The Odyssey of Homer : done into English prose online

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New Yorlt : Published by Macmillan & Co , 1882.





Fellow and Pralector of University College^ Oxford
Late Fellow of Trinity College^ Cambrii^ge


Latt Fellqw qf Merion College, Oxford

Third Edition, Bevised and Corrected
With Additional Notes


iiStfGATLpN pEPi,
















A. L.




There would have been less controversy about the
proper method of Homeric translation, if critics had re-
cognised 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 neces-
sary, and tjie 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 netteU, 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
tame, rude, and harsh in the age of Anne. These great


translations must always live as English poems. As tran-
scripts of Homer they are like pictures drawn from a lost
point of view. Chaque Steele depm's le xvi^ a eu de ce c6U son
belv^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,
Lonnrot, 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 in-
herit 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 acci-
dent not the essence of the epic. The epic is a poem of
consummate and supreme art, but it still bears some birth-
marks, 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 sim-
plicity and * ballad-slang ' ceases to exist, and then all
Homeric translations in the ballad manner cease to repre-
sent 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 Odys-
sey. 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 recognisefl, 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 adventures of men living in
most respects 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 con-
cerned, 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 recognis-
able.' 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 indiscoverable source, and mirrors the
temples and the palaces of unforgotten gods and kings.
Without this music of verse, only a half truth about Homer
can be told, but then it is that half of the truth whicl^


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, talk-
ing 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 in-
deed 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 tags 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 transla-
tion 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 transla-
tion,' 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 per-
mitted, 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 study them 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 Trans-
lators of the Bible, are still not unfamiliar, we have tried to
restrict ourselves. It may be objected, that the employment
of language which does not come spontaneously to the lips, is
an affectation out of place in a version of the Odyssey. To
this we may ans.ver that the Greek Epic dialect, like the
English of our Bible, was a thing of slow growth and com-
posite nature, that it was never a spoken language, nor,
except for certain poetical purposes, a written language.
Thus the Biblical Engliih seems as nearly analogous to
the Epic Greek, as anything that our tongue has to offer.

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
chiefly 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 Odys-
seus is red. The latter does not wear the sailor's cap,
which often distinguishes him in later art, and it is no
longer possible to decipher the letters above his head. Mr.
A. S. Murray, of the British Museum, kindly drew our
attention to these illustrations of the Odyssey, illustrations
to which we would willingly have added many more.

We have received much help from many friends, and
especially from Mr. R. W. Raper, Fellow of Trinity College,
Oxford, and Mr. Gerald Balfour, Fellow of Trinity College,
Cambridge, who have aided us with many suggestions while
the book was passing through the press.

In the interpretation of B. i. 411, ii. 191, v. 90, and 471,
we have departed from the received view, and followed Mr.
Raper, who, however, has not been able to read through the
proof-sheets further than Book xii.

We have adopted La Roche's text (Homeri Odyssea, J.
La Roche, Leipzig, 1867), except in a few cases where we
mention our reading in a foot-note.

The Arguments prefixed to the Books are taken, with very
slight alterations, from Hobbes' Translation of the Odyssey.

It is hoped that the Introduction added to the second edition
may illustrate the growth of those national legends on which
Homer worked, and may elucidate the plot of the Odyssey.


We owe our thanks to the Rev. E. Warre, of Eton College,
for certain corrections on nautical points. In particular, he has
convinced us that the raft of Odysseus in B. v. is a raft strictly so
called, and that it is not, under the poet's description, elaborated
into a ship, as has been commonly supposed. The translation
of the passage (B. v. 246-261) is accordingly altered.


Composition and Plot of the Odyssey.

The Odyssey is generally supposed to be somewhat the
later in date of the two most ancient Greek poems which are
concerned with the events and consequences of the Trojan
war. As to the actual history of that war, it may be said that
nothing is known. We may conjecture that some contest
between peoples of more or less kindred stocks, who occupied
the isles and the eastern and western shores of the Aegean,
left a strong impression on the popular fancy. Round the
memories of this contest would gather many older legends,
myths, and stories, not peculiarly Greek or even * Aryan,'
which previously floated unattached, or were connected with
heroes whose fame was swallowed up by that of a newer
generation. It would be the work of minstrels, priests,
and poets, as the national spirit grew conscious of itself, to
shape all these materials into a definite body of tradition.
This is the rule of development — first scattered stories, then
the union of these into a national legend. The growth of
later national legends, which we are able to trace, histori-
cally, has generally come about in this fashion. To take
the best known example, we are able to compare the real
history of Charlemagne with the old epic poems on his
life and exploits. In these poems we find that facts are
strangely exaggerated, and distorted ; that purely fanciful
additions are made to the true records, that the more striking

b a


events of earlier history are crowded into the legend of
Charles, that mere fairy tales, current among African as well
as European peoples, are transmuted into false history, and
that the anonymous characters of fairy tales are converted
into historical personages. We can also watch the process
by which feigned genealogies were constructed, which con-
nected the princely houses of France with the imaginary
heroes of the epics. The conclusion is that the poetical history
of Charlemagne has only the faintest relations to the true
history. And we are justified in supposing that quite as
litde of the real history of events can be extracted from the
tale of Troy, as from the Chansons de Geste,

By the time the Odyssey was composed, it is certain that
a poet had before him a well-arranged mass of legends and
traditions from which he might select his materials. The
author of the Iliad has an extremely full and curiously
consistent knowledge of the local traditions of Greece, the
memories which were cherished by Thebans, Pylians, people
of Mycenae, of Argos, and so on. Both the Iliad and the
Odyssey assume this knowledge in the hearers of the poems,
and take for granted some acquaintance with other legends,
as with the story of the Argonautic Expedition. Now that
story itself is a tissue of popular tales, — still current in many
distant lands, — but all woven by the Greek genius into the
history of lason.

The history of the return of Odysseus as told in the
Odyssey, is in the same way, a tissue of old mdrchen.
These must have existed for an unknown length of time
before they gravitated into the cycle of the tale of Troy.

The extraordinary artistic skill with which legends and
myths, originally unconnected with each other, are woven
into the plot of the Odyssey, so that the marvels of savage
and barbaric fancy become indispensable parts of an artistic


whole, is one of the chief proofs of the unity of authorship
of that poem. We now go on to sketch the plot, which is
a marvel of construction.

Odysseus was the King of Ithaca, a small and rugged
island on the western coast of Greece. When he was but
lately married to Penelope, and while his only son Tele-
machus was still an infant, the Trojan war began. It is
scarcely necessary to say that the object of this war, as
conceived of by the poets, was to win back Helen, the wife
of Menelaus, from Paris, the son of Priam, King of Troy.
As Menelaus was the brother of Agamemnon, the Emperor,
so to speak, or recognised chief of the petty kingdoms of
Greece, the whole force of these kingdoms was at his dis-
posal. No prince came to the leaguer of Troy from a home
more remote than that of Odysseus. When Troy was taken,
in the tenth year of the war, his homeward voyage was the
longest and most perilous.

The action of the Odyssey occupies but the last six weeks
of the ten years during which Odysseus was wandering. Two
nights in these six weeks are taken up, however, by his own
narrative of his adventures (to the Phaeacians, p. xx) in the
previous ten years. With this explanatory narrative we must
begin, before coming to the regular action of the poem.

After the fall of Troy, Odysseus touched at Ismarus, the
city of a Thracian people, whom he attacked and plundered,
but by whom he was at last repulsed. The north wind then
carried his ships to Malea, the extreme southern point of
Greece. Had he doubled Malea safely, he would probably
have reached Ithaca in a few days, would have found Pene-
lope unvexed by wooers, and Telemachus a boy of ten years
old. But this was not to be.

The ' ruinous winds' drove Odysseus and his ships for ten
days, and on the tenth they touched the land of the Lotus-


Eaters, whose flowery food causes sweet forgetfulness. Lotus-
land was possibly in Western Libya, but it is more probable
that ten days' voyage from the southern point of Greece,
brought Odysseus into an unexplored region of fairy-land.
Egypt, of which Homer had some knowledge, was but five
days' sail from Crete. Lotus-land, therefore, being ten days' sail
from Malea, was well over the limit of the discovered world.
From this country Odysseus went on till he reached the
land of the lawless Cyclopes, a pastoral people of giants.
Later Greece feigned that the Cyclopes dwelt near Mount
Etna, in Sicily. Homer leaves their place of abode in the
vague. Among the Cyclopes, Odysseus had the adventure
on which his whole fortunes hinged. He destroyed the eye
of the cannibal giant, Polyphemus, a son of Poseidon, the
God of the Sea. To avenge this act, Poseidon drove
Odysseus wandering for ten long years, and only suffered
him to land in Ithaca, 'alone, in evil case, to find troubles
in his house.' This is a very remarkable point in the plot.
The story of the crafty adventurer and the blinding of the
giant, with the punning device by which the hero escaped,
exists in the shape of a detached mdrchen or fairy-tale
among races who never heard of Homer. And when we
find the story among Oghuzians, Esthonians, Basques, and
Celts, it seems natural to suppose that these people did not
break a fragment out of the Odyssey, but that the author of
the Odyssey took possession of a legend out of the great
traditional store of fiction. From the wide distribution of
the tale, there is reason to suppose that it is older than
Homer, and that it was not originally told of Odysseus, but
was attached to his legend, as floating jests of unknown
authorship are attributed to eminent wits. It has been
remarked with truth that in this episode Odysseus acts out
of character, that he is foolhardy as well as cunning. Yet


the author of the Odyssey, so far from merely dove-tailing

this story at random into his narrative, has made his whole

plot turn on the injury to the Cyclops. Had he not foolishly

exposed himself and his companions, by his visit to the

Cyclops, Odysseus would never have been driven wander-

mg for ten weary years. The prayers of the blinded Cyclops . •

were heard and fulfilled by Poseidon^^^c:^ %^(ytjc:<^^^r-^ ,A^t^-^

From the land of the Cyclop^OcIysseus and his company
sailed to the Isle of Aeolus, the king of the winds. This
place too is undefined ; we only learn that, even with the
most favourable gale, it was ten days' sail from Ithaca. In
the Isle of Aeolus Odysseus abode for a month, and- then
received from the king a bag in which all the winds were
bound, except that which was to waft the hero to his home.
This sort of bag was probably not unfamiliar to superstitious
Greek sailors who had dealings with witches, like the modern
wise women of the Lapps. The companions of the hero ,

opened the bag when Ithaca was in sight, the winds rushed ^= ^^^^
out, the ships were borne back to the Aeolian Isl^f"and
thence the hero was roughly dismissed by Aeolus. Seven
days' sail brought him to Lamos, a city of the cannibal Laes- ^ ^/^ '
trygonians. Their country, too, is in No-man*s-land, and
nothing can be inferred from the fact that their fountain ^/^t

was called Artacia, and that there was an Artacia in Cyzicus. "*"^ -^^^
In Lamos a very important adventure befel Odysseus. The
cannibals destroyed all his fleet, save one ship, with which
he made his escape to the Isle of Circd. Here the enchant-
ress turned part of the crew into swine, but Odysseus, by aid
of the god Hermes, redeemed them, and became the lover of
Circ6. This adventure, like the story of the Cyclops, is a
fairy tale of great antiquity. Dr. Gerland, in his Alt Griech-
ischd Mdrchen in der Odyssee, has shown that the story makes
part of the collection of Somadeva, a store of Indian tales, of


— — ^ \

which 1 200 A.D. is the approximate date. Circ^ appears as a
Yackshini, and is conquered when an adventurer seizes her
flute whose magic music turns men into beasts. The Indian
Circd had the habit of eating the animals into which she^X/^
transformed men. ^in/''''^

We must suppose that the affairs with the Cicones, tne
Lotus-eaters; the Cyclops, Aeolus, and the Laestrygonians,
occupied most of the first year after the fall of Troy. A
year was then spent in the Isle of Circd, after which the
sailors were eager to make for home. Circ^ commanded
them to go down to Hades, to learn the homeward way from
the ghost of the Theban prophet Teiresias. The descent
into hell, for some similar purpose, is common in the epics
of other races, such as the Finns, and the South-Sea Islanders.
The narrative of Odysseus's visit to the dead (book xi) is
one of the most moving passages in the whole poem.

From Teiresias Odysseus learned that, if he would bring
his companions home, he must avoid injuring the sacred
cattle of the Sun, which pastured in the Isle of Thrinacia. If
these were harmed, he would arrive in Ithaca alone, or in
the words of the Cyclops's prayer, 'in evil plight, with
loss of all his company, on board the ship of strangers, to
find sorrow in his house.' On returning to the Isle Aeaean,
Odysseus was warned by Circd of the dangers he would
encounter. He and his friends set forth, escaped the Si-
rens (a sort of mermaidens), evaded the Clashing Rocks,
which close on ships (a fable known to the Aztecs), passed
Scylla (the pieuvre of antiquity) with loss of some of the
company, and reached Thrinacia, the Isle of the Sun. Here
the company of Odysseus, constrained by hunger, devoured
the sacred kine of the Sun, for which offence they were
punished by a shipwreck, when all were lost save Odysseus.
He floated ten days on a raft, and then reached the isle of


INTRODUCTION, ^^^ a "^ Xvil


the goddess Calypso, who kept him as her lover for eight

The first two years after the fall of Troy are now accounted
for. They were occupied, as we have seen, by adventures
with the Cicones, the Lotus-eaters, the Cyclops, Aeolus, the
Laestrygonians, by a year's residence with Circ^, by the
descent into Hades, the encounters with the Sirens, and
Scylla, and the fatal sojourn in the isle of Thrinacia. We
leave Odysseus alone, for eight years, consuming his own
heart, in the island paradise of Calypso.

In Ithaca, the hero's home, things seem to have passed
smoothly till about the sixth year after the fall of Troy.
Then the men of the younger generation, the island chiefs,
began to woo Penelope, and to vex her son Telemachus.
Laertes, the father of Odysseus, was top old to help, and
Penelope only gained time by her famous device of weaving
and unweaving the web. The wooers began to put com-
pulsion on the Queen, quartering themselves upon her, de-
vouring her substance, and insulting her by. their relations
with her handmaids. Thus Penelope pined at home, amidst
her wasting possessions. Telemachus fretted in vain, and
Odysseus was devoured by grief and home-sickness in the
isle of Calypso. When he had lain there for nigh eight
years, the action of the Odyssey begins, and occupies about
six weeks.

Day I.

The ordained time has now arrived, when by the counsels of
the Gods, Odysseus is to be brought home to free his house,
to avenge himself on the wooers, and recover his kingdom.
The chief agent in his restoration is Pallas Athene ; the first
book opens with her prayer to Zeus that Odysseus may be
delivered. For this purpose Hermes is to be sent to
Calypso to bid her release Odysseus, while Pallas Athene


in the shape of Mentor, a friend of Odysseus, visits Tele-
machus in Ithaca. She bids him call an assembly of the
people, dismiss the wooers to their homes, and his mother
to her father's house, and go in quest of his own father, in
Pylos, the city of Nestor, and Sparta, the home of Menelaus.

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