There are many debates and opinions concerning the composition, context, and translation of Homer. Among those arguments played out in the 19th Century was whether Homer reflected an elite, aristocratic sensibility, or a more popular, garrulous, and common taste—the salon or the saloon, as it were.
One of the more interesting products to emerge from this battle, was the rendering of Homer done by Francis W. Newman (1805-1897) in 1856. Brother of Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890), Francis Newman taught at University College London, and was one of the great Victorian eccentrics. So, in an attempt to offer his contemporary audience a way to appreciate the popular appeal – as so he viewed it – Homer would have had in his own day, he translated all 15,000+ lines of the epic poem to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
Newman’s approach did not meet with universal acclaim. Among his opponents was the poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold (1822-1888). His On Translating Homer: Three Lectures Given at Oxford (1861) presents a different viewpoint, as well as some terse remarks on Mr. Newman’s “unfortunate observances.”
You may sing along with Francis for a few thousand lines, if you wish. His translation, as well as Arnold’s lectures, are available digitally for your reading enjoyment!
Of Peleus’ son, Achilles sing,
Oh Goddess, the resentment,
Accursed, which with countless pangs
Achaia’s army wounded …
Note: For more on the 19th century scholarly debates concerning Homer specifically, and Greek history, civilization, and culture more generally, read Frank M. Turner’s The Greek Heritage in Victorian Britain (1981) for a full treatment of the topic.
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