Sing to me, O Muse….
Here’s an excellent interview in the Paris Review with the late Robert Fagles, author of our favorite translation of The Iliad. Buried in the middle somewhere Fagles says, “Ever since my parents read the papers to me and I could follow the European and Pacific theaters of World War II, I’ve hankered to be a soldier—if only in that war, a war worth fighting, and winning too—and I’ve been fascinated as well as repelled by the notion of mortal combat.”
Fagles was born in 1933, so he wasn’t of age to fight in World War Two. But would have been 18 in 1951, prime draft or enlistment age for Korea. Nonetheless he didn’t sign up, apparently it was not what he considered “a war worth fighting.”
Notwithstanding that, his translation of the war poetry of the Iliad is magnificent. The interviewer gets at some important points about the influence of the World War One poet and writer Robert Graves (Goodbye to All That, The White Goddess), and of World War II Army and Marine veteran Shelby Foote (The Civil War: A Narrative) on Fagles’ work. It’s also interesting to read his comment that Americans prefer prose to poetry, which is why his translation isn’t in meter.
If you’re interested, take a look (in any translation) at Book VI, the scene where Hector goes up to Troy and meets his wife, Andromache. That scene, written nearly 3000 years ago seems very familiar to me and to other recent service members I’ve discussed it with. Book X is also fascinating: it might be the first description of a special operations mission.