The Odyssey- a Tale of Two Translations

The Odyssey- Homer
Throughout time reading list
How obtained: free ebook (, project gutenburg  etc) and MIT online resources


Nearly three thousand years old, the Odyssey is the second oldest western story we have recorded (after it’s prequel, the Iliad). It is an epic- a poetical story of heroes and tragedy, gods and feasts.

I started off the journey of reading the odyssey with Alexander Pope’s translation, which I had downloaded onto my kindle. It is written in rhyming couplets, with a summary paragraph at the start of each chapter. This was helpful because often there would be very long, roundabout ways of saying things, made worse by the need to occasionally order words out of the usual order in order to make a rhyme, and break lines in the middle of a sentence. I sometimes found myself tempted to just read the summary paragraphs. On the other hand, when in the right mood, the slow pace combined with the rhythmic nature could be kind of meditative.

When I was about halfway through, I somehow ended up with a couple spare hours. I didn’t have my kindle (what with usually actually having to work at work!) so I found an online version to keep reading. The MIT version is translated by Samuel Butler, and is written in prose. Initially it felt a bit like reading someone telling you about a story, rather than telling you the story itself. But in the end I found that it was more gripping, and the beauty and drama shone through more.

See below for the same quote in the two different versions:

Ah how shameless – the way these mortals blame the gods. From us alone they say come all their miseries yes but they themselves with their own reckless ways compound their pains beyond their proper share.

Men are so quick to blame the gods: they say
that we devise their misery. But they
themselves- in their depravity- design
grief greater than the griefs that fate assigns.

The Odyssey is a long book, and to tell the truth there were times when I just didn’t care- I didn’t really care what happened to Ulysses, I was tired of everyone’s long speeches that could have been summarised in a few sentences, and was tired of the selfcentredness of many of the characters. But it was interesting to see the ancient Greek’s views of what the world was like a few hundred years before them-Gods interacting with humans, lavish feasts and immediate welcomes from noblemen and so on. And each translation was an experience in itself.


There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.


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