The newest addition to my collection of English translations of the Iliad is Robert Graves’ The Anger of Achilles: The Iliad. I have been wanting to find this translation! I carried it around with me all weekend hoping to get through a few books, but it was a busy holiday weekend, and I only managed the introduction. Here is the opening stanza overlooking a stadium at ancient Messene.
Graves’ translation was published in 1959, a year before Albert Lord’s The Singer of Tales. I wonder how much Graves was aware of/accounted for Parry and Lord’s research on oral composition in performance. His introduction values the Iliad as a poem that was meant to entertain those who heard it and believes it needs to be “rescued from the classroom.” Fair enough. I strongly believe how we teach poetry and other genres impacts their popular reception. But with Graves, his characterization of the poem as entertainment seems almost to be a way for him to explain what he thinks of as “deficiencies” in the ancient text.
Scholars who approach the poem as a work of oral composition-in-performance speak quite differently about the same qualities that Graves describes negatively. Such scholars recognize that what distinguishes the Iliad and the Aeneid is not that the former was composed to entertain and the latter written “for fame not profit” to be read “as a solemn intellectual task.” A (if not the) significant difference between the two poems is their methods of composition, which enfolds other issues including purpose and meaning. Homer and Virgil are not comparable.
Graves’ biases impact his interpretation of the poem throughout the introduction. He critiques Lattimore’s Iliad translation for being too dense and including “defects” from the original, like unnecessary repetition. Essentially, it seems Lattimore is too faithful and thus does “less justice” to Homer. 🤨 Graves also expresses certainty about events that are not quite as definitive as he suggests. For example: When, where, and by whom did the poem come together into the version that has come down to us from antiquity? I am very curious to see how this will all play out in the translation!
Thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions? I would love to hear any or all in the comments.