I don’t frequent physical bookstores anymore. I much prefer to do my book shopping from the comfort of my computer on Amazon.com.
What brought me there at that time was an extreme necessity for a book that couldn’t wait for delivery from Amazon.com. I needed to find a specific translation of Homer’s The Odyssey. Robert Fitzgerald’s translation, specifically. And I needed it yesterday. Or, let’s just say my son needed it for school….last week.
Hence, my dilemma.
Having not been in a physical bookstore for a very long time, it was a challenge to simply find the correct section. Once in that section, I was baffled by what greeted me.
But, before I go there, let me take you back to my college years. In my college years, I took a Greek mythology class, in which we studied Homer. Back in those days, it is my recollection that there was only one translation. Or maybe it was only one translation that populated the shelves.
Either way, my experience of buying “literature” did not include the need to know what translation I was buying, or reading. I got my list of books, I went to the bookstore, I bought the book, and that was it. Once in class, we trudged through it together and learned aspects of the literature that, despite being cumbersome, we just understood as part of the class. We didn’t have to be concerned with the attributes of one translation, or another, and what attributes are highlighted or not with each of those translations. Bottom line: it was simpler. It wasn’t Fitzgerald’s Odyssey, or Lattimore’s Odyssey. It was Homer’s Odyssey in it’s next purest form (Greek being the first and best form; but not many people speak Greek these days).
And, two facts still existed:
That the only acceptable version, or translation, was that from Robert Fitzgerald, according to my son.
That the Robert Fitzgerald translation was one of the only ones not on the shelf, amidst half a dozen others.
In the end, I had to drive to another Barnes and Noble location, which just happened to have an extra copy of the exact translation that my son’s Pre-AP English Lit teacher required.
But, I asked myself, and I ask you in the publishing industry….why do we need so many translations? What is the point?
My first thought is more book titles means more money.
Money? OK….I can understand that. But what is so different between one translation and another?
So, I did my research. (Google and Bing love me!)
- There are at least 11 translations of Homer’s Odyssey.
- The main goal of the early translators was to convert the dactylic hexameter beat of the original work, written in Greek, to something more palatable when read in English.
- That many of the more recent translations are an attempt to convert Homer to unrhymed prose.
My question to the publishers, or maybe it is better directed at the booksellers, is why keep all of these translations current?
Why complicate the lives of parents and educators by keeping ALL of these translations active and on the shelves?
My suggestion: let’s go back to the good old days when there was only one, maybe two translations. Teachers and students of the topic needed to work a bit harder, but, in the end, I think there is nothing wrong with that as a trade-off for a richer experience in reading one of the greatest works of literature the world has ever known.
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