The Iliad ~ A Schedule and a Note on Translations

The Iliad Read-alongBefore the read-along begins on January 1st, I thought it would be helpful to post a schedule.  To make it through the poem in a short enough time to keep up momentum, and a long enough time to allow us to appreciate it, I’m scheduling approximately 2 books (chapters) each 5 days which will be as follows:

Jan 1st – 5th —— Books I & II

Jan 6th – 10th —– Books III & IV

Jan 11th – 15th —– Books V & VI

Jan 16th – 20th —– Books VII & VIII

Jan 21st – 25th —– Books IX & X

Jan 26th – 31th —– Books XI & XII

Feb 1st – 5th —— Books XIII & XIV

Feb 6th – 10th —– Books XV & XVI

Feb 11th – 15th —– Books XVII & XVIII

Feb 16th – 20th —– Books XIX & XX

Feb 21st – 24th —– Books XXI – XXII

Feb 25th – 29th —– Books XXIII – XXIV

achilles receiving the ambassadors of agamemnon

Achilles Receiving the Ambassadors of Agamemnon (1801) Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

As for translations, I’m rather particular about my Greek (and Russian) translators. Richard Lattimore is hands down my favourite for The Iliad.  He captures the poem exquisitely and is the closest to Homer, even with all the issues that translators can face, especially with a work as complex as this one.  Translating Homer is not simply translating words; Homer uses vowels and consonants — sounds — to mimic certain situations and things, such as the sound of the sea. Lattimore is sensitive to this method and attempts, as well as he can in English, to reproduce it.  In my opinion, he does a wonderful job in capturing the grandeur of the poem.

Fitzgerald would be my second choice even though the criticism of him is that he makes the poem sound more Fitzgerald than Homer.  He is the translator of choice for The Aeneid though.


Troy ~ source Wikimedia Commons

An acquaintance I know, who knows ancient Greek and has read many of the English translations, has this to say about them:

“For the Iliad and the Odyssey, imnsho, the only translations I have ever seen which begin to do justice to Homer are Lattimore’s. Simple, unadorned, but managing in so many places to capture the feel of the original. I wish I had maintained my Greek, because the original is always better… some things just can’t be translated… but Lattimore makes me catch glimpses of the real thing and has a quiet grandeur which I love.

Fitzgerald has a nice translation of the Aeneid, but his translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey are, imho, too florid.. there is too much Fitzgerald and not enough Homer. They are pretty, but way off key.

The Fagles translations repulse me. They are so colloquial, so far from Homeric that they feel more like modern adaptations than translations.

Lombardo takes even more liberties with the text – imho this is definitely more of an adaptation than a translation.

For a very literal translation (most useful if you are trying to translate Homer yourself) the Loeb editions have facing English and Greek pages and follows the word order of each Greek line as closely as possible – I wouldn’t use it as a primary text, but it is a neat supplement. (Ex: “The wrath sing, goddess, of Peleus’ son Achilles,” )

Some people like the Rieu prose translations, and I guess they could serve as an intro to Homer, but I wouldn’t use them.

Mandlebaum has a slightly clunky translation of the Odyssey – he is my translator of choice for Dante (though it was a hard choice!), but not for Homer… but, unlike most of the others it *is* a reasonably reliable translation, as I recall.

Pope’s translations are an older version of what Fagles has done – an adaptation in the “translator’s” own style.. pretty, but not Homer… but, imo, less grating than Fagles and less ornate than Fitzgerald… though Fitzgerald is a more reliable translator.

Butler has prose translations of Homer… pedestrian is the adjective I would apply to them. Rieu’s has a little more flavor, but Butler’s is sold and straightforward…. not a version I would choose, but there isn’t anything *wrong* with it…

Chapman’s translation is a classic in its own right, but one I would read for itself not for Homer…”

I hope this helps with your decision on which translation to choose as we begin our journey!


⇐ The Iliad Read-along and an Introduction

34 thoughts on “The Iliad ~ A Schedule and a Note on Translations

  1. The translation I have is Butler’s. So that’s what I would be reading. It’s a beautiful hardback edition that has both The Iliad and The Odyssey. 🙂 I struggle with reading epic poetry so this translation is helpful for me (even though I still didn’t care for The Iliad my first time reading it). If I can fit in time to re-read it with the other couple of books I have planned for the first of the year, then I will try to read it again. 🙂 The Odyssey is a priority for sure whenever it’s time to read that!

    • I haven’t read Butler so I can’t comment on the flow. However, his wonky Homer theories of the poems being written by a Sicilian woman and set off the coast of Sicily, make them far enough from Homer that I’m not really interested in reading them as a serious text. Plus I think Butler was kind of weird overall, but that’s just my take …. 🙄😬

      I’m planning on doing a read-along of The Odyssey April-May so plan for that!

        • Do you want me to send you a copy of Lattimore, Karen? I’d be happy to. It might not get to you at the start but even picking it up a little ways in, would be good. Butler’s version is in prose, I believe, and as I said in another comment, you miss alot if the words are only used for meaning. You can e-mail your address to me at I know I have an extra copy of Lattimore for The Iliad, but I don’t have one for The Odyssey, sadly.

          • That is so kind and generous of you to offer! But guess what??? We got out today and did one of my favorite things ever….went to local bookstores. 🙂 Guess what I found? A copy of Lattimore’s The Iliad – and only ONE copy! I bought it! So I now have a copy. Yay! I am going to do my best to read this again with ya’ll. Maybe I’ll get more out of The Iliad with this different translation and your read-along. 🙂

          • That’s awesome, Karen! Just soak into it! I absolutely LOVE Lattimore’s translation of The Iliad however, I must admit that I find his translation of The Odyssey a tiny bit clunky. I’ve read it twice but I think I might choose Fitzgerald next time (against scholarly suggestion) just for a comparison.

  2. I currently have Fagles translation…wouldn’t be able to get another version at this point. Is it worth starting with what I have or hold out to get a more preferred version?

    • If Fagles is all you have, go for it! 👍 It’s better to read than not. Would your library have a different translation? You could always start with Fagles and then change over. There would be nothing wrong with that.

      • Kim, I have Lattimore’s, and, -check this up!-, a collaboration between Andrew Lang -whom I know and love-, Walter Leaf, and Earnest Myers, both who are unknown to me. But this one is prose, and it has “spake, raiment, thou shalt, twain…
        I’ll let Kim borrow both, since I’m reading my Spanish poetic one that I’m not sure it’s from Butler, but I don’t know. I need to investigate, (there’s a prologue to it with an author, but no name listed as translator. We’ll see)

        • That’s so kind of you, Silvia! I’d really try reading a verse version no matter what language it is. As I mentioned, these poems aren’t just stories and you miss so much if the words only convey what is happening.

          • I read Fagles Illiad but while I agree with the value of a verse version, my prose version in Spanish doesn’t feel like a retelling either.

            I will be fine or try Lartimore’s, (since Kim may stick to the Fagles that she owns)

          • I’ve been chatting with Silvia some more and will compare my Fagles translation with her copy to see which one will work. But either way, I’ll be joining in. Excited for this!! 🙂

          • I’ll try not to beg you (on my knees) to read Lattimore and leave the decision to you, lol! 🤣 I just so LOVE Lattimore’s translation of The Iliad. He does such an amazing job; the flow and the majesty of the poem blow me away. I’d still choose him as my favourite translator for The Odyssey but honestly, it doesn’t sound as nice as The Iliad, a slight bit clunky. In fact, when we get to The Odyssey, I might choose Fitzgerald this time, just for a comparison.

            Yes, I’m looking forward to it too!

          • Ha! I can’t wait to get a chance to compare the translations 🙂 I can’t remember which translation I read for The Odyssey…I’ll probably end up reading that one again after The Iliad. 🙂

          • Your familiarity with Odysseus will be interesting for you as you gauge his actions and reactions in The Iliad. I can’t remember if I mentioned it to you but I’m going to do a read-along of The Odyssey in April-May if you’re interested. But let’s get through this one first, lol! ⛵️

          • YES! I’m already planning to follow up with The Odyssey after The Iliad! I’m starting Gone with the Wind at the end of May so your April-May timing is perfect 🙂 I’m loving the Iliad so far!

          • Yay! That’s wonderful! I’m so glad that you’re loving it! I love it even more each time I read it!

  3. What a great translation resource! I’ve bookmarked it for future (re)reading reference (an Odyssey reread is in the not-too-distant future). Interesting commentary, too–we read Fagles’ Odyssey in one of my university classes, so that’s who I went with for Iliad, and despite my preference for “old books sounding old,” the colloquialisms didn’t really bother me with Iliad. But given how “slow” Iliad felt to me, I’m wondering if a different translation would have served me better? (Or maybe I just really don’t get into all that fighting!:) )

    • It IS a great translation resource. I was so grateful that she took the time to write it out. I’m planning for a read-along of The Odyssey in April-May if you’re up for it. The university standard used to be Lattimore. I’m really surprised they used Fagles as he really simplifies the poem. Was it a first year course? The fighting isn’t so interesting as the interaction between warriors. I often found that fascinating!

      • Yes, it was a first-year course, and it was wide-spanning on the theme “historical fiction” – we read everything from Odyssey and a prose translation of Le Morte d’Arthur to One Hundred Years of Solitude and Things Fall Apart. I suppose it’s possible the professor was looking for a translation that she thought accessible to freshman (or that was readily available to the bookstore).

        The one thing I did find fascinating about the fighting was I felt that I was reading the origins for every fight scene (battle or otherwise) that I’ve ever seen in a movie or TV show.

        • Ah, that makes some sense. I still wish she’s picked a different translation than Fagles for university ….

          The fighting is important. Even though the two sides are in conflict, there is still honour and respect and a type of connection between them. It’s rather foreign to how we normally view war. Actually it’s quite interesting …

  4. I may join, friends. I owe a variety of them. I read the Fagles but it didn’t get to me. I believe I have Lartimore’s too (I will check). I have read a Spanish translation in prose based on Butler, but Borges approves of the prose translations, hahaha. I totally dig your logic and your post here, Cleo. I love love the fact that we are real readers and not academics. I strongly agree with your point of too much of the translators and not enough Homer. Nailed.

    My Odyssey felt very poetic while stripped down and it felt simple and ancient. But compared to a verse one it would be pedestrian, I agree. I don’t have a Spanish one in verse and I need to read it in Spanish.

    I will try to join.

    • That’s wonderful that you may join, Silvia! Your comments makes reading with you a joy!

      Do you really need to read them in Spanish? Your English seems excellent. I’m sorry I have no Spanish versions to recommend; I have a hard enough time navigating through the English ones, lol! In any case, I hope to see you with us!

    • I haven’t read it but I looked into it. A positive point is that she seems to use Lattimore’s translation as a standard. That said, after reading her translation, it’s not nearly as good as Lattimore’s. Which explains the critique of her translation which is that she focuses too much on meaning and loses the form, which Lattimore is MUCH more adept at conveying. As I said before, it’s not just the words or the story …. it’s the sound of the poem that also draws you into the story and is part of its structure. So my guess, is that it’s not a bad translation, you just would be missing more of Homer than you would be with Lattimore. But that said, if it’s the only translation you can get, better to read it than not at all!

      Glad to have you aboard, Deanna! ⛵️

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  6. Going to try and jump in on this! I have the Roberts translation so hopefully that proves to be a good one. If not….time to learn Ancient Greek!

    • Yay, Keely! I’m so happy that you’re coming with us for the journey to Troy!

      I found these notes on Chapman: “Chapman belonged to a tradition which encouraged the translator to add rhetorical flourishes of his own rather than staying closely faithful to the original, and he used that liberty to add all sorts of Elizabethan phrases, sometimes entire lines, a habit that does not sit well with those who insist upon scrupulous fidelity to Homer’s Greek. His basic verse form is a line with fourteen syllables and rhyming couplets, but the poem is not unduly heavy; it is, as Matthew Arnold notes, “plain-spoken, fresh, vigorous, and to a certain degree, rapid.” Chapman’s Iliad remains popular today (and in print), justly so, and not merely because he was the first in a long tradition. The translation is a delight to read (or at least to browse through), even if it is not one’s first choice for a new reader of Homer.”

      I’m not sure if you have access to another translation, but Chapman might be fun to read considering it was the first translation. I’d love it if you could post some examples of the text. It would be interesting to compare.

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