First Thoughts on Robert Fagles’ Translation of The Iliad

Lately, I’ve been digging into some large books, and have recently found myself the giddy recipient of the Robert Fagles’ translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Over the past year, I’ve challenged myself (more than ever before) to read a larger number of classic texts, and The Iliad seemed like a good compromise to challenge myself and feed my love of poetry. Since Homer’s epic poem is the most compelling text I’m reading at the moment, I’ve decided to share a few thoughts in lieu of this week’s bi-monthly review.

My thoughts? This book rocks.

I have the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, and although I’m only on Book Seven (of Twenty Four), I’m already so impressed with it that I’ve firmly decided to purchase more books from this collection. For a first or second read-through, everything I could wish to know about the characters, name pronunciation, or history of the text is included within the sturdy paperback. The introduction is over sixty pages long, and so interesting that I was sad to see it end. There is a brief synopsis of plot, theories of the conception of the story itself, and fascinating facts about the structure of the poem. The translator’s preface, pronunciation guide, illustrated maps, and glossary are also wonderful resources for anyone keen on learning more about this epic poem while reading it. With other books, in order to learn “beyond the text,” I often have to interrupt my reading with brief internet searches to clarify certain passages or foreign terms. And since I like to read in bed or on sun-drenched park benches, I find the need to “plug in” both annoying and distracting. With this copy of The Iliad I’m able to look up names (and there are A LOT of them) right in the same book and make notes as I go to enhance my reading experience. And although I feel like I’m learning at a classroom level (and not just a leisure level), this book doesn’t read like a textbook version at all. This is a very modern, easy-to-understand translation that enhances the story rather than diluting it. I’m actually very surprised by just how much I’m enjoying this read, and I have to wonder if I’d enjoy just as well with an edition that only presents the poem without the supporting material. I’m really thinking I wouldn’t.

Just the same, this isn’t a breezy beach novel to race through. I’m taking my time with this one; rereading entire chapters, looking up names in most paragraphs, and taking notes on the plot as I read along. Even with a modern translation, this is still a whirlwind of a story, and in my opinion, a great place to start if you’re looking for a nice copy of The Iliad.


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