During the second half of the twentieth century and continuing into the twenty-first, poets, classicists, and others have produced an astounding number of distinguished English translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey. This may be surprising at first, since the study of Greek and of the Homeric texts has lost its hold on the standard school curriculum. There may be a connection, however: the decline in familiarity also sparks efforts to ensure that the stories survive and to find a contemporary idiom for them.
Prose versions aimed at general readers, notably E. V. Rieu's translation of the Odyssey (1946), which launched the series of Penguin Classics in Translation, and the Iliad (1950), were designed to be "easy reading for those who are unfamiliar with the Greek world." They were hugely successful with popular audiences although critics found them "hopelessly un-Homeric." Richmond Lattimore's translation of The Iliad (University of Chicago Press, 1951) achieved immediate critical success and enduring influence. Lattimore and his successors, including Robert Fitzgerald, Robert Fagles, Stanley Lombardo, and Edward McCrorie each offer widely different approaches to verse translation.
Contemporary creative works – more adaptation, interpretation, even appropriation, than translation – have also brought the Homeric texts to new audiences. James Joyce's Ulysses is probably the best-known, while Ezra Pound's Cantos, Derek Wolcott's Omeros, Christopher Logue's "Accounts," and Denis O'Hare and Lisa Peterson's, An Iliad, which recently concluded its second run at the Court Theatre, are just a few examples of Homer's influence on contemporary poetry, prose, and performance.
Technology has stimulated new ways to study and read Homer's works. The Perseus Project at Tufts, founded in 1985, includes both Greek and English versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey, along with commentaries. Translator Ian Johnston's Iliad and Odyssey were made available freely on the Internet, with supplemental materials such as a "List of the Deaths in the Iliad," before they were published in book form. The Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University publishes the Homer Multitext, a collaborative research project that presents images and texts of papyri, Byzantine manuscripts, and scholarship relating to the transmission of the Homeric texts through time.
These innovative initiatives, together with the never-ceasing reprints and new editions published each year, assure that instructors and readers have a challenging assignment in deciding which "Homer" to select.
The Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center