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We now bespeak thy courtesy; respect
It has often been remarked of Homer's style, that the poet rarely takes up a new topic without first fully dismissing that of which he has been treating, and that thus each line presents a distinct image to the mind's eye. Yet so naturally and simply are the lines linked together, so skillfully is one image made to vanish and give place to its successor, that the attention of the reader rarely flags, his mind scarcely ever tires. In this particular Homer finds a close and successful imitator in Lord Derby. His style is natural and unstudied; and as it is against his avowed purpose either to insert any thing which he does not find in Homer, or to omit what he does find there, he is saved the absurdity of crediting the Greek poet with conceits and refinements which were utterly foreign to the age in which he lived. An able writer in the Edinburgh Review,* more familiar with Lord Derby's public speeches than we are, believes that he can trace in his phraseology not a little of the oratorical power which rendered him a very distinguished inan in political life; and he thinks that the merits of his translation of the Iliad “may be summed up in one word—that it is eminently attractive; it is instinct with life; it may be read with fervent interest; and though it does not rival Pope in the charms of versification, it is immeasurably nearer than Pope to the text of the original. If we ask ourselves,” he continues, “whence these qualities are derived, we suspect it is from the living interest and individuality Lord Derby has thrown into his work. Cowper was a more perfect master of English blank verse than Lord Derby, yet his translation of Homer is cold and repulsive, and of the numerous experiments which have been made in our own time not one could support the ordeal of a second reading."
After the Earl of Derby had given us so correct and spirited a version—the best, take it all in all, that had appeared in English up to his time—it could scarcely have been anticipated that a new and formidable rival would soon enter the
* For January, 1866.
field. Just about the time that Lord Derby was committing to the press his Homer, William Cullen Bryant began writing his. The occupation which Hobbes, of Malmesbury, entered upon as a recreation for old age, and Cowper in the desperate attempt to ward off that fearful melancholy which threatened to unsettle his reason, became to Mr. Bryant, as he briefly informs us in his preface, a ineans of “helping him in some measure to divert his mind from a great domestic sorrow."
It would be quite superfluous to undertake here the enumeration of the advantages which the new translator of Homer seemed to possess, and which raised high the expectations of the American, and, perhaps, scarcely less the English, public, as soon as it was known that he was devoting some of his maturer years to the task. Few men in their prime have written verses that will compare with those which the author of Thanatopsis composed at eighteen. With a mind imbued with an almost idolatrous love of nature, he never forgot the impressions gained in childhood among the hills of Massachusetts, or lost in the busy city where his life has been principally spent the repose and calm which he had acquired in communion with the grandest works of God around him. The “Forest Hymn breathes the same unaffected devotion to the wild haunts of wood and field as the earliest of his published poenis. But not alone as the interpreter of nature had Mr. Bryant won an enviable distinction. His numerous translations from the Spanish and the German, from the French and the Portuguese, had shown how well his muse could comprehend and reproduce the poetic thoughts and expressions of others.
It would be impracticable, if it were desirable, within the limits to which we are confined, to institute that minute comparison between Mr. Bryant's version of the Iliad and Odyssey and the productions of his predecessors upon which alone a comprehensive estimate of their respective merits can be based. It would be unjust to those preliminary attempts to ignore the great advantage which Bryant has enjoyed in possessing such valuable guides, who, whether by their success or by their failnres, have equally contributed to lighten his task. Nor has Mr. Bryant himself been slow in acknowledging, to use his own words, “that although Homer is, as Cowper has well observed, the most perspicuous of poets, he has been some
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times, perhaps often, guided by the labors of his predecessors to a better mode of dealing with certain refractory passages of his author than he would otherwise have found." We cannot discover, however, that the assistance has been too great or too frequently invoked. Of verbal coincidences there must, of course, be many. In epithets and designations, the room for choice being extremely limited, this is unavoidable, especially when to identity of subject and of author there is added, as in the case of Derby, the same meter and poetic form. On the whole, we are surprised at the infrequency, rather than at the number, of those parallelisms, when we consider that both Derby and Bryant have laid down for themselves so strict a rule of conscientious accuracy of translation,
We might select, for such a partial comparison between the translations of Lord Derby and Mr. Bryant as the limits of this article will allow, the commencement of the third book of the Iliad. It will be remembered that this passage, although not specially remarkable for its poetic fire, is of considerable interest as picturing in Homer's best style the short-lived valor of Paris, his cowardly retreat upon the approach of Menelaus, Hector's taunting reproof of his effeminate brother's weakness and treachery, and Paris's final proposition to settle the entire quarrel by a single encounter between himself and Menelaus.
The hosts marshaled for war approach. The Trojan ad-
“Ως δ' οτε τις τε δράκοντα ιδών, παλίνoρσος απέστη
And takes the backward way with trembling limb
This rendering of Bryant's is about as faithful as it is possible to make one in translating verse into verse, and certainly is as precise as can be required. It is exact even to those details which the older translators thought themselves at liberty to modify or change at will. In fact, it is exact where Derby allows himself more latitude. With him it is
With him it is a "traveler," and the scene is not a “glade” (Bioouu) but a “mountainside.” The serpent becomes a “deadly” snake, and is represented as “coiled in his path," an addition the more unfortunate as the participle jars upon the ear in such close proximity with the verb “recoils” of the next line. Paris withdraws into the ranks of the “high-souled sons of Troy,” as Bryant renders άγχερώων Τρώων, while Derby omits the epithet altogether.
And so in a great number of minute particulars, in themselves perhaps of no great importance, but gaining importance collectively from the fact that they are so many touches which reproduce the coloring of Homer's painting. It is Bryant that is particularly impressed with the view that not one of them must be arbitrarily left out, and that, other things being equal
, that form of translation is best which copies the original even down to the most apparently insignificant detail. Hector did more than “speak in stern rebuke" to his recreant brotherνείκεσσεν... αισχρούς επέεσσιν-he “upbraided him harshly.” Α little further on he asks him--not as Derby gives his words, “How was’t that such as thou could e'er induce" the Trojans to follow and carry off fair Helen from Greece? but as Bryant properly gives it
"Wast thou such
The figure with which Hector's spirited address concluded is, however, better given by Derby:
“But too forbearing are the men of Troy;
Bryant makes the threat read:
"Else hadst thou, for the evil thou hast wrought,
Been laid beneath a coveriet of stone," (lines 70–1;)
ή τε κεν ήδη
We are not warranted in supposing that Homer employs the
'Αργος ές ιππόβατον και 'Αχαϊδα καλλιγύναικα-Bryant is wise in rendering:
"And all the Greeks Return to Argos, famed for noble steeds,
And to Achaia, famed for lovely dames;" rather than confuse them as Derby does :
"And to their native Argos they return,
For noble steeds and lovely women famed."-(Lines 90-1.)
“Hear now, ye Trojans and ye well-greaved Greeks,
The words of Paris, cause of all this war.”—(Lines 103-4.)