translated by Samuel Butler
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About the Author
About the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, we know nothing,
and, barring some startling new discoveries, we never will. We do not know whether these epics have been created by a single author (or possibly two different ones), or whether they are the
cumulative result of generations or centuries of story-telling. “Homer” may be a personal name or a generic term. If there is a single author to whom we
owe the Odyssey, or most of it, we do not know whether this is the same person who has written the Iliad. Common wisdom has it that Homer lived
in Ionia, where, for instance, Izmir today claims to have been his home. Samuel Butler, the author of this translation, argued that the Odyssey’s author
(but not the Iliad’s) must have been young, female, and from Sicily. The time in which the Iliad and the Odyssey have been created seems to
have been the 9th, or the 8th, or the 7th century BC — with the Iliad probably preceding the Odyssey by a few decades. What we do know
is that they are the earliest extant works of western literature. We also know that these epic poems come from an oral tradition and were meant to be recited
or sung, and listened to, rather than to be read.
Samuel Butler, grandson of the scholar and Bishop Samuel Butler, was born December 4th, 1835, and died June 18th, 1902. He is not only
the author of two well-known and influential novels, Erewhon and The Way of All Flesh, but also of a great number of works dealing with religion,
biology, philosophy, history, art and literature, and he also tried his hand at sheep-farming in New Zealand, painting and musical composition. Always the
intellectual outsider, heretic and iconoclast, he was critical both towards Christianity and Darwinism — “I have never written on any subject unless I
believed that the authorities on it were hopelessly wrong,” he stated.
Butler’s translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey, which date from 1898 and 1900, are eminently readable. He tells the story
faithfully, though without tormenting the reader with hexameter verses or other vain attempts at getting close to the “feel” of the Greek original. What is lost
in linguistic and poetic authenticity, or rather the semblance of it, is more than made up for in clarity and in the ease with which we can follow the flow of the tale.
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