Tag Archives: W. H. D. Rouse

Reading: The Odyssey

I’ve read two translations of Homer’s Odyssey:

  • Robert Fitzgerald (29 Aug 2001)
  • Allen Mandelbaum (19 Sep 2009)

I’ve also perused bits of W. H. D. Rouse’s translation, although I’ve read his Iliad and wasn’t impressed. As I might have expected, he manages to mangle even the most beautiful passages. Compare these lines from Mandelbaum’s Odyssey

Tenacious, shameless, driven to deceive,
even in your own land you cannot leave
behind the tales and traps, the lies you love.

with their counterparts in Rouse’s

Irrepressible! everlasting schemer! indefatigable fabulist! Even in your own country you wouldn’t desist from your tales and your historiological inventions, which you love from the bottom of your heart.

The man simply has a tin ear.

That scene, by the way, from Book XIII has always been for me the heart of the Odyssey; I find his reunion with Athena, who knows and loves him as the inveterate old schemer he is, more moving than his reunion with Penelope, who knows him only as a husband. Yes, Odysseus loves his wife and is as true to her as could reasonably be expected given the circumstances, but man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart. The final reunion is Penelope’s scene, not his; Odysseus is no more himself than when sitting under that olive tree with his old friend Athena, plotting.

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Reading: The Iliad

I finished reading W. H. D. Rouse’s translation of The Iliad on 7 Aug 2007. It’s the only translation I’ve read at all recently, though I did read the Iliad once before as a child.

I think it’s safe to say that no one will ever be moved to poetry upon first looking into Rouse’s Homer. Translating poetry generally involves a trade-off between the quality of the poetry and the fidelity of the translation, but Rouse gives us the worst of both worlds with this aggressively — one is tempted to say perversely — prosaic paraphrase, sacrificing both poetry and fidelity from the very first sentence. (“Sing, goddess, the rage of Achilles” becomes “An angry man: there is my story.”) He is determined to give us an Iliad in ordinary language, and if Homer didn’t always write in ordinary language, so much the worse for Homer. I intend to find and read another translation soon.

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