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There would have been less controversy about the proper method of Homeric translation, if critics had recognised that the question is a purely relative one, that of Homer there can be no final translation. The taste and the literary habits of each age demand different qualities in poetry, and therefore a different sort of rendering of Homer. To the men of the time of Elizabeth, Homer would have appeared bald, it seems, and lacking in ingenuity, if he had been presented in his antique simplicity. For the Elizabethan age, Chapman supplied what was then necessary, and the mannerisms that were then deemed of the essence of poetry, namely, daring and luxurious conceits. Thus in Chapman's verse Troy must 'shed her towers for tears of overthrow,' and when the winds toss Odysseus about, their sport must be called 'the horrid tennis.'
In the age of Anne, 'dignity' and 'correctness' had to be given to Homer, and Pope gave them by aid of his dazzling rhetoric, his antitheses, his netteit, his command of every conventional and favourite artifice. Without Chapman's conceits, Homer's poems would hardly have been what the Elizabethans took for poetry; without Pope's smoothness, and Pope's points, the Iliad and Odyssey would have seemed tam .i'le, and harsh in the Arc of Anne. These great translations must always live as English poems. As translations of Homer they are like pictures drawn from a lost point of view. Chaque siecle depuis le xvf a eu de ce edit son belve'der different. Again, when Europe woke to a sense, an almost exaggerated and certainly uncritical sense, of the value of her songs of the people, of all the ballads that Herder, Scott. LSnnrot, and the rest collected, it was commonly said that Homer was a ballad-minstrel, that the translator must imitate the simplicity, and even adopt the formulae of the ballad. Hence came the renderings of Maginn, the experiments of Mr. Gladstone, and others. There was some excuse for the error of critics who asked for a Homer in ballad rhyme. The Epic poet, the poet of gods and heroes, did indeed inherit some of the formulae of the earlier Volks-lied. Homer, like the author of The Song of Roland, like the singers of the Kalevala, uses constantly recurring epithets, and repeats, word for word, certain emphatic passages, messages, and so on. That custom is essential in the ballad, it is an accident not the essence of the epic. The epic is a poem of consummate and supreme art, but it still bears some birthmarks, some signs of the early popular chant, out of which it sprung, as the garden-rose springs from the wild stock. When this is recognised the demand for ballad-like simplicity and 'ballad-slang' ceases to exist, and then all Homeric translations in the ballad manner cease to represent our conception of Homer. After the belief in the ballad manner follows the recognition of the romantic vein in Homer, and, as a result, came Mr. Worsley's admirable Odyssey. This masterly translation does all that can be done for the Odyssey in the romantic style. The liquid lapses of the verse, the wonderful closeness to the original, reproduce
all of Homer, in music and in meaning, that can be rendered in English verse. There still, however, seems an aspect of the Homeric poems, and a demand in connection with Homer to be recognised, and to be satisfied.
Sainte-Beuve -says, with reference probably to M. Leconte de Lisle's prose version of the epics, that some people treat the epics too much as if they were sagas. Now the Homeric epics are sagas, but then they are the sagas of the divine heroic age of Greece, and thus are told with an art which is not the art of the Northern poets. The epics are stories about the lives of men who, in most respects, lived like the men of our own race who dwelt in Iceland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. The epics are, in a way, and as far as manners and institutions are concerned, historical documents. Whoever regards them in this way, must wish to read them exactly as they have reached us, without modern ornament, with nothing added or omitted. He must recognise, with Mr. Matthew Arnold, that what he now wants, namely, the simple truth about the matter of the poem, can only be given in prose, 'for in a verse translation no original work is any longer recognisable.' It is for this reason that we have attempted to tell once more, in simple prose, the story of Odysseus. We have tried to transfer, not all the truth about the poem, but the historical truth, into English. In this process Homer must lose at least half his charm, his bright and equable speed, the musical current of that narrative, which, like the river of Egypt, flows from an indie > v-able source, and mirrors the temples and the palaces ••' \ forgotten gods and kings. Without this music of ven y a half truth about Homer can V *old, but then it i.> or' -t half of the truth which,
at this moment, it seems most necessary to tell. This is the half of the truth that the translators who use verse cannot easily tell. They must be adding to Homer, talking with Pope about 'tracing the mazy lev'ret o'er the lawn,' or with Mr. Worsley about the islands that are 'stars of the blue, Aegaean,' or with Dr. Hawtrey about 'the earth's soft arms,' when Homer says nothing at all about the 'mazy lev'ret,' or the 'stars of the blue Aegaean,' or the 'soft arms' of earth. It would be impertinent indeed to blame any of these translations in their place. They give that which the romantic reader of poetry, or the student of the age of Anne, looks for in verse; and without ficelks of this sort, a translation of Homer in verse cannot well be made to hold together.
There can be then, it appears, no final English translation of Homer. In each there must be, in addition to what is Greek and eternal, the element of what is modern, personal, and fleeting. Thus we trust that there may be room for 'the pale and far-off shadow of a prose translation,' of which the aim is limited and humble. A-prose translation cannot give the movement and the fire of a. successful translation in verse, it only gathers, as it were, the crumbs which fall from the richer table, only tells the story, without the song. Yet to a prose translation is permitted, perhaps, that close adherence to the archaisms of the epic, which in verse become mere oddities. The double epithets, the recurring epithets of Homer, if rendered into verse, delay and puzzle the reader, as the Greek does not delay nor puzzle him. In prose he may endure them, or even care to look at them scientifically, as the survivals of a stage of taste, which is found in
its prime in the sagas. These double and recurring epithets of Homer are a softer form of the quaint Northern periphrases, which make the sea the 'swan's bath,' gold, the 'dragon's hoard,' men, the 'ring-givers,' and so on. We do not know whether it is necessary to defend our choice of a somewhat antiquated prose. Homer has no ideas which cannot be expressed in words that are 'old and plain,' and to words that are old and plain, and, as a rule, to such terms as, being used by the Translators of the Bible, are still not unfamiliar, we have tried to restrict ourselves.
The few foot-notes in this book are chiefly intended to make clear some passages where there is a choice of reading. The notes at the end, which we would like to have written in the form of essays, and in company with more complete philological and archaeological studies, are meant to elucidate the life of Homer's men. Some day we hope to write at length on Homeric syntax and Homeric forms of words, as well as on the heroic society of the poet's age.
The head of the Cyclops, in the frontispiece, is copied from a bronze in the British Museum, the figure of Odysseus and the ram from a vase in the same collection, a work probably of the fifth century. In the original the ram is black, on a black ground, and the figure of Odysseus is red. The latter does not wear the sailor's cap, which distinguishes him in later art, and it is no longer p e to decipher the letters above his head. Mr. / Murray, of the British Museum, kindly drew our