When it comes to translating classic literature, one of the most pressing issues a translator faces is determining how closely to follow the original text. One the one hand, you don’t want to deviate so far from the original that you lose or change the meaning. On the other hand, sometimes a literal, word-for-word translation can leave modern readers confused and frustrated.
This was the dilemma faced by renowned translator Stephen Mitchell when he began work on a new translation of The Iliad. The epic poem is full of long-winded descriptions and epithets like “you doer of deeds not forgotten” that sound formal and almost ritualistic to modern English speakers. The Wall Street Journal notes that Mitchell decided to take some liberties with these parts of the text when he translated, resulting in a more modern-sounding poem:
He cut about 1,100 lines, modernized the dialogue and left out most of the fusty-seeming descriptors attached to each character (swift-footed Achilles, bright-eyed Athena, crafty Odysseus). Read more