- Homer, The Iliad: A New Translation trans. Peter Green
Among the oldest extant works of Western literature, the Iliad is a timeless epic of great warriors trapped between their own heroic pride and the arbitrary decisions of fate and the gods. Renowned classical scholar and translator Peter Green captures all the surging thunder of the Iliad for a new generation of readers. The introduction itself is a major achievement. Green also provides a detailed synopsis of each book, a useful glossary, and explanatory notes throughout for puzzling in-text items. The book also includes a select bibliography for those wishing to learn more about Homer and Greek epic, as well as a wide-ranging index of events in order of occurrence and an alphabetically ordered selection of topics.
From the beginning of book 1, this translation is as remarkably close in English as one can get to the original Greek rhythms, word order, and style of the original:
Wrath, goddess, sing of Achilles Pēleus’s son’scalamitous wrath, which hit the Achaians with countless ills—many the valiant souls it saw off down to Hādēs,souls of heroes, their selves left as carrion for dogsand all birds of prey, and the plan of Zeus was fulfilled. …(1–5)
Using succinct wording Green echoes the theme of the poem—the destructive wrath of Achilles and its effects, including the fulfillment of Zeus’ plans for mankind. In lines 4 and 5 above, Green offers insightful notes further explaining the intent of the original Greek. In line 4, he argues that the word “selves” (Greek autous) strikingly emphasizes the epic’s intense preference for this mortal physical existence over any vague, insubstantial afterlife. The physical body is the real “them.” This is what Achilles has in mind when he famously says in Hades (Od. 11.88–91) that he’d rather be a hireling and alive than king of the dead. Referring to the latter half of line 5, Green asserts here, probably, Zeus’ agreement to the prayer of Thetis (see 1.503–530) to recompense her son for Agamemnon’s insulting treatment of him (the main subject of book 1) by giving the advantage in the war to the Trojans until such time as the Achaians should make him adequate amends.
In book 9, the embassy to Achilles, Green offers a remarkable example of the translator’s skill in setting the tone for a desired reconciliation with Achilles:
So the two set off down the shoreline with its thunderous surf,making many a heartfelt prayer to the earth-holding Earth-Shakerto easily sway the great mind of Aiakos’ grandson.They made their way to the Myrmidons’ huts and ships,and found him delighting his heart with a clear-toned lyre,fine and inlaid, with a silver bridge set on it,that he’d got from the spoils when he laid waste Ēëtiōn’s city.(182–88)
In lines 182, 184, and 188, Green provides the reader with three clarifications. He says that the use of the dual (182) rather than the plural here and elsewhere in this scene indicates two characters only. These are clearly Odysseus and Aias. But there is also Phoinix to be considered, as well as a couple of heralds. Several [End Page 566] explanations have been offered, of which the most plausible is that we have here the incomplete reshaping (perhaps by Homer himself: M. L. West, The Making of the Iliad: Disquisition and Analytical Commentary [Oxford 2011], 13–14) of an earlier version in which only the two acknowledged leaders of the embassy took part. Green next asserts (184) that in Homer Aiakos, the father of Peleus, seems to be associated with the latter’s kingdom of Phthie in Thessaly; but a parallel early tradition makes him a native of the island of Aigina, indeed its first human inhabitant. The Myrmidons (“ant people”) were allegedly created for Aiakos by Zeus there, but were later relocated to Phthie...