Book Review: The Iliad

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 13, 2011

Robert Fagles’s translation of the Iliad is to be commended for being both highly accessible, and highly eloquent. The only other translation of the Iliad I have read–Richmond Lattimore’s justly acclaimed version–was extraordinarily eloquent, but skimped a little bit on the accessibility side. I hesitate to put one book over the other, but it is worth noting my longstanding aversion to making great literature too colloquial. Fagles manages to lend the Iliad just the right amount of accessibility and colloquialisms, without diminishing the high mightiness of the work. For that, he is to be commended. I like the way that the New York Times put it when writing Fagles’s obituary; “[w]hile faithful to the spirit and intent of the original, his translations were remarkable for their narrative energy and verve.”

As with his other translations of epic Greek literature, Fagles was assisted on this project by the late, great Bernard Knox, who lent his formidable talents to the writing of this translation of the Iliad by penning a remarkably good Introduction, which touches on the history surrounding the creation of the epic, the life (as far as we know it) of Homer, the language used in writing the Iliad, and of course, the themes of the story. It is an excellent discussion, which I highly recommend to readers; just when one thought that there was nothing more to write about the Iliad, Bernard Knox came along to prove everyone wrong.

This is a thrillingly good translation which does a brilliant job of bringing Homer back to life, and belongs on the shelves of anyone and everyone interested in the classics.

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