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Homer
Iliad

Translated by George Chapman

[Sample from the Opening of the Poem]

Achilles’ bane full wrath resound, O Goddesse, that imposd
Infinite sorrowes on the Greekes, and many brave soules losd
From breasts Heroique—sent them farre, to that invisible cave
That no light comforts; and their lims to dogs and vultures gave.
To all which Jove’s will gave effect; from whom first strife begunne
Betwixt Atrides, king of men, and Thetis’ godlike Sonne.
What God gave Eris their command, and op’t that fighting veine?
Jove’s and Latona’s Sonne, who, fir’d against the king of men
For contumelie showne his Priest, infectious sickness sent
To plague the armie; and to death, by troopes, the souldiers went.           10
Occasiond thus: Chryses, the Priest, came to the fleete to buy,
For presents of unvalued price, his daughter’s libertie—
The golden scepter and the crowne of Phœbus in his hands
Proposing—and made suite to all, but most to the Commands
Of both th’ Atrides, who most ruled.  ‘Grat Atreus’ sonnes,’ said he,        15
’And all ye wel-griev’d Greekes, the Gods, whose habitations be
In heavenly houses, grace your powers with Priam’s razed towne,
And grant ye happy conduct home!  To winne which wisht renowne
Of Jove, by honouring his sonne (farre-shooting Phœbus), daine
For these fit presents to dissolve the ransomeable chaine               20
Of my lov’d daughter’s servitude.’  The Greekes entirely gave
Glad acclamations, for signe that their desires would have
The grave Priest reverenc’d, and his gifts of so much price embrac’d.
The Generall yet bore no such mind, but viciously disgrac’d
With violent termes the Priest, and said: ‘Doterd, avoid our fleete,            25
Where lingring be not found by me, nor thy returning feete
Let ever visite us againe, lest nor thy Godhead’s crowne
Nor scepter save thee.  Her thou seekst I still will hold mine owne
Till age defloure her.  In our court at Argos (farre transferd
From her lov’d countrie) she shall plie her web, and see prepared             30
(With all fit ornaments) my bed.  Incense me then no more,
But (if thou wilt be safe) be gone.’  This said, the sea-beate shore
(Obeying his high will) the Priest trod off with haste and feare.
And, walking silent till he left farre off his enemie’s eare,
Phœbus (faire-haird Latona’s sonne) he stird up with a vow                     35
To this sterne purpose: ‘Heare, thou God that bear’st the silver bow,
That Chrysa guard’st, rulest Tenedos with strong hand, and the round
Of Cilla most divine dost walke!  O Smintheus, if crownd
With thankfull offerings thy rich Phane I ever saw, or fir’d
Fat thighs of oxen and of goates to thee, this grace desir’d                      40
Vouchsafe to me: paines for my teares let these rude Greekes repay.
Forc’d with thy arrows.’  Thus he praid, and Phœbus heard him pray
And, vext at heart, downe from the tops of steepe heaven stoopt: his bow,
And quiver coverd round, his hands did on his shoulders throw,
And of the angrie deitie the arrowes as he mov’d                           45
Ratl’d about him.  Like the night he rang’d the host and rov’d
(Athwart the fleete set) terribly; with his hard-loosing hand
His silver bow twang’d, and his shafts did first the Mules command,
And swift hounds; then the Greekes themselves his deadly arrows shot.
The fires of death went never out. . . .

Review Comment

Chapman’s translation, the first full text of an Iliad published in English, has been much praised and much criticized. It is, thanks to Keats’ famous poem, among English students of literature the most famous edition ever to appear (other than that of Alexander Pope).  Chapman belonged to a tradition which encouraged the translator to add rhetorical flourishes of his own rather than staying closely faithful to the original, and he used that liberty to add all sorts of Elizabethan phrases, sometimes entire lines, a habit that does not sit well with those who insist upon scrupulous fidelity to Homer’s Greek.  His basic verse form is a line with fourteen syllables and rhyming couplets, but the poem is not unduly heavy; it is, as Matthew Arnold notes, “plain-spoken, fresh, vigorous, and to a certain degree, rapid.”  Chapman’s Iliad remains popular today (and in print), justly so, and not merely because he was the first in a long tradition.  The translation is a delight to read (or at least to browse through), even if it is not one’s first choice for a new reader of Homer.

As Young points out (99), the first extensive (but not complete) translation of Homer into English was carried out by Arthur Hall in 1581, who translated ten books of the Iliad into Alexandrines (twelve-syllable lines).  Hall did not use the Greek text, however.  His translation was based upon the French of Hugues Salel (1555).  

For a link to the full text of Chapman's Iliad, please use the following link: Chapman, Iliad and Odyssey.

For a preview of a new edition of Chapman’s Iliad, please use the following link: Chapman Iliad This edition has a very useful introduction, and no reader should forgo the delight of reading Chapman’s introductory poem “To the Reader” in which the vigour of his aggressive assault on the fashionable poetry of his own age is wonderfully presented:

   So, in this world of weeds you worldlings taste
Your most lov’d dainties, with such warre buy peace,
   Hunger for torment, virtue kicke for vice;
Cares for your states do with your states increase,
   And, though ye dreame ye feast in Paradise,
Yet Reason’s Day-light shews ye at your meate—
   Asses at Thistles, bleeding as ye eate.

 

 


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