Thursday, February 24, 2011

Speak, Memory, to us on our journey

Just a short post today:

OdysseyYou may have noticed that when I gave clips of the beginnings of many translations of The Odyssey, I did not include the words Stanley Lombardo uses in the first paragraph of his translation.

                                   Of the cunning hero,
The wanderer, blown off course time and again
After he plundered Troy's sacred heights.

Lombardo replaces the more traditional "muse" with "memory"--a choice that translates not only Homer's words but his meaning into a modern idiom. Instead of an external supernatural figure shaping the text, the story emerges from within: from Homer's memories, from our memories.  The phrase also emphasizes the importance of the preservation of memory in the Odysseus's story.  Lombardo takes the words from the title of Nabokov's memoir.  Fascinatingly, it is a phrase which Nabokov uses partially in reference to Homer.  (The echo of an echo makes me feel like I am opening a series of Russian dolls.)

Lombardo makes another modern reference in his choice of cover art.  We see NASA's "Earthrise"--a picture taken by astronauts on an Apollo mission as they looked back from space to our planet.  The image reminds us how much our world calls to us even when we seem unbelievably far from home.  It also emphasizes how much we are pulled away from home by the idea of journey--that is, that we feel the pull to make our own odysseys.


  1. Slow, Plot-Driven ReaderFebruary 25, 2011

    I was wonderng why they chose this iconic photo for the cover. I think your interpretation that it is a reference to the near universal longing to return home makes good sense.

    I've been turning over the comparisons between the Illad and the Odyssey and remembering the earlier discussion in your comment section about whether Achilles represents everyman or superman. The same question applies to Odysseus. The more I think about, the more confused I get. Sometimes I think Achilles is the more ideal, the more god-like and Odysseus the more flawed and human. And then I think about Achilles growth, which seems more human and Odysseus' constancy, which seems more idealized. Perhaps the question is wrong, that Homer saw humans and gods as more similar than later thinkers, and so the distinction between superman and everyman does not apply to these works?

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