SeniorLearn Q&A with Dr. Stanley Lombardo about His Translation of the Iliad

October 2004

Following are questions asked of Dr. Lombardo by participants in our discussion of his book and his thoughtful responses.

  1. SeniorLearn Books: "A wooly menace, A Dream" (2: 10) You are the only translator we have found who used this term and we love it. What is the Greek and what made you choose wooly menace? Fitzgerald says "fatal dream" (Pat H.)

    Will Dr. Lombardo tell us about the word involved here? And then there is Agamemnon's dream. Is that parody? Or the beginning of a long tradition in which Freud rang another change? Translating it as a 'wooly menace' is certainly doing it with poetic inspiration. One can conjure with that. Just as suggestive are Fitzgerald's 'fatal dream', already mentioned; Chapman's 'pernicious dream'; Hammond's 'evil dream'. (Jonathan and Joan)

    SL: "A wooly menace, a Dream" (2.10) The word That I translate here as "menace" (and Fitzgerald as "fatal") is a homonym for a word meaning "curly, wooly." Sometimes I translate a word or phrase in such a way as to bring out suggestive associations latent in the Greek. Freud is very good on the relation between myth and dreams: both express our fears and desires.

  2. SeniorLearn Books: In Book 2 line 504, you don't use italics for the simile, why not? This occurs several times in the text, is there a reason why some similes are set off in italics and others not?

    SL: The one-line simile at 2.504 is not italicized. I usually italicize only the longer similes, the ones that develop a poetic life of their own and draw us into themselves.

  3. SeniorLearn Books: How to pronounce Eumelus? In Lombardo's line the emphasis sounds good on the first syllable. In Chapman an emphasis on the second sounds right. It makes such a difference in one's enjoyment of the lines if these strange names can be made to roll off one's tongue. (Jonathan)

    SL: Pronunciation of Eumelus: I like Yoo-MEE-los. There is no canon of pronunciation of Greek names in English. Sometimes I don't agree with the pronunciations given in the glossary of my own translation, but those given would be acceptable to most classicists.

  4. SeniorLearn Books: In the back of the Fagles book, there is a pronouncing glossary; and since I know no Greek, I keep flipping back to find out how to pronounce the names. I try to guess the pronunciation and then check to see if I guessed right. But I also have Dr. Vandiver's tapes, and her pronunciations are not the same as Fagles'. She will use a short where Fagles uses a long i. Which is correct? Or are they both correct? (Shasta)

    SL: There is a range of acceptable pronunciations. Long "i" generally reflects a British pronunciation.

  5. SeniorLearn Books: 'Sing, Goddess.' Mark the capital G, in Dr Lombardo's translation. And what a wonderful translation. It would seem that Homer has, with that capital G, one of the muses in mind. One of the nine. Why not name her? (Jonathan)

    SL: The Muses have names as early as Hesiod, who is roughly contemporary with Homer, but their functions are not distinguished until much later. I don't think Homer has any one of the nine Muses in mind here or in the opening line of the Odyssey. In the Odyssey I translate "Speak, Memory..." The Muse is the Mind, which is what the word actually means in Greek (originally MONT-YA, the MONT being the same Indo-European base as Latin MENT, Eng. MIND).

  6. SeniorLearn Books: You said in the interview that you have memorized Book I, how could any human being memorize this huge book? How do you envision the old storytellers telling this story, would they use notes of some kind? The details are staggering.

    SL: As I say in the Translator's Preface, the powers of the human memory are vastly under-rated these days. The more you memorize the easier it gets. It is entirely plausible to me that an individual could hold all of the Iliad and Odyssey in his or her mind.

  7. SeniorLearn Books: What does haekwang mean? We were so excited to see you in the discussion we forgot to ask!

    SL: Hae Kwang is my Buddhist name. The Chinese words mean "wisdom-light."

  8. SeniorLearn Books: We are having a continuing debate; no source we have consulted has been accepted as authoritative, everyone wants to turn to you on this question of Agamemnon's authority?

    What right does Agamemnon have to be the leader of the combined Greek forces? In Book 4 line 306, Agamemnon tells Odysseus, "I would be out of line if I issued you orders." Can you describe what Agamemnon's role really was and if Achilles WAS challenging him in Book II? Here is one theory, will you comment on it?

    I have recently read a history book: "A Distant Mirror" by Barbara Tuchman, about France in the 14th century. I am extremely struck by the parallels between the ideas of "chivalry" in the middle ages and the description of the Greek army in the Iliad two thousand years earlier: the ideals and the way in which the army was organized and used. It helped me understand a lot of things about the Iliad. The first thing is that Greece was not a country. There was no overall leader and organization: instead our "heroes" are a lot of independent kings in independent kingdoms who aren't used to taking orders from anyone. Even when they band together, under a nominal "leader", they have no idea of the modern concept that in war there should be one commander and everyone should obey them. To these kings, their personal honor and dignity was too important to allow them to be subservient to anyone. Agamemnon is more like the chair of a committee than a military leader, and they obey him when they feel like it. This proved a disaster in medieval France, and may do so here too. They reveal that Mycenaean society was complex and highly specialized (from a separately functioning king and commander in chief down to distinctions between crafts whose meaning we can now only guess at), and also that it was strictly controlled form the top"

    This is the opposite of what I thought: that these were independent kings. I was going by the sense of the Iliad, I am not an historian, I would like to hear Dr. Lombardo's take on this. (Joan K)

    Let's ask Dr. Lombardo about that: Dr. Lombardo, I would be interested in your comments on JoanK's parallels between the Greek warfare and the 14th century. (Pat H.)

    SL: Barbara Tuchman's description of the political structure of chivalric Europe makes an excellent parallel for Iliadic Greece, but there was less structure and more independence in the Greece Homer represents. Another parallel might be the old mafia families, with Agamemnon being the "capo di tutti capi."

  9. SeniorLearn Books: ou quoted Herodotus as saying Homer gave the Greeks their Gods, is Homer the ultimate source for Greek mythology? IS the Iliad then the oldest reference to the Greek gods? We have read excerpts of " Herodotus and religion in the Persian war" in the Classical review by Jon D. Mikalson, and would like to know your thoughts on the origin of Greek mythology: ARE we looking at it?

    SL: You have to look at Hesiod, too, especially Theogony, for the origins of Greek mythology. What Herofotis said was that Homer and Hesiod gave the Greeks their gods. Maybe I didn't mention Hesiod in the interview.

  10. SeniorLearn Books: Homer seems to treat both sides of the Trojan War with respect. Do you feel this was because he wished to please his audience or does it have a different meaning?

    SL: Homer treats everything with respect, even inanimate objects. This is to me the most attractive aspect of his mind.

  11. SeniorLearn Books: I recently read a translation of "The Song of Songs" with many notes on the original Hebrew. The translator noted that there were some words that only appeared in one place, and nowhere else in all the literature. So unless the root was recognizable, translators had to simply guess from the context what was meant. Does this occur in the Iliad? (Joan K)

    SL: Words occurring only once are called hapax legomena (sing: legomenon). There are many of these in Homer, but context usually makes the meaning pretty clear.

  12. SeniorLearn Books: "Thus Hector." 6:299. We love this expression, and do not notice it in other translators, what is the Greek for it and what made you think of this particular expression?

    SL: "Thus Hector." Homer usually introduces his speeches with an entire line. I usually translate this line in its entirety. After a speech the typical phrase is something like "Thus he spoke." I usually leave this out or leave out the verb and put in the name of the speaker. I like the finality of it, the summary quality.

  13. SeniorLearn Books: Book 3: 50: "but comes up short on offence and defense"...what is the Greek here, we love this: this is wonderfully descriptive.

    SL: Homer actually has words for "offensive strength" and "defensive strength" : bie and alke (pronounce the "e" in both words), both qualities being important in warfare (and football).

  14. SeniorLearn Books: How many words in Greek mean "rage" or "anger" and does the word used in connection with Achilles have a special meaning?

    SL: The word for Achilles' rage, the first word of the Iliad in Greek, is menis, which is related to our "mania." Another common word is kholos, which is used to describe Agamemnon's anger, and which literally means "bile."

  15. SeniorLearn Books: Did you select the book cover? What made you think of that image if so? If not, did you think it appropriate?

    SL: Brian Rak, the editor at Hackett, and I picked the Iliad cover, the Odyssey cover, and the cover of my forthcoming Aeneid. All are black and white photographs representing iconic moments in American culture that resonate deeply with the subject of each epic, The landing at Normandy for the Iliad, the earth rising over the lunar horizon for the Odyssey, and the Vietnam Memorial for the Aeneid.

  16. SeniorLearn Books: Achilles is not mentioned in Book V or VI, yet the poem is about the Rage of Achilles. How do these chapters pertain to Achilles?

    SL: Achilles is sitting out the war, nursing his anger. suspense is building. He'll be back. Meanwhile we are seeing the consequences of his rage in what is happening on the battlefield.

  17. SeniorLearn Books: What a brutal battle!! I am not finished Book Five. I struggle with the names. Still, I come away knowing there is a very, very bloody battle taking place here. If possible, I could almost feel the spears hitting me and blood running from some wound... The injury and death is described so well I cringe. I'd love Dr. Lombardo to chime in about the actuality of the warfare, how it differed, how it was the same as modern warfare from the perspective of the soldier? (Kleo)

    SL: The battle in Iliad 5-6 is really something, but the one day of warfare in Iliad 11-18, is the mother of all battles. I've never been in battle, so I don't know what it is like personally, but I do think that the experience of the combat soldier is universal (hence the relevance of the cover photograph).

  18. SeniorLearn Books: What is the Greek word for Fate? Which is the dominant theme in this book, Rage or Fate?

    SL: The main Greek word for Fate is Moira, which means one's destined allotment, what is due to happen to you. In the opening lines of the poem everything that is going to happen is ascribed to "the will of Zeus," which is another way of expressing the notion of Fate (although Zeus' relation to fate will come up in a critical way in Iliad 16).

  19. SeniorLearn Books: In Book 6 on line 173ff we read:

    But he sent him to Lycia with a folding tablet On which he had scratched many evil signs...

    Fagles reads, "but he quickly sent him off to Lycia, gave him tokens, murderous signs, scratched in a folded tablet, and many of them too, enough to kill a man." Fagles said the Greek word 'scratching' is the word later used for 'writing', and a 'tablet' was a wooden board coated with wax that was used for short notes.

    * A. Could Homer read and write? Did written language exist at that time? (Shasta)

    * B. Is this a written language and if so what language would this have been? Would this have been Linear A or B?

    * C. As a translator, even though Linear A is not Greek as we understand it, have you any interest in trying to decode it? What challenges await you in new translation? Have all the ancient extant Greek writings been translated or are there some waiting nobody has tried?

    SL: Writing in Homer's time. I think in Iliad 6 there is a dim memory of writing (maybe Linear B, the writing system in Mycenaean Greece, which is the period of the dramatic action in Iliad. Or perhaps an awareness of Phoenician writing, or other writing systems which were in place in Homer's time. But I don't think this passage shows that Homer used writing, quite the opposite if anything. I myself have no active interest in Linear B, which is pretty well understood, or Linear A, which is not. The University of Texas has a program in Aegean scripts, run by Tom Paliama.

  20. SeniorLearn Books: How long have you spent trying to get one section just the way you want it? Is it hard for you to come back into today's world when you immerse yourself in the texts?

    SL: It took me countless hours to get the first nine lines of Iliad1 right. It's not so much coming back to the real world after working on Homer, as not having the work of translating Homer to go back to any more. Working on the Aeneid was very similar (Virgil being a Roman Homer) but now that's done too. I have a bad case of post partum blues.

  21. SeniorLearn Books: The paragraphing in your text is different from that of Fitzgerald and Pope, among others. It makes much more sense. Butler did use paragraphs, but not offset quite so strongly. What made you decide to present the text in this way?

    SL: Presentation of the text on the page is very important to me. It reflects performance more than anything. I did a lot of dramatic readings while I was working on the translation. The paragraphing, and the treatment of similes, is based on those readings. Homer, after all had no text, much less paragraphs. He was a performer though.

  22. SeniorLearn Books: In your interview with Michael Leddy, you mention that "Originally I felt more at home in the Iliad, because the poetry in some sense is of a higher order." How is the poetry in the Iliad of a higher order? The Odyssey and the Iliad seem so different, do you think one person wrote them both?

    SL: The Iliad is more intense. The vision of the gods, the sublimity of the universe, the tragic nature of human suffering is what I'm thinking of. The sun at noon. The Odyssey is more the setting sun. The grandeur remains.

  23. SeniorLearn Books: In reading your translation of The Odyssey, we came to the expression in Book 14 line 63, "And you answered him, Eumaeus, my swineherd: " This use of "my" seems to reflect the speaker, but we don't know who the speaker is. Is it Homer himself? Is this the first time he's entered the poem? This "my XXX" occurs several times, is this significant at all?

    SL: Thank you for your question, and your enthusiasm. Yes, it is the poet himself addressing Eumaeus, the only character in the Odyssey the poet accords this honor. And it is an honor, a mark of respect and affection for this noble man who embodies and exemplifies the virtues of the domestic man, the fidelity and devotion that are central to the Odyssey's theme. Eumaeus is raised to the stature of a true hero. In the Iliad the poet similarly honors Patroclus by addressing him directly (remember all the "You, Patroclus" phrases in Iliad 16?). The effect in both cases is not only to honor the addressee, but to heighten the sense of pathos and arouse our sympathy for these characters, each noble in his respective dire circumstance.