Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

George Chapman, 1559 - 1634
I have been thinking a bit about translated books, and often wonder do I love the author of this novel or the translator?  I was never quite sure and now I am even more unsure after switching from the audio version of Anna Karenina to my kindle version and the difference in writing is quite obvious.  I am really surprised.

I thought I loved Haruki Murakami but do I really  love Jay Rubin for The Wind-up Bird Chronicle or Philip Gabriel for Kafka on the Shore?  Maybe Koji Suzuki's The Spiral was an okay novel and I just didn't like Glynne Walley's writing style (though the story was so ridiculous that I can't believe that it did get 'lost in translation').

What is the criteria when translating a novel? Is it like the X-Factor where you pick a song and then 'make it your own?'  Can I really say I love Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy - have I REALLY REALLY read them?  It's a subject that I actually wish I hadn't started thinking about!!

My latest translated read, apart from Anna Karenina, is of course Homer's The Iliad.  I'm on Book Six now and can honestly say that I look forward to lying in bed of an evening, reading the study guide notes for the verses I'm to read and then just reveling in the language.  My version is George Chapman's, and although there are many other later translations that may be easier to read, I think I will continue with this one.  The poet Keats was so taken with what he had read by Chapman that he wrote a sonnet about it and I want to read that version which so inspired him. 

Keats, 1795 - 1821
On First Looking into Chapman's Homer
 Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
 And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
 Round many western islands have I been
 Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
 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:
 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 star'd at the Pacific — and all his men
 Look'd at each other with a wild surmise —
 Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

                                         John Keats, 1816

I would love to know your thoughts on the best and worst of translated novels and translators.

Happy Reading All.



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  2. Hi Maxine, sounds like you're in for a heavy month! I'm afraid I tend to buy the classics by price (thank you Penguin) so the translator is low down the list of criteria. I've tried literature in French and German - they sound better but my comprehension is too limited to enjoy - I can't stand nipping backwards and forwards to a language dictionary.

    And you have me thinking of Wodehouse now - the "stout Cortez" line is a Jeevesism.

  3. He he “Jeeves, who was the fellow who on looking at something felt like somebody looking at something?” Classic!