Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Ancient Gore

No Marvel comic has ever been as violent and action-packed as The Iliad, but an article in a highbrow magazine about translating the ancient Greek epic poem is the last place I expected to find a rollicking good read...yet here we are.
"In every line of Homer, a feast of choices is laid before the translator. But every dish chosen means a dozen others left uneaten. Ask a hoplite pikeman, if you have one handy: When you impale a man, and your spear doesn’t come out clean, is it your victim’s “diaphragm” (as Fitzgerald has it), heart sac (as some have suggested), or lung that’s likely to be clinging to your weapon? The Greek word for this mass of epigastric sinew is phrenes—the source of the English phrenology and frenzy—a word connected in ancient Greece to the idea of respiration and of the soul. It is the spirit within us that is alive as long as we breathe. In goes the spear, and out comes a chunk of lung or Lycian hanger steak, soul and flesh on the same skewer. (Fagles opts for midriff, which once meant “diaphragm” in English but today makes it sound like Sarpedon was speared somewhere between his low-rise jean shorts and his crop top.)

Wilson opts for lungs, which is simple and speeds the action right along. It is folly to try to pack all knowledge of Greek medicine and etymology into one line. But we lose something in the simplicity. Compare the choice of Homer’s first English translator, George Chapman. In 1611, he rendered the same word as the film and strings of his yet panting heart, a lovely and horrid phrase worth every one of the nine extra syllables it cost.
Wilson's new translation is available at BezosMart.