Homer: The Opening of the Odyssey (From Greek)

A great many readers have, at different times, clamored to see my version of a passage from Homer, to hear what ancient Greek sounded like or to hear what Greek hexameters may have been like. So this is my way of responding. Since the poem is in quantitative hexameters, the oldest meter known in Greek, it seems appropriate that I bring English back to its oldest meters. My verse-practice here is a compromise between the Old English alliterative accentual tetrameters of e.g. Beowulf and the Middle English alliterative revival, as the metrical patterns used to not conform precisely to Old English versification in terms of stress-placement.

The recording is an attempt to capture what an ancient professional ῥαψῳδός reciting the poem may have sounded like, using a reconstruction of what Greek sounded like in Athens in the late 5th century BC. For the musical accompaniment employing reconstructed ancient instruments, I am again ever-thankful to the paleomusicologist team Synaulia. 

"Fata virumque cano"
By "Homer" (Odyssey 1.1-10)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in reconstructed Classical Greek pronunciation

Songweaving Goddess speak the memory
Of that man: waymaker of words and deeds,
Wanderer harrowed through the world and the years
After sacking the sacred stronghold of Troy
He saw the cities and sensed the minds
Of many a man in many a land.
Through many nights' misery in fathoms
Of his spirit at sea he struggled for naught
Save his life and his crew's long-sought homecoming.
But for all his virtue and valor could do
He couldn't defend them from what felled them all.
Reckless cravings wrecked them finally
When those childish fools profaned and slew
And stuffed their guts with the Sungod's kine.
The Prince of Daylight then put out their lives,
And darkened in their eyes the dawn of homecoming.
Their lore be your song O lightninglord's daughter,
Immortal Muse! Once more in our time
Let the tale be heard. 

The Original:

Ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ
πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσε·
πολλῶν δ’ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω,
πολλὰ δ’ ὅ γ’ ἐν πόντῳ πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμόν,
ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων.
ἀλλ' οὐδ' ὧς ἑτάρους ἐρρύσατο, ἱέμενός περ·
αὐτῶν γὰρ σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὄλοντο,
νήπιοι, οἳ κατὰ βοῦς Ὑπερίονος Ἠελίοιο
ἤσθιον· αὐτὰρ ὁ τοῖσιν ἀφείλετο νόστιμον ἦμαρ.
τῶν ἁμόθεν γε, θεά, θύγατερ Διός, εἰπὲ καὶ ἡμῖν.


The pronunciation in the recording is reconstructed classical Attic (i.e. that of Athens in the 5th century BC.) It is not an attempt at authentic Homeric pronunciation (i.e. that of the Ionian and Aeolian oral story-singers of the 9th through 7th centuries B.C. to whom we give the collective byline of "Homer"). So it's less the "original" pronunciation of the text than the pronunciation which Plato, say, would have given it.

The reason, quite simply, is that while we know a few of the ways in which Homeric pronunciation differed- with varying degrees of likelihood- from Attic (e.g. the Homeric existence of a "w" sound as in English "wet" which Attic lost, the Homeric pronunciation of υ as the back vowel /u/ of English "fool" rather than the /y/ of French "lune" or German "über" as in Attic, and about half a dozen other differences) we don't have remotely the level of evidence for it which we do have for the for the phonetic reality of 5th century Athenian utterance, including even such punctilios as sentence intonation and speech-rhythm. To my knowledge, no other pronunciation this ancient can be so plausibly reconstructed in such great detail, (save perhaps that of Vedic Sanskrit if the right people put their minds to it.)

For detailed scholarly work on the sounds of ancient Greek and the prosodic realities of Greek verse delivery see The Prosody of Greek Speech by A.M Devine and L.D. Stephen, Vox Graeca: A Guide to the Pronunciation of Classical Greek by W.S. Allen, part II of Accent and Rhythm also by W.S. Allen, and Zu den Konstituenten des griechischen Hexameters by Stefan Hagel.


  1.  That's fascinating. It's good to hear the sound of the words in Ancient Greek.

    I like your translation in Old English alliterative accentual metrics too. It suits the verse. 

  2. It's certainly very interesting, and I think I would like it very much if I didn't know the original Greek.  As it is, it stands very well to me as an "English version" of Homer (and I do think the choice of Old English alliterative verse is a good one), but as a translation, it's a bit free for my taste.

  3.  Anyone translating Homer into English in the 21st century has some serious explaining to do. Why the hell do we need yet another incarnation of him when there are good translations out there, and Greek is far from an obscure language of study? 

    Because something new can be done with it.

     It could be said that this makes my translation a modern adaptation, rather than an ancient poem in English, that it is more mine than it is Homer's, whoever the hell that is. Yes, in the most obvious sense, it is. But as witnesses for the defense, I could summon the poets of antiquity themselves, who did precisely these sort of things routinely.

    Imitation and adaptation were a key component of classical aesthetics, as you must know . When literateurs called someone's work original, it was often not a compliment but a condemnation for straying from proper models, and to call someone's work "derivative" would have been as meaningless and absurd as a modern green beret calling a marine an evil butcher for being so good at killing.

    The flipside of this is that ancient literary translators (mainly romans working w/ greek, I know) felt free to take such license as they deemed necessary. In fact whether something counts an adaptation or a translation is often less a question of fidelity than of intent. When composing an original imitation the poet was plying his own craft which entailed adherence to models. When fashioning a translation from an original, the poet was conveying the craft of another, which meant giving as best an account as possible of what the original poem was like. And this meant adjustments not just of language, idiom etc. but also, at times, of Culture. Helios could become Apollo in one instance, and Sol in another.

    It is my position that, in casting classical verse like this, I am availing myself of an aspect of the classical aesthetic that most translators often treat, in much the way architects treat bathrooms, as undeniably integral but best kept as hidden as possible.

    In any event, it's only slightly freer than, say, Fitzgerald IMHO. Anywho, I did another one from homer here. And here's me pulling the same trick w/ virgil. And some vergil in blank verse

  4. I'm all for freer. Great translation. Here's hoping you have nothing better to do than translate the entire Odyssey (*fingers crossed*). By the way, just interested in your opinions of current Odyssey translations? I first read Fitzgerald's version and as a result I'm quite swayed by it. I don't speak Greek though!

  5. In my opinion Fitzgerald's is by far the best published version out there as far as English versecraft goes.

  6. Costas LeventopoulosSeptember 22, 2013 at 3:37 AM

    You are certainly a gifted person

    I am also interested for languages , etymology and poetry.

    This is a very nice poetic "translation" in modern Greek by Eftaliotis
    which probably you know .
    Τὸν ἄντρα τὸν πολύπραγο τραγούδησέ
    μου, ὦ Μοῦσα,
    ποὺ περισσὰ πλανήθηκε,
    σὰν κούρσεψε τῆς Τροίας
    τὸ ἱερὸ
    κάστρο, καὶ πολλῶν ἀνθρώπων εἶδε
    κι ἔμαθε γνῶμες, καὶ πολλὰ
    στὰ πέλαα βρῆκε πάθια,

    γιὰ μιὰ ζωὴ παλεύοντας καὶ γυρισμὸ
    Μὰ πάλε δὲν τοὺς γλύτωσε,
    κι ἂν τὸ ποθοῦσε, ἐκείνους,
    τὶ ἀπὸ
    δική τους χάθηκαν οἱ κούφιοι
    τοῦ Ἥλιου τοῦ Ὑπερίονα
    σὰν ἔφαγαν τὰ βόδια,
    κι αὐτὸς τοὺς
    πῆρε τὴ γλυκειὰ τοῦ γυρισμοῦ τους
    μέρα. Ἀπ' ὅπου ἂν τά 'χης, πές μας
    τα, ὦ θεά, τοῦ Δία κόρη.""

    Finally, I tried to send to your email poemsintranslation@gmail.com, without success , my recitation, as a Greek, of the Homer.

    Best Regards and congratulation for your achievements.


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