1.11k, ODYSSEY OF HOMER RENDERED INTO ENGLISH BLANK 'VERSE.*
ThE attractions of Homer for all who can read him in Greek is a standing mystery to most of those who cannot. Readers of Pope's Iliad are often left with the impression that the Greek and Trojan combats arc no better than a series of prize-fights pom- pously described, and chuckle inwardly at Fielding's fight between the viragoes in Torn Jones as a very fair caricature of them ; and as for the , Odyssey, does it not want a more romantic heroine to
• The Odyssey' M.A., Bram:lose 1865.
pater Rendered into English Mont Terse.. By George Musgrave, go, Oxford. In 2 vb11. Loudou: Bell and Datdy, Fleet street. make it even a good fairy story ? Younger sisters, devoted to absent school-boy brothers, and trying, to keep up a thread of connection with them. by -reading translations of their. Greek and Latin books, -wonder why ,Homes is always pronounced jolly, and Virgil in comparison slow ; for in the. translation the latter is quite:as intetesting,as the former. The estimation in which the Iliad and Odyssey _are held is attributed either to some hidden . allegorical meaning not to be comprehended by the uninitiated and non-classical, or else it is set down as a superstition perpetuated by those whose reputation rests on classics, by way of keeping up a fictitious value on their own commodity.. Can it be true, it is asked,-that so much is to be found in the original if so little sur- vives. in the translation ? Plain Greek can surely be rendered into plain Engliah so as to .preserve the ideas, at whatever cost of rhythm and versification.
It is easy, by way of answer, though it is not a very convincing answer, to point to the fact..that the Iliad and Odyssey were for centuries.read• and reverenced as no other work in prose or verse ever was before on since, the Bible•and the Koran alone, excepted. It is easy,, too, to assert that the •Odyssey,. and still more the Iliad, are more difficult to translate into a modern language than any other poem. But it is ,not so easy. to analyze and to give a reason for this difficulty. Of:the feet, however, there can be no doubt. The number of translators who have set- themselves to the work is itself an indication that the predecessor of each has not wholly succeeded, and that the field is still open. It. is hardly too •much to say that Clough's -Betide, and some • of Tennyson's poems, the Mork d'Arthur, for instance, breathe the spirit and the music of Homer more than any existing translation of Homer himself. A live ass is better than a dead lion ; and perhaps also a live ass would better than a dead lion convey the idea of a live lion to any one who had never seen a live quadruped at all. Gibbon, it is said, declared that the sight of a troop of yeomanry enabled him to realize an ancient battle better: than did any written description of the battles themselves. Great' poems, like soldiers, must be seen in the body to be. realized. Translation, however good, is a disembodiment.
The first difficulty of a translator is' the want of a sufficient vocabulary of simple English words as equivalents of simple Greek ones. It is easy to talk of plain English ; but of pure and plain English, strictly so called, the language of our day contains only a moderate proportion. For purposes of Epic verse the English language has deteriorated in the last three centuries. One translator, Mr. Woraley, was so alive to this fact that he has introduced into his translation several Spenserian words, now obsolete; which helped him a little out of the increased difficulties in which his adoption of the Spenserian stanza had involved him. As the language became more refined, words acquired a restricted meaning, leaving their original mean-• ing to be supplied by the combination of two or more words, or worse still, by an explanatory sentence. Thus the word crafty is now used only in a bad sense. What its original sense was may be gathered from the words craftsman and handicraft. The same may be said of the word cunning, and perhaps also of sub- tile, in the sense in which it is used in the Book of Proverbs. Now any one of these three words would have served as a fair equivalent for e-oX4tenrie, the distinctive and perpetually recur- ring epithet of Ulysses. In their existing sense they are all quite inapplicable. There is no word to supply their place, and Mr. Musgrave is driven to the expressions " ever ready," " shrewd m tact," "quick in thought," "prompt in thought," and so on, clumsy circumlocutions for a simple idea. In like manner dis- creet in its Old Testament sense would express verse/thee, and Mr. Musgrave does occasionally so use it ; and proper in its old sense would mean nearly the same thing. But the cold shadeOf prig- gishness has been thrown over them,—over discreet by the Pitritans, and over proper by the " moral" books of the Miss Edgeworth school, and they are in consequence disgraced for purposes of verse; and almost banished from common parlance. We owe a grudge to the Puritans for ostracizing many a good old word now surviving only in the Bible. Their habit of introducing Scripture phrases, in season and out of season, into common discourse, had resulted in the opposite effect of banishing many Bible words previously in common use. The words of more recent birth supply their place but ill. Compound words derived from the Latin, and indeed words generally of other than Saxon origin, are many of them more or less objectionable in an epic poem, because they express something more than a simple objective idea. They are apt to carry along with them by a sort of latent connection a train of shadowy ideas depending upon their etymology, or upon the circumstances attending their first introduction into the
language, which partially distract the attention and interrupt the simplicity and even flow of the poem.
Mr. Musgrave wisely contented himself with blank verse in his translation, knowing that he had difficulties enough before him without hampering himself by an elaborate metre, and spending his strength in beating about for rhymes. No doubt, other things being equal, hexameters in Greek are beet rendered by hexameters in English. But they are very difficult to write well, and at best they cannot adequately reproduce the Greek rhythm. There is less to be said in favour of other metres. It is worth while for a translator to surrender the rhythm for the sake of being un- trammelled in giving the sense. Lord Derby's Iliad was in blank verse, and it is the most successful English rendering of the Iliad that has ever appeared. Mr. Musgrave's blank-verse Odyssey in our opinion does not fall far short of it. In one respect the latter has an advantage. The Odyssey is more a tale, and less an epic song than the Iliad, and therefore falls better into blank verse. And it is in the simple descriptive passages that Mr. Musgrave has succeeded best. The following is an admirable rendering of the description in the fifth book of Mercury entering the Garden
"He who Argus slew His flight commenc'd, and o'er Pieria's coasts Aloft upborne,—down from th' retherial clime Rush'd on the face o' th' deep, above whose wave He sped on rapid wing, like some sea-mew Which, ever as the finny tribe he hunts In the deep troughs of that great sea whose plain No harvest yields, oft downward darting prone His pinions in the salt sea-billow laves.
But when to that secluded isle he came, The dark sea quitting, he the mainland sought, And that vast cavern reach'd in which the nymph,
With glossy tresses deck'd, her dwelling made,—
And in her presence stood. Upon her hearth An ample fire was kindled, and from far The scent of quickly riven cedar logs And smould'ring frankincense came on the air, And fragrance genial through the isle diffused. She with a dulcet voice her song within Was warbling, and, as o'er the warp she bent, From side to side with golden shuttle wove. Around her island cave a thicket rose Of thriving wood—alder and poplar growth, And fragrant-scented cypress. And at roost Were peroh'd those birds who with wide outstretch'd wings Cleave the mid air,—owls, hawks, and long-tongu'd crows, That live on sea, and in a sea life toil. And all about the grot extended wide
A young luxuriant vine in clusters shone.
In order raied, four founts of purest spring, Each near the other, but to points diverse Directed, threw their streams, and on soft turf The violet and the spreading parsley grew."
The above is about as near perfection as a translation can well be. The language is beautifully pure and poetical, and at the same time marvellously faithful to the original. Upon collating them, it will be found that a word-for-word prose translation could hardly be more accurate. The whole of this interesting fifth book is very well done ; the building of the raft, the parting from the goddess Calypso, the storm, and the stranding of Ulysses, gasping and speechless, on the Phmacian beach, are given with great vigour and spirit.
- In meeting the difficulty of the Epithets, the translator has not been quite so successful. " I have felt it incumbent on me," he says in his preface, " to pay a scrupulous regard, without taking umbrage at their iteration, to the Epithets characterizing the Homeric style. Those who relish their quaintness will not complain of their monotony." We do relish their quaintness, and therefore are disposed to take exceptiodnot to their monotony, but to unnecessary attempts to break their monotony by render- ing the same epithet differently in different places. Thus 7Xteuzi;nrig is variously translated " blue-eyed," " dazzling-eyed," of light-gleaming eye," " of the azure eye," " with the gleaming glance," and so on. Each of these renderings no doubt expresses part of the meaning of 7Xauzairiv, and probably no one of them singly expresses its whole meaning. But it is of the essence of an epithet, as much as of a nickname, that it should be always the same, and thus become familiar. The mind comprehends and adopts it the first time it occurs, and at each iteration does not need again to pause and reconsider it, but uses it familiarly as a picturesque aid to identification. To vary it unnecessarily is to destroy half its value. It is like announcing an old friend each time by a slightly different name. In speaking of the " Iron Duke " we do not vary his epithet by calling him the " Steel Duke," nor do we for the sake of variety, change titles such as " Gracious Ma- jesty," or " Serene Highness," into " Benign Majesty," or " Placid Highness," though the substitution would not perceptibly change the ideas. Still less is it desirable to render an epithet by a descriptive sentence, as 7Xciusilirric by "in whose glance gleams the blue eye'h effulgence," and Eciydos. by " whose Shock of hair in fairest locks abounds." The effect of so doing is to arrest the attention unduly, and to turn it aside from the leading idea. Carlyle is the best master of epithets in English. How telling his always are, even though they are sometimes a little far-fetched ! What a perfect rendering of " Maultasche " is " Pouch-mouth !"
These, however, are but slight blemishes. It is a translation which may be read with pleasure both by those who have and by those who have not a knowledge of the original, for it is unmis- takably the work of one who is both an accurate scholar and a master of pure English. It is not often that an author of this calibre is willing to take so much pains for the benefit of those whom he calls " the new Intellectual Fraternity who proceed from strength to strength as middle-clam scholars." Times are changed since a great Oxford Don could, in a University sermon, enumerate amongst the benefits of a knowledge of the classics that it enabled a man to look down with pity and contempt on the rest of man- kind. Middle-class scholars are nowadays more likely to be petted than snubbed. But valuable and excellent as are works: such as this translation, let not middle-class scholars vainly suppose that by their help it is possible to attain to the results and benefits of classical knowledge without undergoing the drudgery of ac- quiring it. Even if Homer could be translated into with- out marring a shadow of an idea, he would have but little mean- ing for readers whose imaginations, untrained by education or naturally deficient, do not enable them to picture to themselves and fairly estimate a civilization, a social condition, so far removed from that in which we live. The recognition of war as the normal* condition of humanity, the terrible uncertainty of the condition of women, still more the caprice and vengefulness of the Homeric- gods, will be a fatal stumbling-block to such. By patient study only do we become fully aware that civilization and manners are the shell, not the kernel, of history. Homer's heroes were born to their harsh civilization, as we are born to ill-distributed wealth, and ill-distributed population ; and they were as much, and ne more, responsible for it. If that is realized and remembered, the harsh features of the old state of society will not obscure our vision of the national and individual life and character presented to us.. The strife, the restlessness, the aspirations common to humanity, shine out always and everywhere. With all their grotesqueness and caprice (and is there no grotesqueness and caprice in any modern ideas of divine agency and judgment ?) what are the gods of the heroes, without whom they are powerless in battle or in council, but a dim recognition of Him who teacheth the hands to war and the fingers to fight? What is the belief in their constant personal presence, and aid to struggling, suffering men, but a recognition of, a testimony to, the ever present personal help in trouble which is the key-note of the Psalms ?