Butcher and Lang’s Odyssey

Yesterday I bought a second hand copy of Butcher and Lang’s translation of the Odyssey (for £7.50). I had actually seen it in the shop exactly a year ago and I always regretted not getting it then. Luckily it was still on the shelves. This translation may not be to everyone’s tastes as it uses fairly archaic English but as they say in their preface.

We do not know whether it is necessary to defend our choice of a somewhat antiquated prose. Homer has no ideas which cannot be expressed in words that are ‘old and plain,’ and to words that are old and plain, and, as a rule, to such terms as, being used by the Translators of the Bible, are still not unfamiliar, we have tried to restrict ourselves. It may be objected, that the employment of language which does not come spontaneously to the lips, is an affectation out of place in a version of the Odyssey. To this we may answer that the Greek Epic dialect, like the English of our Bible, was a thing of slow growth and composite nature, that it was never a spoken language, nor, except for certain poetical purposes, a written language. Thus the Biblical English seems as nearly analogous to the Epic Greek, as anything that our tongue has to offer.

Here is an example of their translation.

Odyssey 6.85

Now when they were come to the beautiful stream of the river, where truly were the unfailing cisterns, and bright water welled up free from beneath, and flowed past, enough to wash the foulest garments clean, there the girls unharnessed the mules from under the chariot, and turning them loose they drove them along the banks of the eddying river to graze on the honey-sweet clover. Then they took the garments from the wain, in their hands, and bore them to the black water, and briskly trod them down in the trenches, in busy rivalry. Now when they had washed and cleansed all the stains, they spread all out in order along the shore of the deep, even where the sea, in beating on the coast, washed the pebbles clean. Then having bathed and anointed them well with olive oil, they took their mid-day meal on the river’s banks, waiting till the clothes should dry in the brightness of the sun. Anon, when they were satisfied with food, the maidens and the princess, they fell to playing at ball, casting away their tires, and among them Nausicaa of the white arms began the song. And even as Artemis, the archer, moveth down the mountain, either along the ridges of lofty Taygetus or Erymanthus, taking her pastime in the chase of boars and swift deer, and with her the wild wood-nymphs disport them, the daughters of Zeus, lord of the aegis, and Leto is glad at heart, while high over all she rears her head and brows, and easily may she be known — but all are fair; even so the girl unwed outshone her maiden company.

αἱ δ᾽ ὅτε δὴ ποταμοῖο ῥόον περικαλλέ᾽ ἵκοντο,
ἔνθ᾽ ἦ τοι πλυνοὶ ἦσαν ἐπηετανοί, πολὺ δ᾽ ὕδωρ
καλὸν ὑπεκπρόρεεν μάλα περ ῥυπόωντα καθῆραι,
ἔνθ᾽ αἵ γ᾽ ἡμιόνους μὲν ὑπεκπροέλυσαν ἀπήνης.
καὶ τὰς μὲν σεῦαν ποταμὸν πάρα δινήεντα
τρώγειν ἄγρωστιν μελιηδέα: ταὶ δ᾽ ἀπ᾽ ἀπήνης
εἵματα χερσὶν ἕλοντο καὶ ἐσφόρεον μέλαν ὕδωρ,
στεῖβον δ᾽ ἐν βόθροισι θοῶς ἔριδα προφέρουσαι.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ πλῦνάν τε κάθηράν τε ῥύπα πάντα,
ἑξείης πέτασαν παρὰ θῖν᾽ ἁλός, ἧχι μάλιστα
λάιγγας ποτὶ χέρσον ἀποπλύνεσκε θάλασσα.
αἱ δὲ λοεσσάμεναι καὶ χρισάμεναι λίπ᾽ ἐλαίῳ
δεῖπνον ἔπειθ᾽ εἵλοντο παρ᾽ ὄχθῃσιν ποταμοῖο,
εἵματα δ᾽ ἠελίοιο μένον τερσήμεναι αὐγῇ.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ σίτου τάρφθεν δμῳαί τε καὶ αὐτή,
σφαίρῃ ταὶ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἔπαιζον, ἀπὸ κρήδεμνα βαλοῦσαι:
τῇσι δὲ Ναυσικάα λευκώλενος ἤρχετο μολπῆς.
οἵη δ᾽ Ἄρτεμις εἶσι κατ᾽ οὔρεα ἰοχέαιρα,
ἢ κατὰ Τηΰγετον περιμήκετον ἢ Ἐρύμανθον,
τερπομένη κάπροισι καὶ ὠκείῃς ἐλάφοισι:
τῇ δέ θ᾽ ἅμα νύμφαι, κοῦραι Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο,
ἀγρονόμοι παίζουσι, γέγηθε δέ τε φρένα Λητώ:
πασάων δ᾽ ὑπὲρ ἥ γε κάρη ἔχει ἠδὲ μέτωπα,
ῥεῖά τ᾽ ἀριγνώτη πέλεται, καλαὶ δέ τε πᾶσαι:
ὣς ἥ γ᾽ ἀμφιπόλοισι μετέπρεπε παρθένος ἀδμής.

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One Response to Butcher and Lang’s Odyssey

  1. It’s just so beautiful. That’s precisely the problem; we are losing our sense of beautiful literature.

    Liked by 1 person

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