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The Odyssey
Book
1997
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Although today epic is often used to suggest the expansive, exhaustive, and possibly overblown, Tolstoy was so impressed by the economy of the father of the form that it caused him to look critically at his own vast works. The greatest strength of Fagles' Homeric translations is that they do nothing to slow the narrative. If anything, they argue that, used well, verse can move faster than prose. Musically, though, they strike the ear as a little ugly. They do not have the strange, hieratic quality (so perfect for the Iliad) of Richmond Lattimore's translation, the strange, off-center power of Alan Mandlebaum's, or the Shakespearean resonance of Robert Fitzgerald's. And some of Fagles' strategies (his italicized pronouns and very modern colloquialisms) seem obvious and contrived. Still, Fagles' Odyssey is the one to put into the hands of younger, first-time readers, not least because of its paucity of notes, which, though sometimes frustrating, is a sign that translation has been used to do the work of explanation. Altogether, an outstanding piece of work. --Stuart Whitwell
Summary
If the Iliad is the world's greatest war epic, then the Odyssey is literature's grandest evocation of everyman's journey through life. Odysseus' reliance on his wit and wiliness for survival in his encounters with divine and natural forces, during his ten-year voyage home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, is at once the timeless human story and an individual test of moral endurance. In the myths and legends that are retold here, Fagles has captured the energy and poetry of Homer's original in a bold, contemporary idiom, and given us an Odyssey to read aloud, to savour, and to treasure for its sheer lyrical mastery. Renowned classicist Bernard Knox's superb Introduction and textual commentary provide new insights and background information for the general reader and scholar alike, intensifying the strength of Fagles' introduction. This is an Odyssey to delight both the classicist and the public at large, and to captivate a new generation of Homer's students.
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