The ability to translate ancient texts could be considered an art form, inasmuch as the translator must capture the meaning of the original text and painstakingly interpret it into the new language. This skill must be precisely honed, lest the true feeling of the text be lost. Throughout this process, the translator sometimes uses his or her best judgment to interpret ambiguity from the original text, subsequently placing emphasis where it is deemed necessary. These individual differences in interpretation create variations among translated versions of the original text. Translated from ancient Greek, The Odyssey is one such text that is subject to varied interpretations during the translation from Greek to English. The translated versions by Lattimore, Fagels, and Mandelbaum are exemplary works to analyze to view the individual differences and opinions that provide the variety to the art form of the translation.
In analyzing the Lattimore translation (Book 23 lines 291-296), it is apparent that this is not the most eloquent translation into English.
Lattimore seems to have a "get-to-the-point" style of translating, with no frills or extraneous words used. Relative to the other versions, it appears to be too literal, with not much corrective emphasis placed on re-organizing the words to sound more fluid. This is evident by the long chains of events strung together by five commas in the first four lines. This seems to be a delineation of the events, with little emphasis placed on clarity or highlighting any important themes present. A major theme in this passage is that of Odysseus' triumph and the joy of reuniting with loved ones, Penelope in particular. This translation does not well represent the importance of this theme, as it was not illustrated as well is it could have been. There is more emphasis placed on the events preceding Odysseus and Penelope's retirement for the night, then on the actual beauty and joy of the act itself. This is the first time Odysseus can spend time with his wife, who cherishes him so much and longed for his presence for twenty years. A feeling of relief and happiness should be instilled in the reader through the work of the translator, it is definitely not present here. Lattimore only uses the adjective "gladly" to describe how Odysseus and Penelope felt when they retired for the evening. When this is compared to the other two translations it is apparent that more attention should have been given by Lattimore to this important aspect of the tale. Another interesting aspect of this translation is that Eurycleia the nurse is referred to as simply "the old woman". This may seem like a minor detail omitted by Lattimore, but it provides insight into his style of translating and what he views as important or trivial in the work. In general, this is not the most enriching translation of the Odyssey, when compared to the Fagels and Mandelbaum versions.
In analyzing the Fagels version, it is obvious that it is at the other end of the spectrum from the work of Lattimore, with regards to detail and emphasis on themes. Fagels exacts a vivid dimension of language from the ancient text, creating a lucid illustration of the events in the passage, placing enough emphasis on Odysseus and Penelope's retirement to evince the necessary emotions from the reader. For example, Fagels describes Odysseus' bed being made with "coverings deep and soft", and he describes the final walk into the bed chamber as Odysseus and Penelope "Rejoicing in each other". He also describes Odysseus' bed as "the old familiar place they loved so well". This provides a feeling of relief and comfort that washes over the reader, as it is now obvious that Odysseus has triumphed and is now reunited with his loving wife. Also, Fagels refers to Eurycleia as the "old nurse", as opposed to the "old woman" like Lattimore did. This small detail shows how Fagels values the minutia and intricacies of the ancient text and the way that he chooses to evoke them is truly demonstrative of his understanding of the prevalent themes of the work. The highly descriptive manner in which Fagels translates the ancient text makes his interpretation very interesting and fulfilling to read, as it evinces many emotions from the reader and sheds light on the major themes of the story.
After analyzing the translation by Mandelbaum, it can be concluded that this version is a compromise of the styles of the two previous translators. This version is much more descriptive and sinuous than Lattimore's, as it uses more adjectives to enhance the mood, such as describing the "bright torchlight", the "sturdy bedstead" and "soft blankets". Mandelbaum uses good delineation style like Lattimore, but he makes it much more eloquent and pleasant for the reader through the use of the adjectives. He also used the fewest commas out of all three translators, which contributes to the flow of the passage. Mandelbaum does an excellent job emphasizing the themes of triumph and joy by illustrating a beautiful picture in the style of Fagels. The passage is easily understood, and the reader can let a sigh of relief as they realize the beauty of the occasion, knowing that the triumphant Odysseus and loving Penelope have been reunited. The joy of Odysseus and Penelope is fittingly portrayed by Mandelbaum as he states, "he and she delighted in the sight of their old couch". Such a wonderful resolution to the individual anguish suffered by both during the twenty year course of the tale. Also, Mandelbaum refers to old Eurycleia by name in his translation. This attention to detail is evocative of the style of Fagels. Mandelbaum takes a "middle-of-the-road" approach in comparison to the styles of Lattimore and Fagels, but each translation has its own voice and style, and provides crucial insight that other versions do not. It is apparent that different translators choose to emphasize different aspects of the themes in their works, which is a vital point in determining the value of their translation. Through analyzing the styles of the translators, it is evident how difficult the art of the translation can be.
In the context of the entire tale, this passage holds a very crucial job with regards to conveying the themes of the work. The Odyssey is a tale of action inasmuch as the story is constantly developing in ways that display emotions from the characters, therefore evincing it from the readers. The characters in the heroic tale run the gamut of emotions, and they are conveyed to the reader with utmost articulateness and emphasis. These emotions are the thematic basis of the tale. Themes of courage, maturation, pride, divine influence, vengeance, and endurance all exist in the book. It is the job of this passage to be the apex of the theme of the joy of reuniting with loved ones, Penelope in particular. This theme is pervasive throughout the book, and is twofold. One part concerns the reunion of Telemachus with his father who he has never seen, while the other part concerns the plight of a weary wife, harassed by insolent suitors and longing for the return of her husband. The latter is a most heartbreaking and anguishing situation, and the passage provides the harmonious resolution to the conflict. The former has already been resolved at this point. The theme of triumph is also addressed in this passage. As the maids and nurses prepare the bed chamber, light the torches and lead Odysseus and Penelope to their much belated retirement, one cannot help but share the sense of triumph that Odysseus feels. After twenty years of imprisonment, daring escapes, battling and traveling, he is home. He has just rid his home of the vile suitors who devoured his wealth, and he is spending the first night in twenty years with his beloved wife, and has struggled so much to do so. Before this point, the theme of the tale focused on vengeance, as Odysseus and Telemachus killed the suitors who disrespected their family and property. This passage serves as the resolution of the theme of joy of reuniting with loved ones, the apex of the theme of triumph, and juxtaposition between themes of vengeance and triumph. A most fitting theme for the tale to close upon.
Also, this triumphant closure would never have been attained without the help of Athene, Telemachus and the other men loyal to Odysseus. Had they not assisted him in plotting the defeat of the suitors and in the battle itself, this resolution may not have came about. Athene played an especially important role in this outcome, as she guarded and advised Odysseus throughout his adventure. Her actions were integral in the theme of divine influence, as she was a large factor in determining the fate of Odysseus, and the tale itself.
Along with the theme, this passage is also important regarding the mood of the tale. It seems that there are two different moods in The Odyssey, one being that of epic excitement and adventure, the other being that of dramatic human emotions. The passage plays an important role in the latter, as the mood is illustrated by the emotions of love and joy felt by Odysseus and Penelope, not to mention the reader who can take solace knowing that they are together again. It is the final resolve in the heroic tale of crafty Odysseus, it is the consummation of all previous action and emotions, it is the grand finale of the most heroic tale ever told.