Historical story

Beautiful new translation Odyssey

The startling wanderings of a Greek hero, who wants to go home from the battlefield but is opposed by the god of the sea. This is what Homer's Odyssey is about. The story has been published many times before in Dutch, but never translated so beautifully as by the Flemish classicist Patrick Lateur.

After a bloody battle, the Greeks destroyed the city of Troy on the west coast of present-day Turkey. When Odysseus, king of the Greek island of Ithaca, met Polyphemus on his way home, he was terrified. Quite rightly so, because this one-eyed giant ate people with skin and hair.

Odysseus, known for his cleverness, concocted a ruse. He made the Cyclops drink wine. The giant fell into a deep sleep, and then Odysseus drilled a burning beam into his eye. Before that, the hero had told Polyphemos that his name was 'Nobody'. When the giant screamed for help, he could only tell the other Cyclopes that 'Nobody' had done this.

It is one of the best known and most impressive stories from Homer's Odyssey (eighth century BC). The ruse allows the Greek hero and six of his men to escape. From the sea, Odysseus could not resist and shouted his name to Polyphemos. He shouldn't have done that. The Cyclops was Poseidon's son and summoned his father, the god of the sea, to avenge him. Poseidon did. He then let Odysseus roam the seas for years before he was allowed to return to his beloved island of Ithaka.

Huge wave

This remarkable story is one of the most beautiful adventures ever described. We follow Odysseus on his journey across the raging waters, on remote islands and read how he is a plaything of the gods. Patrick Lateur had previously translated Homer's Iliad, about the battle in Troy, excellently. So now he ventures into the Odyssey with the same, impressive result.

Never before have Homer's sentences sounded so beautiful in Dutch. Take, for example, how Lateur translates sailing on the raging sea. “As soon as the island was behind us, I suddenly saw the vapor of a huge wave, I heard a rumble. Out of fear my men released the oars from their hands, they all fell into the current, the ship fell silent on the spot because my comrades no longer propelled it forward with the sharp blades of the oars.'

While reading this piece it is as if you are on board the ship yourself, seeing that huge wave coming and feeling the fear of the men. And that must have been Homer's intention. The Iliad and Odyssey used to be recited, someone sang the stories to the audience. Before Homer (if he ever existed) wrote them down, they were probably transmitted orally for centuries. In fact, this is not so much a text to read quietly, but to pronounce or sing aloud.

At Lateur, Homer's words burst from the pages. Previous Dutch translations were almost all full of archaic words. It often came across as pompous and dignified, as if you had to read the text with a potato in your throat or just like on the polygon news. The translators seemed to want to emphasize that the Odyssey and Iliad are very old texts. But good stories are kept alive by telling them over and over and not by translating them into old-fashioned words. You only do them justice if the words are just as beautiful in Dutch as in the original. And Lateur succeeded.

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