Tuesday, August 08, 2006

E.L. Doctorow, Homer, and the history of fiction

I have a few blog items on E.L. Doctorow and on Homer in the draft (or idea) stage. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, for your delectation, click here for a thoughtful essay by Doctorow on the interplay of history and fiction. He makes his point with illustrations from The Iliad, Shakespeare's Richard III, and Tolstoy's War and Peace. It's intelligent stuff.

One note--if the essay inspires you to rush out and read The Iliad, a word of caution: there is a book cover of Lattimore's translation of The Iliad accompanying the essay. There's nothing wrong with that edition, yet I strongly urge you toward the more-lively-while-no-less-respected Fagles translation.

Here's an example, drawn from a scholarly review (which takes note of the Fitzgerald translation, too), of what I mean:
There is no question that Fagles' speeded-up, pared-down idiom is appealing to a contemporary ear. After Fagles, Lattimore sounds leaden and stilted (although still providing the most exact guide to the literal Greek), Fitzgerald a bit too fussy and self-consciously poetic. For a quick comparison of the three, here are their versions of the famous line from Book 3 about the fate of the Dioscuri. First Lattimore, who sticks doggedly to the syntax of the original: "but the teeming earth lay already on them." Fitzgerald strengthens the impact by making the Dioscuri the subject: "But her brothers lay/ motionless in the arms of life-bestowing earth." Fagles' version does the same but achieves the simplicity and directness that for us spell poignancy: "but the earth already held them fast/ long dead in the life-giving earth of Lacedaemon."
--Marshal Zeringue