If high school literary abuse makes the very mention of anything by Homer cause your eyes to roll up into your head, you’re in for a treat. In this new translation of The Illiad (Free Press) author Stephen Mitchell starts things off on a wonderful note. “We return to the Illiad because it is one of the monuments of our own magnificence. Its poetry lifts even the most devastating human events into the realm of the beautiful, and it shows us how vast and serene the mind can be even when it contemplates the horrors of war.”
It is this sort of care and passion that have seen Mitchell move towards becoming one of the significant translators of his time. His translations have included Tao Te Ching, Gilgamesh, The Bhagavad Gita and The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke.
But it is not just the clarity of thought and language that make this a better English language translation than the ones you might have tackled back in high school. It’s actually better researched, as well. This is the first translation based on the work of preeminent Homeric scholar Martin L. West who brings previously omitted material to the table, resulting in a text that is, in some ways, thematically altered from any you might have read — or tried to read — before.
But nothing trumps Mitchell’s language here and his understanding of the text. “Of course,” he writes in the introduction, “we can only perceive in the Illiad what we bring to it, and there are as many ways too see it as there are minds that see.”
In his new translation, Mitchell brings us his vision. And that clarity? It brings us what he sees. ◊
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.