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What makes these translations different and how do they compare
with other translations of the 20th century?

The major characteristic of Mr. Johnston’s translation, apart from the closeness to the original, is its clarity. It is much clearer to read, especially for students, than any other translation we have found. This is, in large part, a matter of modern diction—simple, direct language and a familiar verse rhythm, very much in the spirit of Homer, without any words not in current usage. Most other translations, especially Fagles, deliberately add elements of an outdated vocabulary or verse form which does appeal to some readers and, as such, would be more appropriate for that readership. At the same time, the diction in these new translations never use modern slangy colloquialisms which appear sometimes in Lombardo. The layout on the page is also somewhat different and easy on the eye, certainly much more visual variety than in any prose translation or in most poetic translations, especially Lattimore’s.

Ian Johnston’s translation is very faithful to the Greek original, though not a line-by-line fidelity. It is certainly closer to the original than Fitzgerald, Fagles or Lombardo. Lattimore’s translation is also very close to the original in that he stays line for line with the original and strives to keep the same meter, but this makes an awkward English reading and is, in places, difficult to follow. Ian Johnston’s translation is particularly suitable for students who want a complete and accurate text in fluent English, a language of plain, direct poetry without embellishments from English literary styles.

The most famous comment about translating Homeric works comes from Matthew Arnold. “The translator of Homer should above all be penetrated by a sense of four qualities of his author:—that he is eminently rapid; that he is eminently plain and direct both in the evolution of his thought and in the expression of it, that is, both in his syntax and in his words; that he is eminently plain and direct in the substance of his thought, that is, in his matter and ideas; and, finally, that he is eminently noble.”

The new translations by Ian Johnston meet the first three of these criteria: it is rapid, plain, and direct. We have not found another translation in verse that is as rapid, plain, and direct. And “nobility” is (as Lattimore observed) not something one can put into a style. It is up to the reader to decide if the result is “noble.”

No one can determine the “beauty” of one's product for another. That is for the reader to evaluate. But we feel that in Mr. Johnston’s translations we have the opportunity to present verse that lives up to all of Mr. Arnold’s criteria for a well-translated Homeric text. We have certainly accomplished what has proven to be a popular version of his work, both in the eyes of both the students who have read them and in the eyes of his many peers and other scholars of the classics. It is with immense pride that we present these texts to the popular and the academic world. It is our hope that these texts help bring Homer more broadly to the English speaking world.





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