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ART. IV.- The Iliad of Homer rendered into English Blank Verse.
By Edward Earl of Derby. 2 vols. London, 1864. N the first rumour of another translation of the Jliad,' and
that from the pen of so eminent a person, we inquired with some uneasiness in what kind of verse it was written; and it was with a certain feeling of relief that we learnt that Lord Derby intended to offer us neither the rhyming couplet, nor any other form of rhyme, nor any labyrinthine metre of his own or other person's invention, but plain blank verse. It appears that he was too well aware of the inherent and unavoidable difficulties of translation, to weight himself with any such superfluous task. These difficulties it is almost impossible to exaggerate, for they begin with the very words for which you must find equivalents; and when this apparently easy labour commences in earnest you are mocked by phenomena of this sort :—that which in one language is expressed by a term which appeals to the sense of sight, is conveyed to us in another under a form derived from a sense of touch; that which is picturesque in one language, will be logical in another. The every-day metaphors of which even our ordinary conversation in great part consists, are not derived from the same objects in the speech of two countries; that which one people describe as an act on a given object, in another figures as a simple state in relation to it; and so we might go on with an endless classification of the sources of this manifold diversity. But even after these have been provided against by judicious compromise, there remains another class of terms that seem to correspond exactly; when in comes the terrible law of association, and completely severs the connexion between them. The word which has been accustomed to good society in one language, answers to that which has kept very low company in another; the one will suggest everything that is noble, and the other is hopelessly vulgar. The river in Macedon is suggestive of Muses, and war-chariots, and mighty floods, while the one in Monmouth offers no images save those of pic-nics, publichouse minstrels, and trout fishing. All this, which is true of any language in relation to any other, is pre-eminently true of Greek in relation to English ; and the consideration of it soon convinces a judicious interpreter that, in order to be faithful, he must renounce the hope of being literal, and continually exercise the severest nicety of judgment in seeking for the best compromises of which the case is susceptible. He must employ kind of linguistic diplomacy, neither ignoring the force and the character of the foreign idioms, nor betraying that of which he is the representative.
The translator of Homer has to satisfy two classes of persons; at least we presume that he intends at the same time to offer to the scholar the gratification of tracing throughout his work the same beauties which he felt in reading the original author, and of giving those to whom the first source is inaccessible as much of the pleasure as can be transfused into their mother tongue. Those who are pedants and not scholars will of course profess too much enthusiasm for the original to endure his work being presented to them in any less satisfactory form; but the genuine lover of letters will take an interest in translations, as so many efforts to ascertain and to bring out all the resources of which his own language is capable, and therefore as so many contributions to its strength and fulness. As for the other class of readers (we will not call them the unlearned, for many a man or woman may be learned without any knowledge of Greek), they certainly do not occupy a subordinate place in the thoughts of any one who endeavours to execute such a work as Lord Derby has undertaken; for while he remembers that for every languid supplement, and even for any appearance of a grace added by himself, as well as for every beauty omitted or feebly rendered, the scholar will call him to account, he also bears in mind that numerous body of non-Grecians who, though they cannot judge of Homer, can distinguish between flatness and spirit. Nay, as there is a certain supremacy still maintained by Greek and Latin scholars in England, he will be answerable to all those who enjoy it, if by any feebleness of his own he provokes the general public to the profane question, 'Is this dull stuff all that is to be found in the ancient authors for whom you claim such reverence, and as the priests of whom you exact so much reverence for yourselves ? Although such misgivings must have presented themselves to Lord Derby when he first began to think of publication, we gather from his very modest preface that he entered upon his labours with a very different train of thought from that which we have suggested. In the intervals of a brilliant and arduous public career he betook himself to this truly noble recreation, loving the work for the work's sake, in the true spirit of an artist, without any thought of a public until it was suggested to him by others. We cordially approve of the suggestion ; for to it we owe a translation of the Iliad' which we can admire without effort, and recommend to our readers simply on its own merits.
It is scarcely the time of day to enter into a disquisition upon the various beauties of the Iliad, but it will not be out of place to say something of those qualities of the poet which, as being connected with his style and diction, must be kept continually in view whenever we attempt to criticise any of his translators.
When Plato speaks of Homer as the chief of the writers of tragedy, it would appear from the manner of his expression, that he is not offering this as an observation of his own, but merely giving his assent to an opinion that was already current in his time. The remark of Aristotle, that tragedy seems to have been derived from the Iliad' and the Odyssey' is more guarded, but at the same time it is less true. Historically speaking, Epic and Tragic poetry have nothing to do with each other, but that the presence of the dramatic element in epic poetry, and that in no inconsiderable proportion to the narrative and descriptive parts, is one of the chief beauties of the “Iliad,'—this is a truth which Plato's contemporaries felt, although they expressed it incorrectly. The want of this dramatic character is one among the many points in which Virgil falls short of his original ; and it is the presence of it which increases the interest of the Inferno, and to a less extent of the Purgatorio, in both of which it relieves the fancy in its contemplation of the infinite variety of details which are sucessively presented to it.
The speeches in the Iliad' are wonderfully in character, and, except where they occur for the purpose of introducing an episode, they help on the narrative, even while they afford repose to the attention by establishing a pause in the succession of the events. The narrative itself excited the admiration of the Greeks on two principal grounds; first, they pointed to the unrivalled skill and judgment of the poet in the construction of his plan and in grouping of all his incidents round one centre of action. But the second excellency is that with which we are now more immediately concerned. It is that power of vivid narration which they describe as bringing everything before the eyes (προ όμμάτων). No one can read Ηomer without ratifying their judgment in this particular; and the more closely we attend to him, the more we shall be convinced that this was not a mere accident of manner or language, but that Homer himself continually had this result before his mind as that towards which all his endeavours must be directed, and to the attainment of which he must adapt both manner and language. He understood his vocation as that of the story teller; and he felt that the highest form of the story was that in which men should appear not merely as the agents of events, but as speaking and thinking characters. This is shown by many signs; by the continual changes of scene, the distinct conception of the topography of Ilium and the camp, by his minuteness of detail, whether in describing the performance of a sacrifice, or the handling of a ship, or the selection of a robe for Pallas, or the effect of a spear-thrust; but in nothing is it so conspicuous as in his com
parisons. parisons. If these comparisons were always drawn from new objects, it might be pretended that they were brought in by way of ornament and display; but when we see him continually recurring to the same images, to the sea, or the torrent, or the beast of chase, the evident subordination of the thing described to the event which he intends to illustrate thereby, sufficiently shows his design. The object of these similitudes clearly is to present to the reader's mind some fact in which it is easy to conceive of brightness, or noise, or tumult, or some other phenomenon in its greatest intensity, in order that, with the imagination thus excited, we may the more vividly realise the sheen of the warrior's armour, or the clamour of the Grecian assembly, or the terror of the hero's onslaught. Now, if the poet aimed above all things at making his hearers realise every step in the narrative, we may expect that his style should be simple and flowing. Verbal tricks and conceits, inversions of phrase, interposed reflections, would necessarily demand the exercise of another faculty in his hearers, and interrupt that kind of imaginative attention which he deemed it his business to secure.
We do not insist upon this solely or principally by way of protest against the fond notion of seeking for sentiment and reflection in a poet in whom sentiment and reflection would be anachronisms, because it is pretty certain that this mode of dealing with him will go on in one form or another as long as there are persons who cannot admire a thing without straightway deifying it, and that Swift's observation will ever continue to hold good only in a more metaphysical form,
"That learned commentators view
In Homer, more than Homer knew,'but our wish is to show the connexion between the story and the style. With this view it is interesting to compare Homer with Herodotus, who wrote to gratify the same kind of curiosity, but in a higher stage of its development; and accordingly it is in the latter that we most frequently meet with that well known construction which is called the hyperbaton. In this construction the reason of the event is given before the event itself is narrated, so that we may mark the transition from the narrative to the argumentative style ; for while the reason is thought worthy of record, it is yet despatched in a clumsy and uncomplimentary way, that it may not interfere with the flow of the story which the writer considers to have a superior claim.
But to return to Homer. As the flow of his narrative required a simple and uninvolved construction, what was he to do if the facts to be recounted proved rebellious to the verse ? that
is to say, if the words expressive of the objects to be described would not “crown up the verse" without the help of some additional contrivance. In modern poetry the mode in which the difficulty is surmounted is a good test of the relative worth of the poets. If any one will take the trouble to look at the facsimile of the autograph of Milton's Ode at a Solemn Music, and will compare the splendid imagery and progressive force of the language in
Where the bright Seraphim, in burning row,
Their loud uplifted angel-trumpets blow,' : with the chevilles by which he at first contrived to fill up the gaps of the second line, he will see how the
difficulties of a great poet become his opportunities, or, in the words of Burke, that his antagonist is his helper. In the same way we are indebted to the exigencies of rhyme for many a pleasing surprise which has flashed out from the poet through collision with this kind of difficulty, for exemplification of which the student in the art of poetry may consult
, among other things, the fifth lines of many a stanza in Spenser. But in Homer the very simplicity of the style precludes this manner of satisfying metrical requirements by additional invention. Hence arose that remarkable feature in his language, the use of some constant poetical epithet in combination with certain words of frequent occurrence. The horse-feeding Argos, and sea-crossing ships,
nd Jove-nurtured kings, and many similar combinations, neither excite, nor can have been intended to excite, any image distinct from the same object unaccompanied by an epithet
. They either are the remains of an old poetic diction, of which Homer was the mere inheritor, or they were framed by him upon the model of such previous combination. They may be called decorative in so far that they serve to remind the hearer or reader that he is in the realm of poetry; but their metrical usefulness, and not their value as ornaments, was that which recommended them to successive generations of bards. Of the high antiquity of some we may judge by the epithets given to Apollo and Hera, "Εκατος and Boώπις, the one of which had already in Homer's time been transformed according to the dictates of a fanciful etymology; while the other, cow-faced, could never have been intended by the poet as a picture of the Goddess, but must have been adopted by him out of the language of priestly symbolism. How many more of these epical adjectives have been made to look Greek by assimilation of Greek roots from which they were not derived, is a question which must be for ever left undecided. Instead of speculating on the many instances that occur to us, we hasten to finish remarks upon Vol. 117.-No. 233.