Chapman's Homer: The "Odyssey"

Overview

George Chapman's translations of Homer are among the most famous in the English language. Keats immortalized the work of the Renaissance dramatist and poet in the sonnet "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer." Swinburne praised the translations for their "romantic and sometimes barbaric grandeur," their "freshness, strength, and inextinguishable fire." The great critic George Saintsbury (1845-1933) wrote: "For more than two centuries they were the resort of all who, unable to read Greek, wished to know what ...

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Overview

George Chapman's translations of Homer are among the most famous in the English language. Keats immortalized the work of the Renaissance dramatist and poet in the sonnet "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer." Swinburne praised the translations for their "romantic and sometimes barbaric grandeur," their "freshness, strength, and inextinguishable fire." The great critic George Saintsbury (1845-1933) wrote: "For more than two centuries they were the resort of all who, unable to read Greek, wished to know what Greek was. Chapman is far nearer Homer than any modern translator in any modern language." This volume presents the original text of Chapman's translation of the Odyssey (1614-15), making only a small number of modifications to punctuation and wording where they might confuse the modern reader. The editor, Allardyce Nicoll, provides an introduction, textual notes, a glossary, and a commentary. Garry Wills's preface to the Odyssey explores how Chapman's less strained meter lets him achieve more delicate poetic effects as compared to the Iliad. Wills also examines Chapman's "fine touch" in translating "the warm and human sense of comedy" in the Odyssey.

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold.
—John Keats

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Editorial Reviews

Homer in English
In Chapman's Whole Works of Homer . . . English is spendthrift, inebriate with waste motion, at times precious and as yet uncertain of its coruscating force. It is also the language of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, charged with sensory, corporeal thrust. At moments, it is already exact in that manual, pragmatic vein which is the virtue of English. At others, it comes armed with lyric sorrow. Homer, as Chapman construes him . . . makes the English language know itself and impels it to cast its lexical-grammatical net over a thronging prodigality of life.
— George Steiner
The Guardian
Each age approaches Homer, and particularly the Odyssey, with a kind of astonishment . . . Chapman was Shakespeare's contemporary. . . At times, noticing the epic sustainability of his verse, you get the feeling that he occupies a point on an imaginary line between Shakespeare and Milton. . .
— Nicholas Lezard
Homer in English - George Steiner
In Chapman's Whole Works of Homer . . . English is spendthrift, inebriate with waste motion, at times precious and as yet uncertain of its coruscating force. It is also the language of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, charged with sensory, corporeal thrust. At moments, it is already exact in that manual, pragmatic vein which is the virtue of English. At others, it comes armed with lyric sorrow. Homer, as Chapman construes him . . . makes the English language know itself and impels it to cast its lexical-grammatical net over a thronging prodigality of life.
The Guardian - Nicholas Lezard
Each age approaches Homer, and particularly the Odyssey, with a kind of astonishment . . . Chapman was Shakespeare's contemporary. . . At times, noticing the epic sustainability of his verse, you get the feeling that he occupies a point on an imaginary line between Shakespeare and Milton. . .
From the Publisher
"In Chapman's Whole Works of Homer . . . English is spendthrift, inebriate with waste motion, at times precious and as yet uncertain of its coruscating force. It is also the language of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, charged with sensory, corporeal thrust. At moments, it is already exact in that manual, pragmatic vein which is the virtue of English. At others, it comes armed with lyric sorrow. Homer, as Chapman construes him . . . makes the English language know itself and impels it to cast its lexical-grammatical net over a thronging prodigality of life."—George Steiner, Homer in English

"Each age approaches Homer, and particularly the Odyssey, with a kind of astonishment . . . Chapman was Shakespeare's contemporary. . . At times, noticing the epic sustainability of his verse, you get the feeling that he occupies a point on an imaginary line between Shakespeare and Milton. . ."—Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

Homer in English
In Chapman's Whole Works of Homer . . . English is spendthrift, inebriate with waste motion, at times precious and as yet uncertain of its coruscating force. It is also the language of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, charged with sensory, corporeal thrust. At moments, it is already exact in that manual, pragmatic vein which is the virtue of English. At others, it comes armed with lyric sorrow. Homer, as Chapman construes him . . . makes the English language know itself and impels it to cast its lexical-grammatical net over a thronging prodigality of life.
— George Steiner
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Immortalized by John Keats in his poem "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," two nearly 400-year-old masterpieces of canonical translation Chapman's versions of The Iliad (re-published in 1998) and The Odyssey (coming this month) are now both available in U.S. editions for the first time since 1957. Even stalwart fans of Robert Fagles's recent triumphs will want these versions, which retain their visionary clarity and power. In the words of Keats: "Oft of one wide expanse had I been told/ That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne:/ Yet did I never breathe its pure serene/ Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:/ Then felt I like some watcher of the skies/ When a new planet swims into his ken;/ Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes/ He stared at the Pacific and all his men/ Look'd at each other with a wild surmise / Silent, upon a peak in Darien." ( Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691048918
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 11/27/2000
  • Series: Bollingen Series (General) Series, #41
  • Edition description: With a New preface by Garry Wills
  • Pages: 524
  • Sales rank: 1,282,178
  • Product dimensions: 6.74 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Meet the Author

Homer
Homer
Ancient Greek poet Homer established the gold standard for heroic quests and sweeping journeys with his pair of classic epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Biography

We know very little about the author of The Odyssey and its companion tale, The Iliad. Most scholars agree that Homer was Greek; those who try to identify his origin on the basis of dialect forms in the poems tend to choose as his homeland either Smyrna, now the Turkish city known as Izmir, or Chios, an island in the eastern Aegean Sea.

According to legend, Homer was blind, though scholarly evidence can neither confirm nor contradict the point.

The ongoing debate about who Homer was, when he lived, and even if he wrote The Odyssey and The Iliad is known as the "Homeric question." Classicists do agree that these tales of the fall of the city of Troy (Ilium) in the Trojan War (The Iliad) and the aftermath of that ten-year battle (The Odyssey) coincide with the ending of the Mycenaean period around 1200 BCE (a date that corresponds with the end of the Bronze Age throughout the Eastern Mediterranean). The Mycenaeans were a society of warriors and traders; beginning around 1600 BCE, they became a major power in the Mediterranean. Brilliant potters and architects, they also developed a system of writing known as Linear B, based on a syllabary, writing in which each symbol stands for a syllable.

Scholars disagree on when Homer lived or when he might have written The Odyssey. Some have placed Homer in the late-Mycenaean period, which means he would have written about the Trojan War as recent history. Close study of the texts, however, reveals aspects of political, material, religious, and military life of the Bronze Age and of the so-called Dark Age, as the period of domination by the less-advanced Dorian invaders who usurped the Mycenaeans is known. But how, other scholars argue, could Homer have created works of such magnitude in the Dark Age, when there was no system of writing? Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, placed Homer sometime around the ninth century BCE, at the beginning of the Archaic period, in which the Greeks adopted a system of writing from the Phoenicians and widely colonized the Mediterranean. And modern scholarship shows that the most recent details in the poems are datable to the period between 750 and 700 BCE.

No one, however, disputes the fact that The Odyssey (and The Iliad as well) arose from oral tradition. Stock phrases, types of episodes, and repeated phrases -- such as "early, rose-fingered dawn" -- bear the mark of epic storytelling. Scholars agree, too, that this tale of the Greek hero Odysseus's journey and adventures as he returned home from Troy to Ithaca is a work of the greatest historical significance and, indeed, one of the foundations of Western literature.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of The Odyssey.

Good To Know

The meter (rhythmic pattern of syllables) of Homer's epic poems is dactylic hexameter.

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