Academic journal article Acta Classica

Richard Whitaker, the Iliad of Homer: A Southern African Translation

Academic journal article Acta Classica

Richard Whitaker, the Iliad of Homer: A Southern African Translation

Article excerpt

Richard Whitaker, The Iliad of Homer: A Southern African Translation. Cape Town: New Voices, 2012. Pp. 528. ISBN: 978-1-920411-97-8. R180.00.

The publication of Professor Whitaker's translation has been eagerly awaited. It has been, as the very first sentence in his Preface proclaims, 'a labour of love' and has been widely trailed in readings, seminars and lectures in Europe as well as in South Africa. This international hinterland is important, but it was initially the South African context that inspired the work. Whitaker's 'love' is for Homer's text and for the possibilities that it opens up for the students that he teaches. To actualise that through translation also invokes his love for his country and its richness of linguistic energy, past, present and future. Both aspects of this 'love' are informed by Whitaker's experience of encountering Homer for the first time as a teenager in an English translation. This was the prose translation by E.V. Rieu, first published by Penguin in 1950 and reprinted many times. Whitaker went on to study Ancient Greek at the University of the Wit-watersrand and in his professional career taught the Iliad both in the original language and in translation (Preface p. 7). This dual teaching was important in developing his sensitivity to the power translations have to awaken literary sensibility and to communicate insights into the relationships and contrasts between the cultures of the Homeric world and of modern readers. His reading of the Greek text and its 'Englishing' led to dissatisfaction with the Anglo-American English translations that predominated. He felt that the language of these was often remote from the lived experience of Southern African readers and audiences and that this served to deny the many resonances that Homer offered to their situation and heritage. Furthermore, he considered that Southern African English had developed 'a vocabulary and register of its own that deserved to be reflected in poetic translation' (p. 7).

The result is a translation that is also important for the paramaterial that accompanies it. In addition to commenting on the context and aims of his translation, Whitaker has provided an Introduction to the poem, in a format designed to be attractive to student readers and to the general public. He starts by setting out briefly why Homer's epic is still important and how modern readers might respond to it directly. His opening statement that 'the millennia between Homer and ourselves seem to dissolve, and we recognise that the men and women in his epic are people like ourselves' of course underplays the differences in religion, society, values and environment, not just between ancient and modern but also between the different modern contexts and societies in which the poem is read. However, Whitaker is skilful in engaging readers' attention by setting out right at the beginning the points at which different sensibilities can meet -the baby's fear of his father's military helmet; the building of sandcastles on the beach; the great themes of anger, folly and ignorance. Whitaker then offers a useful summary of the individual books, with discussion of what Homer takes from myth and what is omitted. This is followed by a more demanding discussion of what Whitaker characterises as Symbolic Narrative (pp. 42-52) - that is, the poetic communication of the temporalities within and without the poem. He also introduces some of the major themes of the poem, notably its exploration of the characteristics of the hero and the treatment of the troubling relationship between fate and human action.

The second part of the Introduction discusses the translation itself. Whitaker is attracted by the relationship between translations of Homer and the development of literary traditions, for which he cites the introduction and content of George Steiner's Homer in English (1996). Whitaker situates the issue a little differently, by asking what opportunities the current state of South Africa's languages and cultures offer to the translator. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.