RECENT TRANSLATIONS OF THE ODYSSEY.* 1V's do not think it
worth while to criticise in detail, as far as its renderings from the Greek are concerned, the work of
scholars so accomplished as are Messrs. Butcher and Lang. There are points on which we should be inclined to differ from the views which they have taken. In some cases, it might be possible to make out a more or less plausible case against them. But the correctness of their work may be taken for granted. They have had at their command, what a host of commentators on the Odyssey have by this time supplied to students, an apparatwa eriticue so complete that it should keep scholars even moderately competent from going astray. And they have besides, it is evident, brought to their task the fine perception and sound judgment which are characteristic of scholars of the first class. There is more to be said of the form which they have chosen for their translation. The first question is the choice between poetry and prose. No one would deny, we suppose, that poetry is the ideal form for the translation of a poet. But many obstacles interpose between the ideal and any satisfactory realisation. A vast amount of labour has been expended in this direction, without an adequate return. The manipulation that is required for the production of verse results in transformation rather than translation. Hence, though by a happy inspiration, some shorter pieces have boon rendered in a way which leaves nothing to be desired, there is not one of the world's great poems with which any such success has been achieved. The most popular of translations in our language is Pope's Homer, but it is a travesty, though a splendid travesty, of the original. Probably the best is Couington's
a work is far from perfection which fails, as this must be allowed to do, to give some of the chief characteristics of the author it re- presents. To prose versicins the great objection is their dullness. They are, for the most part, so unattractive, that they can com. maud no readers, beyond students who look to them for help. The chief reason for this dullness is that they want style. We may say at once that it is the great, surpassing merit of Messrs. Butcher and Lang's work, that it has style, and this style the most suitable for its purpose that could have been discovered. It is a style with which we are familiar, as being associated with what, though wanting the poetical form, yet is distinguished as being some of the sublimest poetry in the world,—the poetry of the Bible. And this style they have used very successfully. Time and labour more unsparingly expended might, perhaps, have made it more perfect, in parts,—for instance, more rhythm- ical, more like the Book of Isaiah, than the Book of Kings.
• The Odyssey of Romer. Dono into English Prose, By S. R. Butcher, M.A., and L. Lang, M.A. London : Macmillan and Oo. 1879.
The Odyssey of hooter. Rendered into English Vorse. Books I. to XII. By G. A. dohomberg, GB., General, London: John Murray, 1879.
We should have been inclined to be a little more rigid in the matter of the vocabulary,—to have limited this, some technical words excepted, to the vocabulary of the Bible. But we desire to express a very hearty admiration for its execution as a whole. Take, for instance, the description of the palace of Alcinous:—
" Silver were the door-posts that were set on the brazen threshold, and silver the lintel thereupon, and the hook of the door was of gold. And on either side stood golden hounds and silver, which Hephaestus wrought by his cunning, to guard the palace of great-hearted Alcinous, being free from death and ago all their days. And within wore seats arrayed against the wall this way and that, and thereon were spread light coverings, beautiful and finely woven, the handiwork of women. 'There the Phaeacian chieftains were wont to sit eating and drinking, for they had continual store. Yea, and there were youths fashioned in gold, standing on firm-set bases, with flaming torches in their hands, giving light through the night to the feasters in the palace. And he had fifty handmaids in the house, end some grind the yellow grain on the millstone, and others weave webs and turn the yarn as they sit, restless as the leaves of the tall poplar tree, and the soft olive oil drops off that linen, so closely is it woven. For as the Phaeacian men are skilled beyond all others in driving a swift ship upon the deep, even so are the women the most cunning at the loom, for Athene bath given them notable wisdom in all fair handiwork and cunning wit."
4' This way and that," is a little vague; "on either side," might be better; "fair" for "beautiful," and "chiefs" for "chieftains," would slightly improve the rhythin. Here is a passage of action, from the slaying of the Suitors:— " Then Athene held up her destroying aegis on high from the roof, and their minds wore scared, and they fled through the ball, like a drove of kine that the flitting gadfly falls upon and scatters hither and thither in spring-time, when the long days begin. But the others set on like vultures of crooked claws and curved beak, that come forth from the mountains and dash upon smaller birds, and those scour low in the plain, stooping in terror from the clouds, while the vultures pounce on them and slay them, and there is no help nor way of flight, and men are glad at the sport ; even so did the company of Odysseus set upon the wooers, and smite them right and left through the hall ; and there rose a hideous moaning as their heads wero smitten, and the floor all ran with blood."
It would be difficult to improve on this. Nor are these passages selected for any special excellence. They are simply specimens of the average execution of the book, an average remarkably level and uniform, and certainly betraying no marks of various workmanship. For this sustained excellence, for careful Scholar- ship, and for the felicitous choice of style, this translation deserves the very highest praise. We know, in fact, nothing of the kind in our language which surpasses it.
General Schomberg has attempted a more difficult task. If he has not achieved a success which many and illustrious predecessors in the same course have failed to attain, he has yet gained a not undistinguished place among them. His Odyssey will scarcely become the standard translation—a place still vacant, in spite of Mr. Worsley's admirable work—but it will always be named with honour, as an able, scholarly, and conscientious work. General Schomberg has adopted blank
'verse as his medium, and this, as he tells us, in spite of "its
great difficulty." He will not, we hope, he offended, when we own ourselves unable to see the great difficulty of blank verse, as he writes it. Blank verse, as Milton wrote it, as Mr. Tenny- son writes it, is indeed transcendentally difficult. But the very simple versification which we find in this volume should not have cost its author much trouble. This simplicity gives it the merit of being a more appropriate metre for Homer than the complex rhythm of the Paradise Lost, or the Idylls of the ; but it produces a certain monotonous effect and wholly fails to represent the sonorous beauty of the Homeric hexameter. It will be convenient to select as a specimen the rendering of a passage already quoted :— "And from the brazen throshold-floor up sprang
Door-posts of silver ; silver was the beam Which formed the lintel ; tho door ring of gold.
And gold and silver dogs on either band Were standing there ; which with consummate art, Vulcan had fashioned aye to be the guard Of the abode of proud Alcinous ; Immortal were they, indestructible. And all around the walls were couches set, From outer threshold to the inmost court ; On these the finest drapery was spread With tapestry work of women, deftly wrought ;
On these the chiefs of the Phreacians sat
Eating and drinking, lavish was their cheer"; And golden statues stood on pedestals Of youths, with burning torches in their hands, To light by night the revellers in the hall.
And in the palace fifty serving-maids Ground ever in the mill the yellow grain : As numerous, and restless as the leaves Which grow upon the lofty poplar-tree Wore others sitting, busy with the loom ; And turned the spindle ; while the limpid oil From the close woven linen trickled down. For as the men of the Phreacians Excel all other races in their skill In sailing gallant ships across the seas, Thus are their women skilful at the loom ; Pallas has gifted them with genius rare And a consummate skill in workmanship."
The repetition of "on these" has a certain awkwardness.. " Whereon" might be substituted for the first of the two. The translation is very close, but is certainly somewhat prosaic, and the verse wants both strength and melody. We question whether its closer adhesion to the text counterbalances the un- questionable poetical superiority of Mr. Worsley's version, of which we subjoin two stanzas :— " And dogs on each side of the doors there stand, Silver and gold, the which, in ancient day,
Hephaestus wrought with cunning brain and hand, And set for sentinels to hold the way. Death cannot tame them, nor the years decay. And from the shining threshold thrones wore sot, Skirting the walls in lustrous, long array, On to the far room, where the women met, With many a rich robe strewn and woven coverlet.
There the Phaeacian chieftains eat and drink, While golden youths on pedestals upboar, Each in his outstretched hand, a lighted link, Which nightly on the royal feast cloth flare And in the house are fifty handmaids fair.
Some in the mill the yellow corn grind small ; Some, ply the loom and shuttles twist, which there Flash like the quivering leaves of aspen tall ;
And from the close-spun weft the trickling oil will fall."
We are inclined to think it better to connect the similitude of the poplar-leaves with the shuttles, than with the spinners who ply them. A prosaic style is certainly the prevailing fault of General Schomberg's version. Here are some short extracts which will bear out our criticism:—
"For thee, 0 noble Menelaus, destiny Ordains, thou shalt not die and end thy days In Argos rich in pastures ; but the Gods Will waft thee to the far Elysian fields, The utmost confines of the earth ; whore dwells Brown Rhadamanthus ; where for mortal men A life of perfect happiness is found : No snow, no winter, and no rain are there ; But ocean sends the breezes from the West With gentle breath its dwellers to refresh : And this because fair Helen is thy wife And thou thyself the son-in-law of Jove.
. . ..... • Nausiena, the white-armed, led the sport, Like Artemis the arrow Queen she seemed, As she de/wends the airy mountain top Of Taygetus, or lofty Erymanth ; Chasing the wild boar, and the flying stag : Around her sport and dance the woodland nymphs, The children of the gis-bearing Jove; Latona joys to see her daughter fair, Her graceful head and brow o'ertop them all, Amongst the lovely she the loveliest ; Thus the proud virgin far outshone her maids.
. . ..... .
Ulysses, talk not thus of death to me ; I would prefer to be the veriest thrall, Who for a needy, landless master sweats, Than to be lord of nil the skill-less dead But let me talk now of my noble boy ; Toll me, is he the foremost in the fight ?
And of the honored Peleus bast thou heard If o'er the Myrmidons he still holds sway ? Or have they bated aught in their respect In Greece and Phythia to his kingly rule, Because from ago his hands are feeble now P Oh! would that I still in the light of day Could his defender be ; such as I was When I, erstwhile the champion of the Greeks, Struck down the bravest of the brave at Troy; If I could visit, brief the term might be, • Thus in my strength my father's house again ; I would raise lip a terror of my wrath, And mighty hands, on each and all of those, Who spoiled and robbed him of his kingly rule !'"
Those want what Mr. Arnold calls "the grand style," though they show no little appreciation, in other respects, of the translator's duty.