Two translations of Homer

When Penelope fetches Odysseus’s bow from the storeroom and brings it into the hall, the swineherd Eumaeus and the cowherd Philoetius start to weep, as they see it for the first time in 20 years. This provokes the anger of Antinous:

Ἀντίνοος δ᾽ ἐνένιπεν ἔπος τ᾽ ἔφατ᾽ ἔκ τ᾽ ὀνόμαζε:
νήπιοι ἀγροιῶται, ἐφημέρια φρονέοντες,
ἆ δειλώ, τί νυ δάκρυ κατείβετον ἠδὲ γυναικὶ
θυμὸν ἐνὶ στήθεσσιν ὀρίνετον; ᾗ τε καὶ ἄλλως
κεῖται ἐν ἄλγεσι θυμός, ἐπεὶ φίλον ὤλεσ᾽ ἀκοίτην.
ἀλλ᾽ ἀκέων δαίνυσθε καθήμενοι, ἠὲ θύραζε
κλαίετον ἐξελθόντε,  κατ᾽ αὐτόθι τόξα λιπόντε…
Odyssey XXI. 83-90

Antinous began to scold and taunt them.
He said, “You idiots! You tactless peasants!
So thoughtless, so undisciplined! You fools,
your selfish crying is upsetting her!
Poor lady, she is sad enough already
at losing her beloved husband. Sit
and eat in silence, or go do your wailing
outside, and leave us suitors here to try
the deadly contest of the bow…”
Verse translation by Emily Wilson, 2018

Then Antinous rebuked them, and spake and hailed them:
‘Foolish boors, whose thoughts look not beyond the day,
ah, wretched pair, wherefore now do ye shed tears, and stir
soul of the lady within her, when her heart already lies
low in pain, for that she has lost her dear lord? Nay sit,
and feast in silence, or else get ye forth and weep, and leave
the bow here behind…’
Prose translation by Butcher & Lang, 1879

The second of these two renderings, perhaps surprisingly, still has a function. It was recommended, along with the Iliad by Lang, Leaf & Myers, in my undergraduate days as a valuable aid to understanding Homer. It is verbally exact: every Greek word is translated, in an order close to the original. No amount of lexical checking reveals anything inaccurate, and it is a most useful resource for anyone reading the Greek.

The first, by Emily Wilson (highly recommended) is done with a different purpose, which is to convey as much of Homer as possible to the Anglophone reader. The time, care and scholarship devoted to its preparation are carried lightly in a chariot that speeds along at a pace like Homer’s and conveys vividly the passion of the translator without her personality intervening– which again is in keeping with Homer.

This translation would perhaps satisfy even Matthew Arnold, whose dictum was that a translator of Homer had to be ‘rapid in movement, plain in speech, simple in thought, and noble.’*

Matthew Arnold, On Translating Homer, Lecture III.