The Homeric poems are very ancient and very alien and very formulaic. They are also vivid, direct, gripping, beautiful, enjoyable, ethically and psychologically complex works of narrative and poetic art. Translators have to choose which matters most: to alienate, or to engage.
Why do some reviewers assume that translations that play up the poem’s repetitiveness & foreignness are self-evidently more “faithful” or less “partial” than those (like mine) that play up Homer’s beauty and clarity and depth?
A couple of recent reviews (Colin Burrow in LRB, & Susan Kristol in Weekly Standard) complain that (like many translators) I do creative things with the repeated epithets, & and various characters and relationships sound different in from other modern English translations.
Most reviewers (NYT, WP, Atlantic, NPR, Telegraph, Guardian, New Republic, etc.) observed more or less the same qualities (meter, vividness, speed, emotion, readability, depth, humor, stylistic range), but treated them as positive attributes. Many ways of looking at a blackbird.
Scholars debate about e.g. the representation of Telemachus, & of Penelope, & of Odysseus himself, in the Greek text. I tried to show the psychological complexity of these characters. Other translations, IMHO, tend to simplify the characters more.
Like ancient readers, I'm interested in what the Homeric poems have to say about ethics, society, politics, human behavior. I don’t find easy answers. It seems to me a very modern idea, to try to read Homer with no emotional or ethical engagement, & no pleasure.
Oddly, we tolerate the assertion that a boring or un-metrical or pompous, or obscure or ethically simple version of the complex, fast-paced, deeply moving Homeric poems might be the “literal” or "impartial" version, before the poetic fluff gets added in. Er…
Translators always have to make decisions about what the text they’re translating does & means. The translator knows she can’t convey everything 100% from one language into another, unless she’s an idiot, or just copies out the original (cf Borges’ “Pierre Menand”).
I'm trying to decide what lessons I can learn, for the Iliad, to fail better. Should I aim for a more foreignizing style? Is there any point in that, when the original is powerful, beautiful & clear, and there are plenty of unreadable English Iliads already? I don't know.
Many recent translations are v. similar, in form (unmetrical), style (foreignizing), interpretation (heroizing), & cover art: often a boat, tho' most of the poem is set on land. This isn't the whole truth about Homer, and I'm not sure the world needs more of the same.