The Odyssey is about what 20 years does -- to a man, a boy, a dog, a pig, a slave, a woman, a household, a weapon, a community, a marriage, a goddess, a tree, a poem, a father, a mother. How long does it take to come home from a war? Will we ever be who we were?
It's a long poem about a long process, and it's also about how long it takes to tell the story. Right now I am agonizing about how to convert 10K words into 5K without losing anything important. Is that possible?
In @KarenEmmerich's great book, I loved an anecdote about being contractually required to produce a "faithful rendition" of a Greek novel that was over 750pp, in 500 English pages. A miracle. Kate Briggs also has excellent thoughts on time and length in translation.
In my Odyssey & tragedy translations, I keep to the same number of lines as the original. I use iambic pentameter for originals that use a longer metrical line (hexameter or iambic trimeter, respectively). I match the lines. I use measure. So my syllables mismatch.
In general, translations are often longer than originals, depending on the languages involved. Latin is usually denser than English; it often uses fewer words. English has a lot of monosyllables; Homeric Gk is v. polysyllabic.
So I wondered if English Homers tend to have fewer syllables. At random:
ἦμος δ᾽ ἠριγένεια φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς,
καὶ τότε πῦρ ἀνέκαιε καὶ ἤμελγε κλυτὰ μῆλα,
πάντα κατὰ μοῖραν, καὶ ὑπ᾽ ἔμβρυον ἧκεν ἑκάστῃ.
22 words in 3 lines. 48 syllables.
Which come, he first of all his fire enflames,
Then milks his goats and ewes, then to their dams
Lets in their young...
23 words, 24 syllables.
Chapman= almost same number of words as Homer, but ONLY HALF the syllables, despite some significant additions not in the original (both sheep and ewes not unspecified animals, & "first of all"). Leaves out the rosy fingers of Dawn, & the careful shepherd's focus on ἑκάστῃ.
Now did the rosy-fingered morn arise,
And shed her sacred light along the skies;
He wakes, he lights the fire, he milks the dams,
And to the mother's teats submits the lambs.
4 lines, 33 words, 40 syllables.
Pope has quite a lot more words, 33% more lines, but fewer syllables. Adds: "sacred" and "skies" and "wakes"; removes the youth or earliness of Dawn, epithet of the animals, and the note that the chores are performed in orderly fashion.
Fitzgerald: When the young Dawn with finger tips of rose
lit up the world, the Kyklops built a fire
and milked his handsome ewes, all in due order,
putting the sucklings to the mother.
27 words, 31 syllables, almost 4 lines.
When young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more
the monster relit his fire and milked his handsome ewes,
each in order, putting a suckling underneath each dam.
3 lines, 35 syllables, 30 words; Adds "the monster".
As soon as dawn came, streaking the sky red,
He rekindled the fire and milked his flocks,
all in good order, placing the sucklings
beneath their mothers.
Lombardo: 34 syllables, 3.5 lines, 27 words
Wilson: 3 lines, 31 syllables, 26 words
Early the Dawn apppeared, pink fingers blooming,
and then he lit his fire and milked his ewes
in turn, and set a lamb by every one.
Slightly more words, same lines, fewer syllables.
Even those with more words may omit important details (e.g. Pope); even those with a lot fewer syllables may add important things (eg Chapman adding the goats, or Fagles adding the monster). There might not be a single right way to count or measure.
Even those with no meter are significantly shorter than Homer. Mine and Fitzgerald's are similar in word count, but in no other way. Measurement doesn't tell you about the whole vision of a text and its timing.
I know this is a silly exercise. But thinking about timing and how long stories or poems or languages take to convey meaning isn't silly at all. How do we translate one set of words or experiences into another, and how long should it take? How long does it feel?
Loeb, prose, Murray: As soon as early Dawn appeared, the rosy-fingered, he rekindled the fire and milked his goodly flocks all in turn, and beneath each dam placed her young. 28 words, 36 syllables. Adds "re"(kindled). Lattimore's odd free verse retweeted here: