar. On top of everything else, the topic is difficult. The Iliad deals in rage, battle, death, and the inhuman will of the gods. This is a story about power, and it pulls few punches.
What can a poet do to assist the reader as he or she ventures out onto the plains stretching between the Dardanelles and the fabled city of Troy? RT has ventured to offer a quick, off-the-cuff, translation of the opening verse to give some idea of what might help. A short line, plain diction, and generous use of white space he hopes will invite the reader to essay in full this fruit of bitter knowledge.
Grant me your voice, Goddess,
that I may find strength to sing
the Rage that overwhelmed Achilles,
that cast down the myriads of men,
mighty souls, into the prison of dust,
and left their bodies exposed, rotting
and ripped by dog and carrion bird—
and so fostered the design of Zeus.
Translation: Copyright © 2014, The Rag Tree.