Ancient Cultures Literature Translations of the Iliad by Homer
Faced with such a rich array of choices, a neophyte seeking the “right” translation or a teacher in search of a class room text has good reason to worry about an attack of consumer anxiety. Presumably anyone in search of a translation has to begin by rejecting Boswell’s notion (often repeated by later students of the questions) that translation is inherently impossible. We may not be able to get the exact equivalent of Homer’s poem, whatever that means exactly (since the surviving official text is clearly not exactly the same poem Homer composed and since virtually all those dealing with the Iliad are reading it silently at home rather than listening to a professional bard singing the text at a large group feast), but with a judicious sense of the limits of the translator’s artistic license we can get close enough to it to satisfy ourselves that we are dealing with Homer or at least an acceptable form of the original.
That same year, Henry Jenkins published Textual Poachers, that seminal work of ethnographic fan studies that demonstrates the impact of fan culture on the reception of texts in popular media. Translation studies many scholars have been expanding the definition of "translation" as a theoretical construct. In Enlarging Translation, Empowering Translators (2007), for example, Maria Tymoczko highlights some non-Western conceptions of what we term "translation" in English, such as rupantar ("to change in form") and anuvad ("speaking after") in India, tarjama ("definition") in Arabic, and tapia and kowa in Igbo, both of which mean a variation of "break apart and tell again" (Tymoczko 2007, 68–71). As far back as 1959, Roman Jakobson defined three different kinds of translation: interlingual, which is the traditional definition, the transfer of meaning from one language to another; intralingual, which is the transfer of meaning between two sign systems within the same language, such as a modern English translation of Chaucer; and intersemiotic, which Jakobson rather weakly described as the transfer of verbal signs into a nonverbal sign system, giving the example of translating "verbal art into music, dance, cinema, or painting" (Jakobson 1959, 238). In the decades since, and especially with the advent of the Internet, intersemiotic translation has become much richer than Jakobson could have imagined. It can be argued that every piece of online fan fiction is an intersemiotic translation—from cinema, television, or animation to text, but also from static text to hypertext and from the sign system of traditional literary work to the particular sign system of fan work, with its codes for genre, tagging norms, and assumption of audience familiarity with fan culture at large.
The Iliad has remained a touchstone for Western culture because it honestly explores essential conflicts of the human condition without condescending to its readers by providing easy answers. Its raw power and beauty has ensured that we’ve kept mulling over its challenges nearly three millennia later.
Homer, Alexander Pope, and Maynard Mack. 1967. The Iliad of Homer. London: Methuen.
Jakobson, Roman. 1959. "On Linguistic Aspects of Translation." In On Translation, edited by Reuben A. Brower, 232–39. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge.