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Page-turners
>> Found in the Translations

Paul Friedrich walks into the room, takes off his coat, looks up at the class, and says, "Well, let's get right to it." He opens one of a stack of texts he carried in under his arm, books so well-worn that, had there not been so many of them, one would swear he keeps them in his pocket all day for those moments of extra reading time at the bus stop.

PHOTO:  Pope's translation of the Odyssey was publish by London bookseller Bernard Lintot (1725-26).  Plato's works were first printed as Ominia Platonis opera (1513).The course, Homeric Vision/Western Muse, is one of Friedrich's own design, offered by the humanities and anthropology departments as well as the Committee on Social Thought. Friedrich, professor emeritus in anthropology and linguistics and the Committee on Social Thought, assembles the class every other Thursday in a small room in Harper to pore over the core text for the course, Homer's Odyssey.

Rather than start with an overview of the course or an introduction to Homer, Friedrich reads the opening paragraph of an Odyssey translation by the 17th-century classicist George Chapman:

The Man, O Muse, informe, that many a way
Wound with his wisedome to his wished stay;
That wanderd wondrous farre when He the towne
Of sacred Troy had sackt and shiverd downe.

"What strikes you about Chapman's translation?" Friedrich asks, trying to hide the grin that reveals how deeply he loves Homer's monumental work.

A social-thought student points out Chapman's heavy use of alliteration, demonstrated in the opening line. Friedrich smiles and repeats the words to prove the student's point, curling his lips over the ms and ws for effect. "Also, Chapman's verse is written in rhymed couplets," he says, "which Chapman felt was the English-literature analog to the dactylic hexameter in which the original Odyssey was written."

Friedrich follows Chapman with Alexander Pope's early 18th-century translation of the same sentences:

The man, for wisdom's various arts renown'd,
Long exercised in woes, oh Muse! resound.
Who, when his arms had wrought the destined fall
Of scared Troy, and razed her heaven-built wall,
Wandering from clime to clime, observant stray'd,
Their manners noted, and their states surveyed.

Although Chapman and Pope were both English and lived only 100 years apart, there is a palpable difference in style between the two. "You have Chapman in the middle of the English Renaissance, his ebullient use of language," says Friedrich, "and Pope right in the middle of the English neo-classical period, locked into the Latin and Greek and very much concerned with tight form."

This is how Friedrich's course earns its title. Rather than sticking with a single standard translation by Fagle, Fitzgerald, or Lattimore, the class reads several translations of a specific passage to gain an appreciation of how different authors have translated Homer throughout the centuries and how Homer's epic has influenced other works.

By the end of the first class the students-who range from undergrads to advanced Ph.D. candidates in social thought-are offering their own interpretations of the differences between translations, ranging from the poetic license of T. E. Lawrence's prose rendition to the dry, academic manner of Plato's one-paragraph summary. Over the course of the semester, they also investigate works of other authors-among them Tolstoy, Tennyson, Virgil, and Dante-whose writings have been influenced by Homer in the 27 centuries since the Odyssey first emerged from the oral tradition and entered the realm of the written word.-C.S.


Found in the Translations

The Soul of the Republic

Travels with a Satirist

Ocean Reveries

The Genius of the Everyday

 


  FEBRUARY 2001

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