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Chapman's Homer and higher, visual language

The Homeric epics depict kings in action on the Way...

I'd resolved to read through the George Chapman Elizabethan era translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey, then I began to seek reasons not to make that effort (the verse is somewhat slow-going), then I said I'll read another translation because I really just want to download the Homeric epics to get that language and ethic reinfused in me (like I do at certain stages of time and development), so I scanned through several other translations I have, but then I realized none of them are what Chapman gives, and I need to read the most inspired translation at this point. Chapman may seem overrated (everything can once you begin to actually spend time with it and engage it), but even if just for his unique renderings like 'his mind's seat' for his intellect or forehead, that type of thing, it's worth going through Chapman and picking up that language, especially when you already know the poems well enough to follow the more difficult Elizabethan verse.

So I am reading Chapman's Homer complete.

I made a list of things I have to do. Reading Chapman's Homer is at the top of it. Because Homer is higher, visual language, and is so powerful and complete a language (which, once you have it inside you to ever greater clarity and degree, you can see new things in yourself and in the world around you and above you that you couldn't see without having the higher, visual language inside you to begin with to be able to see it and translate it, so to speak) it is really of course more than just merely reading another book. It's like reading the Bible complete. In that category, if not that ultimate level.

Homer, as complete language, also consolidates knowledge and understanding you have taken in and developed since the last reading. It gathers and draws all 'parts' into the whole that the complete language of the two poems is; and it puts all those parts into an order.

Just as the four cardinal virtues represent complete virtue in all parts of the being (fortitude = body; temperance = emotion; prudence = intellect) and then the fourth - justice - tempers them all into a unity and balance while keeing each part contained. That kind of consolidating and tempering role is played by a complete higher, visual language which the Homeric epics represent at the highest, most inspired level (the Bible being in a totally different category, of course, the very saving Word of God, though similar in effect in this limited aspect).

ps- If you're new to the Homeric epics Chapman wouldn't be a good choice. You really have to know the poems well to follow them in Chapman. Stanley Lombardo has made the best, I think, simple translations of the Iliad and Odyssey in recent years. They are street level yet at the same time real, complete, faithful translations. It's hard to over-praise them for what they attempt to do. They are very successful.


Blogger Jeff said...

I find your love of the broad, world-enfolding literary canvas fascinating. Almost all the literature you really love--even to Bunyan and Vanity Fair--is like this.

It reminds me of the argument between Sibelius and Mahler about the nature of the symphony. Sibelius remarked that he admired the inward logic of the symphony in which everything develops from a small common thematic source. Mahler said, "No, the symphony must be like the world: it must embrace everything." Somehow, though, I'm guessing you don't much care for Mahler and I know you like Sibelius...

I love Chapman's verse, but in the epics it seems to me it comes out more Chapman than Homer. He's too obscure, too idiomatic; I end up feeling like I'm reading a long poem by Chapman, based on the Homeric originals. But to each his own; you're in good company if you agree with Keats.

What do you think of Coverdale? I've been reading his psalms and am struck by how much more MODERN they often seem than the Authorized.

And what do you think of the Philips NT translation? For a modern attempt, I mean...

December 6, 2005 at 8:43 PM  
Blogger c.t. said...

I havn't read Coverdale, but will make the effort now that you mention it. Nor have I read Philips.

You're right sensing I wouldn't be too fond of Mahler's music (I once described them as having a poisoned soundworld). Having said that like many people it was Mahler that was one of my main introductions to higher music. I think maybe because he is sometimes marketed as cool classical music. Plus some of those nicknames for some of his symphonies tend to attract beginners looking for certain things...

Awhile back I made an effort to listen to all of Mahler's symphonies again attempting to be objective and fair in my assessment (after I'd called his music names), and I came away ultimately with the same overall impression. Not as vitriolic maybe, but not impressed.

I have to defend Chapman in this sense: his versions are unique in that he contains influence associated with the 'Elizabethan school', if one can call it that. It's a inspired school. He himself stated he wanted to present the 'mysticke meaning' in Homer. So, even though it may not be a good all-purpose, general English translation of Homer it is definitely 'something' of value for what it is and what it is trying to do. I've read enough in extract to have a feeling or sense of the value of Chapman's translations...

On broad-canvas literay works... I am, ultimately, drawn to finding ultimate influences for different categories and genres and types of works and so on. I do see understanding in seeing the parts in relation to the whole, so to see the whole is important (but that doesn't mean, though, that I show less attention to, or interest in, the parts). But I see what you're saying...

December 6, 2005 at 10:20 PM  

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