| THE ODYSSEY|
March 13, 1997
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What is Odysseus' moral compass, and why are most of his lessons learnt at home ? How much of the Odyssey is history, and how much is poetic fiction? How do we know that Homer was blind? What explains the lack of colors in the Odyssey? How has James Joyce's "Ulysses" effected your reading of the "Odyssey"? Is a son incomplete without his father in much of Ancient Greek literature? Message from Professor Fagles:
I send my best wishes to all the NewsHour viewers and your onliners, and I thank them for their very thoughtful, very stimulating questions.Joan Pearson of Arlington, VA
Sincerely, Robert Fagles
Mr. Fagles, Our SeniorNet book club is reading the Odyssey, one chapter a week. We are reading from many different translations. Our fearless leader, Ginny Anderson shares her "Fagles" with us on a daily basis. It has been quite wonderful for us to compare all of these translations, line by line.
My question concerns Athena and her relationship with Odysseus. I understand that she was quite unhappy after Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite. Athena's bribe had promised the Trojans victory over the Greeks, and now she has turned against him and champions the Greeks. She is grateful to Odysseus for his role in the war, and now wants to get him home. But, where does the deeper feeling come from, the love she seems to have for Odysseus? I haven't read the Iliad for 40 years. Is the explanation to be found there or should it just be accepted as extreme gratitude and left at that?
Annie Karni of Chevy Chase, Md
Why do people study the Odyssey?
In my ninth grade English class we recently finished reading Robert Fitzgerald's translation of the Odyssey. I thought it was a good story, but I didn't understand why it is studied all over the world.
James Rosenfield of Pacific Palisades, CA
Thanks to your translation of the Odyssey, I'm able to experience the story in an entirely new way. I particularly like the way you use active verbs, instead of passive constructions (such as the Lattimore translation that I used in college). Your text is also more vivid: I find it to be an interesting combination of Old English verse construction, but with a very clean modernist inflection. Reads with an immediacy that makes the story jump off the page, and heightens the lyricism. at the same time.
My question is this:
Now that I'm re-reading the Odyssey, and you've cut away the brambles, I've become more away of its narrative structure. I'm intrigued that the first third of the story is a discursive 3rd person telling of Odysseus's predicament that brings us up to speed. But then when Odysseus arrives at the palace of King Alcinous, the story flashes back for the rest of his adventures, told by Odysseus himself from a first person point of view. Did this present any special challenges as a translator, for you? Did you have to do anything differently to capture Odysseus's voice? And why do you think Homer shifted points of view? Does it heighten the authenticity of what he's describing, in the way that 20th century novelists sometimes work?
George Mosley of Carrboro, NC
For centuries, it seems that the "Iliad" has been taught to students in the Western tradition as the "sublime" Homer, with the "Odyssey" the more "vulgar" Homer. Major translators of past centuries attempted "Iliad" with reverence and fear, their "Odyssey" with considerably less. At the same time, when late Western readers approach the two works, they often find the "Iliad" puzzling for its hero and the "Odyssey" a good, well told story. Particularly, the hero of "Iliad" and the hero of "Odyssey" seem to present vastly different models of what is admirable in man. Attempts at finding a vernacular, modern Achilles and holding him up as a hero (Dryden's Heroic Drama, for example, with its very Achilles-like Almanzor) have failed to really stir audiences. On the other hand, the basic narrative of the "Odyssey" is everywhere around us, in film, television, novels, and new long poems. Can you discuss the shift in the Homeric verse that accounts for these different types of hero?
What, in Greek literature of the pre-Classical era, can account for these vastly different notions of the heroic (the mighty man, greatest of all mortals and invulnerable but for his single human imperfection vs. the failed man in an hostile environment who must fight nature, other men, and the gods themselves to achieve his aim of retirement--a man whose goal is not the conquest of a world but the securing of a home)?
Roy Atkinson of Bucksport, METhank you, Prof. Fagles
I have read Homer in Greek, and translated by Rouse, Fitzgerald, Pope and Lattimore. Thank you for creating beautiful and eminently readable versions of the epics. Thanks also to your publishers for having the sense to produce them in high-quality books.
John Bailey of Washington D.C. Thanks so much for your intelligent and passionate conversation with Elizabeth Farnsworth about an endlessly rewarding poem. I enjoyed your dialogue so much that I downloaded a transcript of it and have read it several times; the two of you worked very well together and the warmth you brought to your subject was captivating. It was also refreshing to hear your appreciation of feminist scholars: their viewpoints are immensely important for our culture and they should get a more positive public response.
John Silva of Glenmont, MD
I am half way through your book, and enjoying it very much. It is a wonderful story - thanks for making it so readable.
How long did you need to study Greek to be able to translate the Odyssey? How old was the transcription that you worked from? Is the ancient Greek language very different from the present version?
Do you have a favorite passage?