Image credit: Reem Saad, "Curiosity" & "Bulb" : watercolor with invisible active UV paint

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Book 1, lines 1–21

 

Menace  – sing to us, goddess, the menacing rage of Achilles, son

of Peleus, that rained a thousand agonies

down on the Achaeans,

and sent so many noble souls

of heroes down to Hades, and delivered to

those noisy crows and dogs

the spoils of their bodies.

 

And thus the will of Zeus was, as usual, fulfilled.

 

Start your song here,

when they first stood apart in their quarreling:

the son of Atreus, lord of men, and shining Achilles.

 

  

But who of the gods got them clashing in

discordant air? It was the son of Leto
and Zeus: angered at the king, he roused
all through the army a wicked plague, and men
succumbed and keened

because the son of Atreus

dishonored Chryses the priest. With rhetoric
and an aim to free his daughter, he came
to the nimble ships of the Achaeans, possessed
of countless ransom and holding in his hands
the farthest archer Apollo’s fresh-stemmed wreaths,
upon a golden staff—

 

he begged all Achaeans
to listen, most of all
the sons of Atreus,
commanders of their men.

 

 

“Atreidae, and all you other iron-kneed Achaeans,

may the gods who call Olympus home allow you extirpate

Priam’s city, and then return home well—

 

just please release

my beloved daughter, and accept this ransom, in reverence of

the son of Zeus, the farthest archer Apollo.”

 

 

  

 

 

 Book 19, lines 266–308

 

So he spoke, and cut the throat of a big-stomached boar
with his sword without pity. And then Talthybius whirled it
centrifugally, letting rip the corpse into the great
gulf of the sea’s grey lightexclusive food for fishes.


Then Achilles stood and spoke
to the battle-loving Argives:
“Father Zeus, how huge
is the bewilderment
you can instill in men.
Never, otherwise,
would the son of Atreus
have roused so damnably
such rancor in the heart
anchored in my chest,
Nor would he have led the girl
away so worthlessly
when I said no. I suppose
Zeus must have willed it, that death
should be the state of that many
Achaeans. For now go eat
your dinner, before we range
together plains of war.”

 

So he spoke, and unyoked the assembly, fearsome fast
to leave. Most skittered off, each to his own ship,
but the mega-hearted Myrmidons

took charge of the gifts,

and bore them off to the ship of godlike Achilles.
They set them in the huts,

deposited the women there,

and splendid squires drove the horses into the agile herd.


But then Briseis, a woman like gold-combed Aphrodite,
when she saw Patroclus ripped open, broken
by the cutting calculated bronze,

she poured herself around him

like melting wax, calling loud and clear,
and with her hands

she clawed her chest, the soft

skin of her neck and candlelight-lovely face.
And while she wept she spoke, this woman like the goddesses:

 

 “Patroclus, you who showed my heart

much greater grace than any man,
lost soul that I am,
I left you living

 

when I went forth from these huts and now

I come to you, a prince among the people,

dead at my return. And so for me,

cacophonies

 

of evil at the heels of evil,
always. I saw my husband, to whom
my father and regal mother gave me,
ripped open, broken

 

by the cutting calculated bronze

before our poleaxed city,

and my three brothers,

all of us born

 

from the same mother, beloved brothers—
every single one incurred
their panting day of death. But you,
you would not let me,

 

when swift Achilles killed my husband

and razed our city of godlike Mynes,

you would never let me weep but said

I would be safe,

 

the lawful-wedded bedmate of Achilles
like a god, that he would lead
me in his ships to Phthia, and set
a marriage feast

 

among the Myrmidons. And so unceasingly

I mourn you dead, another death

to say oh no to. You were

honey-sweet, always.”

 

So she spoke, weeping,

and to hers the other women added their laments:
Patroclus the pretense
while each one tended sorrows of her own.

Meanwhile around him
Achaean elders gathered, begging him to eat,
but in his mourning
he refused them: “I’m begging you, if any one
of my dear friends
will heed me, do not tell me to sate my own dear heart
with either food or drink,
for the dreaded grief has reached me. Until the sun
sinks in the sea
I will remain and suffer, empty as I am.”

 

 

 

 

Book 24, lines 692–746

 

 

But once they reached the spot to cross the lovely-streaming river,
the swirling Xanthus, fathered by immortal Zeus,
then Hermes went his way to tall Olympus; then Dawn,
crocus-cloaked,

began to drench the earth entire;

then with lamenting, weeping stony sorrow’s tears, they drove
their horses to the citadel, and the mules pulled the corpse.

 

 

And nobody among the men or beauty-belted women
would know they neared

until Cassandra, a woman like

gold-combed Aphrodite, who rose that morning to the height
of Pergamon, discerned her father’s stature, dear
in the distant chariot, beside the city’s blaring herald;
and him,

him lying in the flatbed drawn by mules—

she saw him too. And shot the city through with agony

 

with her resounding clarion call:

“Come gather, Trojan men

and Trojan women, come behold

Hector, if ever you

 

rejoiced when he returned alive

from battle; for he was joy

incarnate in the city, joy

to all the people here.”

 

 

She spoke, and not one man or woman in the city stayed

where they were, for unchecked grief beset them all.
They crushed together, anchoring against the city gates
for the king who carried their dead one home.

 

. . . .

 

Among them, white-armed Andromache was first in the lament
As she cradled in a locked embrace the cherished head
Of man-killing Hector:

 

“Husband, you are gone so young

from life, leaving me a widow
in the spaces of great rooms, and the boy
only a baby,

 

the very boy we bore, you and I,

out of our doomed unarmored love,

and I cannot think he’ll ever be

a young man, never—

 

the heights of this despairing city

will turn to ash long before that.
For our champion has perished, you
who were our shield,

 

who guarded all these tender wives

and cooing children—these all will soon

be brought aboard the hollow ships

and I among them,

 

and you’ll be no exception, child

of mine; you’ll follow me to where
you’ll toil at inglorious tasks,
struggling under

 

an unmild master. Unless some one

of the Achaeans should rip you by the arm

and drop you from the tower, purging you

in sorrowing death,

 

implacable since Hector slew

perhaps his brother, or father, or his own son,
since so awfully many Achaeans
bit the broad earth

 

with their teeth, palmed by Hector’s hands:

your father was not mild in sorrowing war.

And thus the people weep for him

unendurably

 

all through the city, and you’ve besieged

your parents with the grief that will
not yield to prayer and suffering,
Hector, and for me

 

especially the freshest hells remain.

For as you died you did not

stretch out your hands to me

upon our bed,

 

nor did you speak some word like lovers speak

that I could keep, remembering for all
my nights and all my days, anytime
I shed a tear."

 

 



View Original Work ↓

Book 1, lines 1–21

 

μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος

 

οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,

 

πολλὰς δ᾽ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν

 

ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν

 

οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι, Διὸς δ᾽ ἐτελείετο βουλή,

 

ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε

 

Ἀτρεΐδης τε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.

 

 

τίς τ᾽ ἄρ σφωε θεῶν ἔριδι ξυνέηκε μάχεσθαι;

 

Λητοῦς καὶ Διὸς υἱός: ὃ γὰρ βασιλῆϊ χολωθεὶς

 

νοῦσον ἀνὰ στρατὸν ὄρσε κακήν, ὀλέκοντο δὲ λαοί,

 

οὕνεκα τὸν Χρύσην ἠτίμασεν ἀρητῆρα

 

Ἀτρεΐδης: ὃ γὰρ ἦλθε θοὰς ἐπὶ νῆας Ἀχαιῶν

 

λυσόμενός τε θύγατρα φέρων τ᾽ ἀπερείσι᾽ ἄποινα,

 

στέμματ᾽ ἔχων ἐν χερσὶν ἑκηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος

 

χρυσέῳ ἀνὰ σκήπτρῳ, καὶ λίσσετο πάντας Ἀχαιούς,

 

Ἀτρεΐδα δὲ μάλιστα δύω, κοσμήτορε λαῶν:

 

Ἀτρεΐδαι τε καὶ ἄλλοι ἐϋκνήμιδες Ἀχαιοί,

 

ὑμῖν μὲν θεοὶ δοῖεν Ὀλύμπια δώματ᾽ ἔχοντες

 

ἐκπέρσαι Πριάμοιο πόλιν, εὖ δ᾽ οἴκαδ᾽ ἱκέσθαι:

 

παῖδα δ᾽ ἐμοὶ λύσαιτε φίλην, τὰ δ᾽ ἄποινα δέχεσθαι,

 

ἁζόμενοι Διὸς υἱὸν ἑκηβόλον Ἀπόλλωνα.

 

 

 

 

 

Book 19, lines 266–308

 

ἦ, καὶ ἀπὸ στόμαχον κάπρου τάμε νηλέϊ χαλκῷ.

 

τὸν μὲν Ταλθύβιος πολιῆς ἁλὸς ἐς μέγα λαῖτμα

 

ῥῖψ᾽ ἐπιδινήσας βόσιν ἰχθύσιν: αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς

 

ἀνστὰς Ἀργείοισι φιλοπτολέμοισι μετηύδα:

 

Ζεῦ πάτερ ἦ μεγάλας ἄτας ἄνδρεσσι διδοῖσθα:

 

οὐκ ἂν δή ποτε θυμὸν ἐνὶ στήθεσσιν ἐμοῖσιν

 

Ἀτρεΐδης ὤρινε διαμπερές, οὐδέ κε κούρην

 

ἦγεν ἐμεῦ ἀέκοντος ἀμήχανος: ἀλλά ποθι Ζεὺς

 

ἤθελ᾽ Ἀχαιοῖσιν θάνατον πολέεσσι γενέσθαι.

 

νῦν δ᾽ ἔρχεσθ᾽ ἐπὶ δεῖπνον, ἵνα ξυνάγωμεν Ἄρηα.

 

ὣς ἄρ᾽ ἐφώνησεν, λῦσεν δ᾽ ἀγορὴν αἰψηρήν.

 

οἳ μὲν ἄρ᾽ ἐσκίδναντο ἑὴν ἐπὶ νῆα ἕκαστος,

 

δῶρα δὲ Μυρμιδόνες μεγαλήτορες ἀμφεπένοντο,

 

βὰν δ᾽ ἐπὶ νῆα φέροντες Ἀχιλλῆος θείοιο.

 

καὶ τὰ μὲν ἐν κλισίῃσι θέσαν, κάθισαν δὲ γυναῖκας,

 

ἵππους δ᾽ εἰς ἀγέλην ἔλασαν θεράποντες ἀγαυοί.

 

Βρισηῒς δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἔπειτ᾽ ἰκέλη χρυσέῃ Ἀφροδίτῃ

 

ὡς ἴδε Πάτροκλον δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ,

 

ἀμφ᾽ αὐτῷ χυμένη λίγ᾽ ἐκώκυε, χερσὶ δ᾽ ἄμυσσε

 

στήθεά τ᾽ ἠδ᾽ ἁπαλὴν δειρὴν ἰδὲ καλὰ πρόσωπα.

  

εἶπε δ᾽ ἄρα κλαίουσα γυνὴ ἐϊκυῖα θεῇσι:

 

 

 

Πάτροκλέ μοι δειλῇ πλεῖστον κεχαρισμένε θυμῷ

 

ζωὸν μέν σε ἔλειπον ἐγὼ κλισίηθεν ἰοῦσα,

 

 

νῦν δέ σε τεθνηῶτα κιχάνομαι ὄρχαμε λαῶν

 

ἂψ ἀνιοῦσ᾽: ὥς μοι δέχεται κακὸν ἐκ κακοῦ αἰεί.

 

 

ἄνδρα μὲν ᾧ ἔδοσάν με πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ

 

εἶδον πρὸ πτόλιος δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ,

 

 

τρεῖς τε κασιγνήτους, τούς μοι μία γείνατο μήτηρ,

 

κηδείους, οἳ πάντες ὀλέθριον ἦμαρ ἐπέσπον.

 

 

οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδέ μ᾽ ἔασκες, ὅτ᾽ ἄνδρ᾽ ἐμὸν ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεὺς

 

ἔκτεινεν, πέρσεν δὲ πόλιν θείοιο Μύνητος,

 

 

κλαίειν, ἀλλά μ᾽ ἔφασκες Ἀχιλλῆος θείοιο

 

κουριδίην ἄλοχον θήσειν, ἄξειν τ᾽ ἐνὶ νηυσὶν

 

 

ἐς Φθίην, δαίσειν δὲ γάμον μετὰ Μυρμιδόνεσσι.

 

τώ σ᾽ ἄμοτον κλαίω τεθνηότα μείλιχον αἰεί.

 

 

 

 

 

ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ᾽, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες

 

Πάτροκλον πρόφασιν, σφῶν δ᾽ αὐτῶν κήδε᾽ ἑκάστη.

 

αὐτὸν δ᾽ ἀμφὶ γέροντες Ἀχαιῶν ἠγερέθοντο

 

λισσόμενοι δειπνῆσαι: ὃ δ᾽ ἠρνεῖτο στεναχίζων:

 

λίσσομαι, εἴ τις ἔμοιγε φίλων ἐπιπείθεθ᾽ ἑταίρων,

 

μή με πρὶν σίτοιο κελεύετε μηδὲ ποτῆτος

 

ἄσασθαι φίλον ἦτορ, ἐπεί μ᾽ ἄχος αἰνὸν ἱκάνει:

 

δύντα δ᾽ ἐς ἠέλιον μενέω καὶ τλήσομαι ἔμπης.

 

 

 

 

 

Book 24, lines 692–746

 

 

ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε δὴ πόρον ἷξον ἐϋρρεῖος ποταμοῖο

 

Ξάνθου δινήεντος, ὃν ἀθάνατος τέκετο Ζεύς,

 

Ἑρμείας μὲν ἔπειτ᾽ ἀπέβη πρὸς μακρὸν Ὄλυμπον,

 

Ἠὼς δὲ κροκόπεπλος ἐκίδνατο πᾶσαν ἐπ᾽ αἶαν,

 

οἳ δ᾽ εἰς ἄστυ ἔλων οἰμωγῇ τε στοναχῇ τε

 

ἵππους, ἡμίονοι δὲ νέκυν φέρον. οὐδέ τις ἄλλος

 

ἔγνω πρόσθ᾽ ἀνδρῶν καλλιζώνων τε γυναικῶν,

 

ἀλλ᾽ ἄρα Κασσάνδρη ἰκέλη χρυσῇ Ἀφροδίτῃ

 

Πέργαμον εἰσαναβᾶσα φίλον πατέρ᾽ εἰσενόησεν

 

ἑσταότ᾽ ἐν δίφρῳ, κήρυκά τε ἀστυβοώτην:

 

τὸν δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐφ᾽ ἡμιόνων ἴδε κείμενον ἐν λεχέεσσι:

 

κώκυσέν τ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἔπειτα γέγωνέ τε πᾶν κατὰ ἄστυ:

 

ὄψεσθε Τρῶες καὶ Τρῳάδες Ἕκτορ᾽ ἰόντες,

 

εἴ ποτε καὶ ζώοντι μάχης ἐκνοστήσαντι

 

χαίρετ᾽, ἐπεὶ μέγα χάρμα πόλει τ᾽ ἦν παντί τε δήμῳ.

 

ὣς ἔφατ᾽, οὐδέ τις αὐτόθ᾽ ἐνὶ πτόλεϊ λίπετ᾽ ἀνὴρ

 

οὐδὲ γυνή: πάντας γὰρ ἀάσχετον ἵκετο πένθος:

 

ἀγχοῦ δὲ ξύμβληντο πυλάων νεκρὸν ἄγοντι.

 

 . . . .

 

τῇσιν δ᾽ Ἀνδρομάχη λευκώλενος ἦρχε γόοιο

 

Ἕκτορος ἀνδροφόνοιο κάρη μετὰ χερσὶν ἔχουσα:

 

 

ἆνερ ἀπ᾽ αἰῶνος νέος ὤλεο, κὰδ δέ με χήρην

 

λείπεις ἐν μεγάροισι: πάϊς δ᾽ ἔτι νήπιος αὔτως

 

 

ὃν τέκομεν σύ τ᾽ ἐγώ τε δυσάμμοροι, οὐδέ μιν οἴω

 

ἥβην ἵξεσθαι: πρὶν γὰρ πόλις ἥδε κατ᾽ ἄκρης

 

 

πέρσεται: ἦ γὰρ ὄλωλας ἐπίσκοπος, ὅς τέ μιν αὐτὴν

 

ῥύσκευ, ἔχες δ᾽ ἀλόχους κεδνὰς καὶ νήπια τέκνα,

 

 

αἳ δή τοι τάχα νηυσὶν ὀχήσονται γλαφυρῇσι,

 

καὶ μὲν ἐγὼ μετὰ τῇσι: σὺ δ᾽ αὖ τέκος ἢ ἐμοὶ αὐτῇ

 

 

ἕψεαι, ἔνθά κεν ἔργα ἀεικέα ἐργάζοιο

 

ἀθλεύων πρὸ ἄνακτος ἀμειλίχου, ἤ τις Ἀχαιῶν

 

 

ῥίψει χειρὸς ἑλὼν ἀπὸ πύργου λυγρὸν ὄλεθρον

 

χωόμενος, ᾧ δή που ἀδελφεὸν ἔκτανεν Ἕκτωρ

 

 

ἢ πατέρ᾽ ἠὲ καὶ υἱόν, ἐπεὶ μάλα πολλοὶ Ἀχαιῶν

 

Ἕκτορος ἐν παλάμῃσιν ὀδὰξ ἕλον ἄσπετον οὖδας.

 

 

οὐ γὰρ μείλιχος ἔσκε πατὴρ τεὸς ἐν δαῒ λυγρῇ:

 

τὼ καί μιν λαοὶ μὲν ὀδύρονται κατὰ ἄστυ,

 

 

ἀρητὸν δὲ τοκεῦσι γόον καὶ πένθος ἔθηκας

 

Ἕκτορ: ἐμοὶ δὲ μάλιστα λελείψεται ἄλγεα λυγρά.

 

 

 

οὐ γάρ μοι θνῄσκων λεχέων ἐκ χεῖρας ὄρεξας,

 

οὐδέ τί μοι εἶπες πυκινὸν ἔπος, οὗ τέ κεν αἰεὶ

 

 

 

μεμνῄμην νύκτάς τε καὶ ἤματα δάκρυ χέουσα.

 

 

Translator Notes

The Air in Epic: Notes on a new translation of Homer’s Iliad

As I read Homer, I often find myself thinking about the idea of air. How did the singers use their breath in pauses and delays while delivering the poem? Students of Homer and his Greek are taught how to enunciate the Greek dactylic hexameter, and if we get good at it, our identification of the different feet allows the pronunciation of many lines to differ from each other, and we can employ our own breath at the caesura to give a brief pause within the line itself, often corresponding to a pause in punctuation or grammar. But how else might Homer or rhapsodes, the Homeric singers, have used delays and pauses in ways we can’t know? Even in English metrical poems, the most thrilling sonic moments come when the poem’s delivery can subvert the metrical pattern it has established: when the poet or reader can intone interpretation and stress and pause where the meter does not necessarily dictate it, but, in its capaciousness, allows it. And rhythm most especially emerges when the meter subverts the pattern it has established, arresting and upending our expectations of sound. So my metrical question about air in epic is this: can we imagine more than one right way to sing Homeric meter? If so, how can this possibility be represented in translation?

I also think about the air in epic in a more figurative, ethereal ways, by which I mean the shiftiness of epic, its chimerical unfixity. Think of ancient Greek epic as an enormous living tapestry—living because it is changeable and renewable in the details. An ancient bard would have sung only one very small square of the tapestry at once. “Start your song here,” the poet invokes the Muse in the seventh line of the Iliad—implying that he could have started, or asked the Muse to start, at a variety of “beginnings” across all of epic’s repertoire.

I also think of the ancient epic genre as containing breathing room. We speak of the epic genre as if it were as monolithic an idea as most translations of Homer look on the page, but recent work has examined how epic itself contains elements of pastoral and lyric traditions, and especially the genre of threnody, lament. So how can a translation represent the malleability and flexibility of epic stories, the individual choices and changes through generations of singers, and also a variety of genres operating within the broader epic genre? How can these composites and alternatives, buried alive behind standard presentation and traditional associations with Homer, obtain a presence—get a breath of air—in translation?

These are my guiding questions behind my translation of the Iliad. In a radio interview, Caroline Alexander, who was the first woman to publish an English translation of the Iliad in 2016, said she aimed to “to translate the Greek as cleanly and uncomplicatedly and as uninterfered with as possible.” In stark contrast, my translation runs interference at several levels. First, I introduce words and sometimes phrases which are not in the Greek text, but are homophonically inspired by words that are. I translate the first word of the Iliad in Greek, menis (a supernatural wrath) as “menace.” Or, when in Book 19 Achilles says Agamemnon roused anger in him diamperes—through and through—I render it as “damnably.” I use homophonic translation to enhance or build upon a meaning which is already present, or to introduce a new image or idea. In Briseis’ lament for Patroclus, there is an excess of hard “k” and “x” sounds, and so when she falls down by his side and cries out (“kokuo”), I write, “she poured herself around him / like melting wax, calling loud and clear” hoping to represent the Greek phonetic effects with the clashing of “wax” and “calling.”

This impulse to play with homophonic translation stems from a long fascination of mine with that the fact that our English word “kill” lives in the middle of how we pronounce Achilles. I want readers to be aware of the homophonic interventions not only so they will be implicitly aware of the liberties I’m taking, but also as an invitation for them to sound out the transliterated Greek words provided.

My second strategy of interference is my use of metrical variety and white space. By working in different metrical forms through the poem, I hope to underscore the episodic nature of the poem’s original performative contexts, and to give a subtle sense of generic variety within the epic. For example, the line lengths in the poem’s narration range from heptameter to trimeter, and in women’s laments I use Sapphics-inspired quatrains of three lines of tetrameter and one of dimeter.

If this translation is not as faithful to the literal Greek or the conventional recitation of Greek hexameters as other translations endeavor to be, it is faithful to the following elements of epic: 1) the element of improvisation. Ancient Greek epic poets would have felt freedom to tweak and make additions to the poem. In this way, I am not only translating Homer but also responding to the same tradition in which he was trained. 2) Epic’s original heterogeneity of genre. By employing different meters, I hope my translation mirrors the various kinds of song—pastoral, lament, lyric—ancient audiences would have sensed. 3) Epic’s episodic nature. Ancient audiences would never have encountered the poem as a whole in the way we hold copies of the Iliad in our hands. The white space and metrical variety allows readers to contemplate days, nights, weeks, months, between hearing parts of the poem performed, and the different kinds of recitations they might have heard. And it allows an underlying sense of breath, pause, delay—the air in epic I dream about.


Katie Hartsock

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