November 13, 2013

Review: The Iliad

The Iliad Companion to The Odyssey
By Homer
Translation by Barry B. Powell
Foreward by Ian Morris
Available now from Oxford UP
Review copy

How do you review a new translation of a classic?  What do you focus on?  I've really struggled with this review, which I thought would be simple.

First, the story of THE ILIAD is as good as ever.  If you've never read it before, you might not know exactly where the story begins and ends since so many episodes (some told in THE ODYSSEY) have become associated with THE ILIAD.  If you've never read any version before, Barry B. Powell's translation is a good one.  The language is modern, although it doesn't try too hard to be modern.  There are plenty of footnotes giving insight into the meanings of certain lines, which helps alleviate the imperfections of translation.

I definitely feel that the introduction, where a new edition can really stand out, is aimed at new readers.  It covers the geography, history of Greek writing, and other historical tidbits that contextualize THE ILIAD and are helpful to understanding the story and the style.  There's nothing too deep, and Powell makes a baffling reference to the Dark Ages.  There is also a brief history of Homeric scholarship, covering such things as the Homeric question and the proof that THE ILIAD was composed orally.  It's a decent overview of the most important bits.

Powell also explains his choices about the translation, which is nice.  His goal was to hew as closely to the Greek as possible, but he left some of the familiar Latin names because it would be too distracting to change them.  It's definitely information that would help a student out.  I think the balance between faithfulness and modernization was well done, but your mileage may vary.  

I am a fan of the Robert Fagles' translation (1990), which still sounds contemporary and has a nice emphasis on action.  I know some people feel that Fagles takes too many liberties, but I like it.  The other modern translation people are likely to be familiar with, Robert Fitzgerald (1974), I don't like.  I find it way too stiff.  I felt that Powell's was closer to Fagles' in readability, which is a good thing.  But no two people translate THE ILIAD the same way, and there are plenty of differences.  I think it would be fun to read both simultaneously and compare their interpretations, but I personally don't have the time.

I though Powell's version of Homer's THE ILIAD was fresh and easy to read.  The introductory matter will have the most appeal to readers who are totally unfamiliar with THE ILIAD, but hey, it is just an introduction.  The footnotes are nice and the prose flows easily.  I'm sure many classes will adopt this text, especially after Powell's translation of THE ODYSSEY comes out next year.


  1. Wow Liviania, The Illiad? That's quite an undertaking! We read The Odyssey in school so I've never read this one and therefore can't really comment on the differences between the various translations, but I'm so glad you enjoyed the line between faithfulness and modernization this translator walked! Looking forward to seeing if you like his version of The Odyssey just as much:)

    1. Me too!

      (And I may post an alternate version of this review soon.)


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