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Reading the Classics : Doh! You Were Expecting a Different Homer?

Okay! Okay! No more Simpsons jokes. But you have to admit that when you mention Homer, certain things come to mind!

Anyway, last month I hinted that I might delve into some Homeric epic poetry as my “Classic of the Month”.  I followed through with that idea lest I anger my faithful audience of followers! Admittedly, I did hint at The Odyssey but then realized that certain obsessive traits in me would not allow me to read the second part before the first so I picked up The Iliad instead. As with many of my classics selections, translation is key to enjoying it so I went with K.U. Professor of Classics, Stanley Lombardo’s version. I also continued my habit of listening to the book as I read because Professor Lombardo also performs his audiobook version. Lombardo’s version is excellent! The professor formats his translation to be performed orally, just like the Ancient Greeks would have and apparently likes to perform to some sort of musical accompaniment (also like the Greeks) in this case, mostly drums. This version of The Iliad includes some novel features such as Lombardo’s ability to refashion the verse into a more colloquial rendition of the poem. For traditional classicists, the Robert Fagles version might be more appropriate but for those that want to get the meat of the story, the dire mood of Homer & the vivid spirit of the Trojan War without trying to reign in the lofty verse (and overly archaic diction) of Ancient Homeric bards, the Lombardo translation is your bet! The dialogue of many translations is often so “poetic” that the meaning is hard to grasp. With Lombardo, lines such as “That war-like Ionian was hurled down toward the house of death” seriously is stated “that worthy foe bit the dust”. Okay, I might be paraphrasing that a bit, but only just a bit…my point is that the difference is really that evident! Though not as eloquent as some and maybe not your standard classroom Homer, Lombardo’s translation is to the point and fits in well with our culture of superhero movies and over-the-top action scenes.

Another awesome Lombardo device is the use of sound effects in his readings. Greek epic poetry often contains Homeric simile…a very detailed comparison of something familiar to something vivid or glorious, often spanning LINES of poetry (Doh!) These departures can be confusing, pulling a reader out of the action and into a diffuse emotional discourse. Lombardo’s treatment of these deviations is to play sound effects at the beginning of each. There are MANY and many of them are LONG so Lombardo announces each with a musical/laser/beating of wings-type sound effect telling a listener, “Hey we’re starting a Homeric simile now!” SO much easier to follow than when Homer seemingly just throws in a major metaphorical discourse for reasons of loftiness!

For those of you that are into things such as action films, graphic novels and war stories, THIS is where they came from. You will not be disappointed by the Iliad! Modern storytelling (at least action/adventure storytelling) got its start with Homer. The Iliad was the Braveheart or Avengers of its day…Epic and action-packed at every turn! My “Classics” blog-posting has been an effort to bring relevance to things that are too often falling into irrelevance and nothing exemplifies this more than The Iliad. So many things that we today are entertained by owe a HUGE debt to Homer! And Lombardo’s contemporary, colloquial version is the perfect gateway to revisiting and revitalizing the action story’s roots.

- Dan Winsky, Acquisitions

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