Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christopher Logue

A few years back I took a stab at learning some Classical Greek.  I didn't cover myself with glory: my purpose was to read Thucydides and I found out only after I had embarked that Thucydides is hard, some of the toughest Greek going, perhaps deliberately and perversely so.    I never really have conquered him (though I  can put in a good word Blaise Nagy's excellent student reader).  But perhaps unexpectedly, I found that Homer wasn't that-all hard: the vocabulary is huge but the grammar is relatively simple and so much of the presentation is formulaic that once you make yourself at home with the formulae, things begin to go smoothly.

And here is another undocumented feature.  I developed a new ear for translation, particularly the translations of the great age in English literature--North, Chapman, Dryden, Golding and so forth who did so much to discover who we are.   And the moderns: learning to read bits of Homer helped me to see that Lattimore (for example) though perhaps a bit pedestrian as a poet, is actually a pretty conscientious trot.  And Fitzgerald: they say there is too much Fitzgerald in Fitzgerald's Homer.  For the Iliad, this is probably true.  But I'd say that Fitzgerald's slightly off-kilter sensibility catches the slightly off-kilter sensibility of the Odyssey pretty well--but then, for my taste, I'd say the prose translation of Walter  Shewring works even better.   Fact is, I haven't ever read a translation of the Iliad, however rewarding, that catches (what I take to be) the flavor of the original quite so well as Shewring or even Fitzgerald does for the Odyssey.

All of which is a long way to a short point: the extraordinary, unmatchable work of Christopher Logue, the British poet who produced what is to my mind (and I am hardly alone) they most convincing rendition of the Iliad in English.  Logue (who died last week at 85) called his work an "account;" others might call it an "homage," like what Ezra Pound did with the Chinese.  The NYT says that Logue's work "loosed the wrath of scholastic purists and some critics," but I'd take that with a large grain of salt.   In the next breath, the Times says "it was overwhelmingly lauded — even by classicists — for the combined power of its luminous language, cinematic imagery and hurtling pace."

I was going to reprint a sample here.  But I don't think I can improve on the sample provided with the Times obit here.  Go to the left-hand-column; read the comparative samples from Fitzgerald, Fagles and Logue.  I think you'll agree that the Fitzgerald and the Fagles are straightforward, workmanlike exposition, and that the Logue is in a class by itself.  

1 comment:

Davis X. Machina said...

Lattimore for both. There is no second.