Features May 2011
On the “finest critic of Classical literature in English translation since Matthew Arnold.”
Keats’s emphasis—that it was Chapman’s voice, and not Homer’s only, that he heard speak out loud and strong—exposes a gulf between him and us. It has implications for literary culture, English poetry, and the survival of the Classics.
Keats knew perfectly well that in reading Chapman’s Homer he was not reading the Iliad. Those rolling rhymed fourteeners, those pauses and those plunges, those metrical inversions: that is Chapman’s sound, not Homer’s. Yet Keats was pleased rather than perturbed. Chapman’s job, he knew, was not to give us Homer, who exists nowhere but in the original Greek. Not that Chapman was writing an autonomous poem in English, ontologically independent of Homer’s. But neither did he produce a crib, and much of what is good in Chapman’s translation can be understood as distinct from what it strictly owes to Homer. An original energy...
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