D'oh! It's all Greek to me.
June 4, 2010 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Good editions of the Iliad and the Odyssey for a 12-year-old?

My bright 12-year-old stepdaughter fell in love with Greek myth through her middle school Latin class and the Percy Jackson books. My husband bought a fairly basic collection of myths for his Kindle (I don't know the edition off the top of my head) and she enjoyed that.

She mentioned to me the other night that someday she would like to actually read the Iliad and the Odyssey. I loved hearing that but don't necessarily know the best way to help her along with it, since I'm all about contemporary literature and don't know nearly as much about the old stuff.

Can anyone recommend an accessible translation for someone her age? I don't necessarily mean a kids' version--I don't think I need to "dumb down" or anything like that--but something that's clear, easily readable, and story-focused, rather than scholarly. Bookseller links welcome.
posted by dlugoczaj to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey by Robert Fagles are excellent. (There's an audio version of at least one of those that's read by Ian McKellen, so consider that as well.)
posted by Prospero at 12:02 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

This doesn't really answer your question, but if she hasn't read Edith Hamilton's Mythology I highly recommend it. I read that thing over and over all throughout junior high.
posted by something something at 12:04 PM on June 4, 2010

Lattimore's translation is also good. I study ancient history and end up having to re-read the Odyssey every year or so, and I have no complaints about Lattimore.

(You didn't ask, but your step-daughter will probably find the Odyssey more accessible, and might want to read it first, even though it's a sequel of sorts to the Iliad. It has more adventure, less rage, and covers a lot of interesting mythological and non-mythological people and places)
posted by oinopaponton at 12:06 PM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

This site has excerpts of different translations. Keep in mind the original was written in verse which, in my opinion, isn't the most accessible way to take in narrative fiction at 12. So you two will need to make a decision: discard the verse entirely and read it in a prose translation? Leave it in verse and discard the meter? The rhyme?

Personally, I'd suggest starting with a prose translation although by no means ending there. A 12-year-old reader, no matter how precocious, may just get frustrated trying to comprehend the "beauty" verse translations attempt to preserve.
posted by griphus at 12:07 PM on June 4, 2010

I think the Fagles translation of the Odyssey is popular with high-schoolers.* You can get an unabridged version of that translation read out loud by Ian McKellen for under $40. (Out loud is fun with Homer. In college I went to some marathon readings, both in Greek and in English, and it is a great way to experience the poetry, which is oral after all. Or was until someone wrote it down.)

*But I think the best way to pick a translation is to go into a bookstore that has a lot of different ones, and read the first few pages of each until you find one you get along with. Or if you can get samples on your Kindle, do that. Same with the Iliad vs. the Odyssey; there is some point to reading the Iliad first, but it's OK to read the Odyssey first and she should pick the one that appeals more on sampling.
posted by BibiRose at 12:14 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is no doubt that Oinopaponton is right re: accessibility of the Odyssey. I can also second the Lattimore edition. I bought mine at a used shop on a rec from the owner and it's pretty strong.

If you start her with the Iliad, just remind her--it's okay to skim those multi-page lists of names near the beginning of the action.
posted by dervish at 12:20 PM on June 4, 2010

Best answer: Start her with the Odyssey. It's easy to conflate the two poems in your head because they're both ancient Greek, but I find them to be quite different and I find the Odyssey to be much easier to get into. The Robert Fitzgerald translation of the Odyssey is good reading. I read it in eighth grade for school and loved it. It's got a long forward, but no footnotes, so your stepdaughter could just skip the scholarly stuff. It's also a verse translation, but I believe--I've never gotten the hang of scanning English verse--that it's in unrhymed iambic pentameter. That means it has a pleasing sort of rhythm but doesn't contort word order in order to rhyme. I've always personally disliked the prose translations of the Odyssey, because part of what makes it cool is that the language is so beautiful, and since Homer was reciting it, he uses all sorts of repetition and other sign posts to help keep the listener/reader from getting lost.

Also, Sir Ian McKellen reads the entire Odyssey and it's awesome. With some of the trickier bits of language, etc, I find it can be helpful to listen to someone who understands what it means reading it aloud. McKellen reads the Fagle translation, which is also engaging reading.
posted by colfax at 12:21 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Christopher Logue has "translated" versions of particular books of the Iliad. I put quotes around translated because he's actually just rewritten the poetry based on other English versions.

The stuff he's done is by no means anywhere near a literal translation, but they're really good. He creates contemporary references to make really neat visuals for the reader. His most popular book is All Day Permanent Red, which alludes to all the blood spilled in the battles, but also to the Revlon lipstick color.

Here's a typical passage:

Think of a raked sky-wide Venetian blind.
Add the receding traction of its slats
Of its slats of its slats as a hand draws it up.
Hear the Greek army getting to its feet.

I love this bit. Comparing the sound of an army standing up to a venetian blind is just brilliant.

So anyway, I wouldn't recommend Logue as an intro to Homer's epics, but he's certainly fun to read once you're familiar with the stories.
posted by nushustu at 12:23 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Fagles translations are very, very good—readable, poetic, and (based on what little Greek I remember) accurate.

Fagles also did a good translation of the Aeneid, which I read when I was around twelve. Virgil's Aeneid is slightly shorter than either of Homer's epics. If she's already taking Latin, though, she might enjoy an edition that has the original text side-by-side with an English translation, like the Loeb editions.
posted by paulg at 12:33 PM on June 4, 2010

The Fagles translations are just fantastic, pulsing with life. If she digs a lot of the God-stories, though, you might pick her up a translation of The Homeric Hymns, which are short enough that she can read like one per day.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:48 PM on June 4, 2010

I'm going to say something that will probably be unpopular.... But for a twelve-year-old reading the Illiad, Lombardo's translation might just be the way to go. Some people dislike its uncompromisingly modern vocabulary and it's war-movie-inspired take on some of the dialog. But if you're looking for faithful verse translation with maximum accessibility and clarity to a modern American reader, this is the book you want.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:58 PM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Another vote for Fagles here.

I didn't know that Ian McKellan did a reading of it. Now I know what I want for Christmas!
posted by kanewai at 1:36 PM on June 4, 2010

She's probably a bit old for it at 12, but Mary Pope Osborne (of Magic Treehouse fame) did a six-volume kid's version of the Odyssey that I was pretty impressed by. (link to vol. 1)

My son and I read a kid's version of the Aeneid aloud together a few years back. I can't remember exactly what it was, but I suspect it was this one, by Alfred Church. I see that he has produced similar volumes on the Iliad and Odyssey, so those might fit the bill.

(By the way, The Aeneid deserves to be on this list too, especially for a girl, since Dido plays such a big role.)
posted by richyoung at 1:43 PM on June 4, 2010

My 13 year old is reading the Fagles edition now. She seems to be enjoying it.
posted by milarepa at 1:45 PM on June 4, 2010

Wow, that Lombardo translation is amazingly powerful.

My heart is thudding and I'm ready for the fight!
posted by jamjam at 1:51 PM on June 4, 2010

Nthing Fagles. I had to read The Odyssey recently for a class I was teaching, and I was dreading it based on my memories of hating in high school, but the Fagles translation was just wonderful.
posted by pluckemin at 1:51 PM on June 4, 2010

Response by poster: OK--looked like enough folks were recommending Fagles (especially for her age) that that's the one I went ahead and ordered. (Although I admit I found the excerpts of the Lombardo appealing--maybe I'll try to find that in a library and we can talk a little about the joys of differing translations. She already "gets" narrative revisionism, so this might be a more sophisticated step forward.)

And yes, I was leaning toward starting her with the Odyssey anyway, given my own experience, and the fact that she already knows some of the plotline, which will probably reduce any frustration.

Thanks all!
posted by dlugoczaj at 2:26 PM on June 4, 2010

I recently reread the Iliad and Odyssey, and I feel that Lombardo for Iliad and Fagles for Odyssey is the way to go.

(self-link: I posted the first lines of the Odyssey from Lombardo, Fitzgerald, and Fagles here.)
posted by betweenthebars at 2:37 PM on June 4, 2010

Previously, for what it's worth.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:11 PM on June 4, 2010

Also previously, though not with the specific reader requirements.
posted by holgate at 4:56 PM on June 4, 2010

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