The Odyssey of Homer
Translated by Rodney Merrill
Ann Arbor, 2007


[Selection from the Opening of the Poem]



    Tell me, Muse, of the man versatile and resourceful, who wandered
many a sea-mile after he ransacked Troy’s holy city.
Many the men whose towns he observed, whose minds he discovered,
many the pains in his heart he suffered, traversing the seaway,
fighting for his own life and a way back home for his comrades.
Not even so did he save his companions, as much as he wished to,
for by their own mad recklessness they were brought to destruction,
childish fools—they decided to eat up the cows of the High Lord,
Helios: he then took from the men their day of returning.
Even for us, holy daughter of Zeus, start there to recount this.

   Then were the others, whoever escaped from the sheer destruction,
all in their homes, since they had escaped from the war and the deep sea;
only the one still yearned to go home, still wanted his woman;
queenly Kalýpso, a nymph and illustrious goddess, was holding
him in her spacious cavern; she wanted to make him her husband.
But when the year came round in the course of the season’ revolving
wherein the gods had spun as his destiny making the journey
homeward to Ithaka, once he was there he did not escape trials,
even among his friends. All the gods took pity upon him,
all but Poseidon, who hated with deep unquenchable anger
godlike Odysseus, until he arrived at last in his country.
   But to the far Ethiopians now that god had departed—
these Ethiopians, farthest of men, are divided asunder;
some of them dwell where the High Lord sets; near the others, he rises.
He was with them to partake to their hecatomb, bulls and mature rams;
there he rejoiced as he sat at the feast; but the other immortals
were in the house of Olympian Zeus all sitting together.
Speaking among them opened the Father of gods and of mankind,
for in his heart he was moved to reflect on faultless Aigísthos,
whom Agamemnon’s child had killed, far-honored Orestes.
Mindful of him, Zeus spoke these words there among the immortals:
   “Strange to behold, what blame these mortals can bring against godhead!
For their ills, they assert, are from us, when they of themselves by
their mad recklessness have pain far past what is fated.
So even now has Aigísthos, beyond fate, married the lawful
bedmate of Atreus’ son, then murdered the man as he came home,
though he knew of his ruin, because we told him beforehand—
sending as messenger Hermes, the keen-eyed slayer of Argos—
neither to murder the man himself nor to marry his bedmate:
‘For from Orestes will come the requital for Atreus’ scion,
when he reaches adulthood and feels a desire for his country.’
So spoke Hermes but did not prevail on the mind of Aigísthos,
though so kindly disposed; now all has been paid for together.”




Merrill endorses the English hexameter and a more or less linear fidelity to Homer’s text, not with a view to reproducing Homer’s rhythms, but in order to display the beauty and musical potential of the English hexameter. And the rhythmic demands of latter, Merrill explains, obviate any requirement for colloquial English (“any attempt to be colloquially idiomatic in such a translation would run counter to the very genius of the medium.”). “I can hope . . ,” he concludes, “this translation may make more vividly manifest the music of repetitions that would appear only dimly, if at all, from a slow and painstaking reading in one’s study.”


As Merrill’s very long discussion of his purposes makes clear, his translation willingly sacrifices regular English syntax and (in many places) diction in order to bring out the musical possibilities of the English hexameter—an aim that for its attainment really requires the poem to be read aloud by someone well-versed in public recitation. A modern reader will have to decide whether or not what is gained on the musical roundabout makes up for what is lost on the colloquial swings. For me (and, I suspect, for a majority of readers) it does not.


For link to full text of Merrill’s translation, use the following link: Merrill Odyssey.


For a review of Merrill’s translation, please use the following link: Classical Review.



[List of Published English Translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey]