The Odyssey (Bloomsbury Revelations) 

by Homer, translated by Martin Hammond, introduced by Jasper Griffin,  Bloomsbury Academic (22 May 2014), Pb 352 pages, ISBN 978-1472532480.

This is a reissue of Martin Hammond’s translation into English of Homer’s Odyssey from 2000.  As there are plenty of other translations of the Odyssey available, teachers must decide if this would be useful to them.  It is a prose translation, with helpful layout clearly presented on the page and well bound in a sturdy cover with a useful introduction.  It has line numbers next to the text to help students navigate their way through the text and to make precise references.  Proper nouns are given in the Greek style, even to the extent that familiar names like Circe become Kirke,; the Cyclops remains the Cyclops however.  The old favourite “the wine-dark sea” has gone and the sea becomes sparkling; other formulaic epithets (dawn with her rosy fingers) are repeated exactly, remaining true to Homer but sitting awkwardly with the modern prose which would not use repeated phrases in the same way.

The aim of the translation is to accurately render the Greek into modern English.  It could be said that it is designed to gain a top mark in a Greek translation paper.  The diction throughout is modern with no archaizing or elevated tone apparent, which means that poetry is almost entirely absent.  It could certainly be recommended for students working closely with the Greek text for a precise idea of how a passage should be translated; students of Classical Civilisation reading for speed and the story may find it rather flat.  While using a modern idiom throughout, the speeches do not sound as though anyone would actually say them and so the text falls between a heightened narrative recitation and a prose text to be read like a novel.  Here is Hammond in the passage where Eurykleia recognises Odysseus: 

This was the scar the old woman recognised as she took his leg and felt it with the flat of her hands.  She let go of his foot, and his leg fell down into the bowl: the bronze clanged and tilted over, and the water was spilled on the floor.  Joy and grief together seized her heart and her eyes were filled with tears, and her strong voice was blocked.  

Compare this to E V Rieu’s more natural rhythms in the Penguin Classics edition: 

Now, as the old woman passed her hands over this scar, she recognized the feel of it and abruptly let go her master’s foot, which made the metal ring as it dropped against the basin, upsetting it and spilling the water all over the floor.  Delight and anguish swept through her heart together; her eyes were filled with tears; her voice was strangled by emotion. 

Neither can get the effect of Fenton in Pope’s version of the Odyssey:

Smiles dew’d with tears the pleasing strife exprest

Of grief and joy, alternate in her breast.

Overall this is a highly professional production, to be seriously considered for textbook use in the classroom for any students with a good grasp of English who are working with the Greek text.

John Bulwer