The Influence of Lattimore’s and Lombardo’s Translations of Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Despite there only being one copy of the source material for the Greek epic poet Homer’s The Odyssey, there have been numerous different interpretations and ideas, as the original language and stylistic elements of the text can be interpreted in various ways. The two translations that will be discussed, Richard Lattimore’s The Odyssey and Stanley Lombardo’s Odyssey, will be contrasted in examination of Chapter 24. Due to the thirty-year difference between the earlier Lattimore translation and the later Lombardo one, these two different interpretations share as many similarities as they do differences.

In the last chapter, Agamemnon talks to the ghost of Amphimedon (111) about how Penelope would unweave a robe she was weaving every night while Odysseus was away such that she could tell the suitors to wait for her to finish the robe until they could have her, thus perpetually denying the suitors what seemed to them as a fair reason for postponing marriage. In both books, we hear this story of Amphimedon, but we also don’t hear what Penelope has to say about what happened. We only hear Amphimedon’s outlook, which is quite biased from the reader’s standpoint as Penelope doesn’t get to share her view and to explain the feelings and emotions she was experiencing at the palace without Odysseus. In both books, their outlooks on Penelope’s situation is the same, as it is only told from the suitors’ point of view.

The language on the other hand is quite different in both translations when the suitor is talking to Agamemnon about Penelope. In Richmond Lattimore’s translation, Amphimedon says to Agamemnon, “She would not refuse the hateful marriage, nor would she bring it about, but she was planning our death and black destruction with this other stratagem of her heart’s devising. She set up a greatloom in her palace and set to weaving a web of threads long and fine” (126-130). Lattimore uses outdated language and diction in this quote, such as his use of the word “stratagem” a word that would most likely require the average reader to either consult a dictionary or attempt to ignore what effect it might have on the text. Lattimore is also very descriptive in his language, this helping the reader imagine the setting in great detail when compared to the Lombardo translation. Wholly viewed, Lombardo’s translation takes a more modern approach. “She loathed the thought of remarrying, but she wouldn’t give us a yes or no. Her mind was bent on death and darkness for us. Here is one of the tricks she dreamed up: she set up a loom in the hall and started weaving a huge, fine threaded piece… “(132- 137). In this quote, Lombardo takes more of a modern approach to The Odyssey and makes it easier for the reader to understand. The longest word in the quote is “remarrying” and even this has a somewhat clear definition when compared with any of the words from the Latimore translation.

Later within the chapter Laertes speaks with Odysseus. Laertes states how if he was not as old, he would have fought these suitors. Richmond Lattimore’s version of this is, “If only I could have been such yesterday in the palace, with amour upon my shoulders, to stand beside you and fight off the suitors’ attack; so I would have unstrung the knees of many there in the hall, and your heart within you would have been gladdened” (379- 381). In this quote, Lattimore uses old diction to show more distinct emotions and how proud he would be to fight again and feel honor from his son for fighting the suitors. This shows the reader the importance of showing honor of fighting for your territory and how it was a big opportunity to show your family integrity in ancient Greece. Stanley Lombardo’s interpretation of the quote is, “In our house, amour on my shoulders, as the man I was when I took Nericus, the mainland town, commanding the Cephallenians! I would have beaten the daylights out of them There in our halls, and made your heart proud” (387- 391). As the reader can see, Lomardo’s take on this quote is much easier to understand, even going to the point of using modern idioms such as, “beaten the daylights out of.” Although it is significantly easier to read, the language used by Lombardo is significantly less dramatic, possibly lessening the effect of the dialogue. The language used in Lattimore’s approach reflects the views and readings of classicists at the time, and likely more suited to the older generations of today rather than millennials. Lombardo’s translation lies on the other end of the spectrum, holding and expressing language constructed and tailored for accessibility as opposed to erudite classical scholars.

In The Odyssey itself, Richmond Lattimore’s translation is written in a very old-fashioned way of thinking in the way it depicts the setting and characters. He uses language that not many people use in this day and age. This is where Stanley Lombardo’s translation comes in to bridge the divide between epic poetry and the modern reader, as it was modernized specifically such that more people can follow the story of The Odyssey better. Stanley Lombardo’s translation is more for the younger generations who did not grow up with the use of old English as it was published in the early 2000s.

In Greek mythology, Odysseus is seen as this honorable king and everyone thinks highly of him, but in the last chapter of The Odyssey we see the suitors get killed by Odysseus in his home and he does not give the suitors a proper funeral. In Lombardo’s translation the suitor describes what happened, “That’s how we died Agamemnon. Our bodies still like uncared for Odysseus’ halls. Word has not yet reached our friends and family, who could wash the black blood from our wounds and lay us out with wailing, as is due the dead” (193-197). In Greek mythology, gods and immortals believe in an afterlife and a proper funeral. After hearing that Odysseus had left the dead suitors lying in the hallway of his home, the readers start to look at Odysseus differently and not as highly. Lombardo and Lattimore both describe the conversation between Agamemnon and the suitor the same way, so there isn’t a significant difference in this section of the chapter. In the end, Odysseus’ actions of not showing his honor of giving the suitors a proper funeral shows that he is not as honorable as the audience thought he was.

In conclusion, both translations have fundamentally different objectives and respectively different means of accomplishing them. The story of both books is the same regardless of the translation. What is to note in comparing them is the overarching influence of the translators upon the work which they are translating. Lattimore, publishing his version of the Odyssey towards the end of the 1960s, reflects a noticeably more constrained view of the text, both in diction and approach to the subject matter. In contrast to this is Lombardo, his version of the Odyssey first published in the year 2000, displaying a new and modernized take upon the original text. It is this very essentialist fact that gives way to new translations in the first place. Time changes and societal attitudes shift with them. If Lombardo’s translation would have been stylistically equivalent to Lattimore’s I am sure it would not have been worth even considering. There is much to draw from comparing these two works. In viewing the Lattimore translation, we as readers are not only invited to step into the story of Odysseus and the time period of ancient Greece but also the approaches and attitudes towards classical literature in the 1960s. If there are readers who prefer a more “classical” take on their works of classic literature, they will surely find it here. If the effect that the Lattimore translation has on the source text can be compared to that of a lens, in that it magnifies the classical element, then it is only natural that the Lombardo translation can be compared to glass, allowing for a view that places the greatest focus on clarity and accessibility for the reader.

Both translations are important, but it can be argued that the Lombardo translation is the more important of the two. As both language itself and the ways in which it is used are continually changing it is the duty of poets and classicists to allow these works to remain accessible to mainstream audiences. With works such as The Odyssey having as great a place in the “western canon” as they do, and the resultant effect these works have upon later works in time, it is a non-deferrable duty to ensure all members of the public are able to retrace the genealogy of western literature back to its beginnings, should they so please.


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