The Iliadby Homer
In the spring of 1862 I was induced, at the request of some personal friends, to print, for private circulation only, a small volume of "Translations of Poems Ancient and Modern," in which was included the first Book of the Iliad. The opinions expressed by some competent judges of the degree of success which had attended this "attempt to infuse into an almost literal English version something of the spirit, as well as the simplicity, of the great original," [Footnote: Introduction to unpublished volume.] were sufficiently favourable to encourage me to continue the work which I had begun. It has afforded me, in the intervals of more urgent business, an unfailing, and constantly increasing source of interest; and it is not without a feeling of regret at the completion of my task, and a sincere diffidence as to its success, that I venture to submit the result of my labour to the ordeal of public criticism.
Various causes, irrespective of any demerits of the work itself, forbid me to anticipate for this translation any extensive popularity. First, I fear that the taste for, and appreciation of, Classical Literature, are greatly on the decline; next, those who have kept up their classical studies, and are able to read and enjoy the original, will hardly take an interest in a mere translation; while the English reader, unacquainted with Greek, will naturally prefer the harmonious versification and polished brilliancy of Pope's translation; with which, as a happy adaptation of the Homeric story to the spirit of English poetry, I have not the presumption to enter into competition. But, admirable as it is, Pope's Iliad can hardly be said to be Homer's Iliad; and there may be some who, having lost the familiarity with the original language which they once possessed, may, if I have at all succeeded in my attempt, have recalled to their minds a faint echo of the strains which delighted their earlier days, and may recognize some slight trace of the original perfume.
Numerous as have been the translators of the Iliad, or of parts of it, the metres which have been selected have been almost as various: the ordinary couplet in rhyme, the Spenserian stanza, the Trochaic or Ballad metre, all have had their partisans, even to that "pestilent heresy" of the so-called English Hexameter; a metre wholly repugnant to the genius of our language; which can only be pressed into the service by a violation of every rule of prosody; and of which, notwithstanding my respect for the eminent men who have attempted to naturalize it, I could never read ten lines without being irresistibly reminded of Canning's
Dactylics call'st thou them? God help thee, silly one!
But in the progress of this work, I have been more and more confirmed in the opinion which I expressed at its commencement, that (whatever may be the extent of my own individual failure) "if justice is ever to be done to the easy flow and majestic simplicity of the grand old Poet, it can only be in the Heroic blank verse." I have seen isolated passages admirably rendered in other metres; and there are many instances in which a translation line for line and couplet for couplet naturally suggests itself, and in which it is sometimes difficult to avoid an involuntary rhyme; but the blank verse appears to me the only metre capable of adapting itself to all the gradations, if I may use the term, of the Homeric style; from the finished poetry of the numerous similes, in which every touch is nature, and nothing is overcoloured or exaggerated, down to the simple, almost homely, style of some portions of the narrative. Least of all can any other metre do full justice to the spirit and freedom of the various speeches, in which the old warriors give utterance, without disguise or restraint, to all their strong and genuine emotions. To subject these to the trammels of couplet and rhyme would be as destructive of their chief characteristics, as the application of a similar process to the Paradise Lost of Milton, or the tragedies of Shakespeare; the effect indeed may be seen by comparing, with some of the noblest speeches of the latter, the few couplets which he seems to have considered himself bound by custom to tack on to their close, at the end of a scene or an act.
I have adopted, not without hesitation, the Latin, rather than the Greek, nomenclature for the Heathen Deities. I have been induced to do so from the manifest incongruity of confounding the two; and from the fact that though English readers may be familiar with the names of Zeus, or Aphrodite, or even Poseidon, those of Hera, or Ares, or Hephaestus, or Leto, would hardly convey to them a definite signification.
It has been my aim throughout to produce a translation and not a paraphrase; not indeed such a translation as would satisfy, with regard to each word, the rigid requirements of accurate scholarship; but such as would fairly and honestly give the sense and spirit of every passage, and of every line; omitting nothing, and expanding nothing; and adhering, as closely as our language will allow, ever to every epithet which is capable of being translated, and which has, in the particular passage, anything of a special and distinctive character. Of the many deficiencies in my execution of this intention, I am but too conscious; whether I have been in any degree successful, must be left to the impartial decision of such of the Public as may honour this work with their perusal.
Knowsley, Oct., 1864