Versions of Homer: Translation, fan fiction, and other transformative rewriting

Shannon K. Farley

University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts, United States

[0.1] Abstract—This article posits a paradigm of transformative work that includes translation, adaptation, and fan fiction using the Homeric epics as a case study. A chronological discussion of translations, other literary rewritings, and fan fiction distinguishes each as belonging to its respective cultural system while participating in a common form of transformative rewriting. Such a close look at the distinctive ways that Homer has been rewritten throughout history helps us to make a scholarly distinction between the work of fan writers and the work of rewriters like Vergil and Alexander Pope. At the same time, discussing the ways in which the forms of their rewritings are similar gives a scholarly basis for arguing that fan fiction participates in the discourse of serious interpretive literature.

[0.2] Keywords—Systems theory, Vergil, Pope, Lattimore, Fagles

Farley, Shannon K. 2016. "Versions of Homer: Translation, Fan Fiction, and Other Transformative Rewriting." In "The Classical Canon and/as Transformative Work," edited by Ika Willis, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 21. doi:10.3983/twc.2016.0673.

1. Introduction

[1.1] The year 1992 saw two major pieces of scholarship published in two very different fields. André Lefevere's Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame suggested to the field of translation studies a wider scope for analyzing the impact of interpretive rewriting on reception. That same year, Henry Jenkins published Textual Poachers, that seminal work of ethnographic fan studies that demonstrates the impact of fan culture on the reception of texts in popular media. My larger scholarly project (from which this article has been excerpted) brings these points of view together, utilizing translation theory in an analysis of fan texts and utilizing fan studies in an analysis of literary rewritings.

[1.2] As I have argued elsewhere (Farley 2013), within the field of translation studies many scholars have been expanding the definition of "translation" as a theoretical construct. In Enlarging Translation, Empowering Translators (2007), for example, Maria Tymoczko highlights some non-Western conceptions of what we term "translation" in English, such as rupantar ("to change in form") and anuvad ("speaking after") in India, tarjama ("definition") in Arabic, and tapia and kowa in Igbo, both of which mean a variation of "break apart and tell again" (Tymoczko 2007, 68–71). As far back as 1959, Roman Jakobson defined three different kinds of translation: interlingual, which is the traditional definition, the transfer of meaning from one language to another; intralingual, which is the transfer of meaning between two sign systems within the same language, such as a modern English translation of Chaucer; and intersemiotic, which Jakobson rather weakly described as the transfer of verbal signs into a nonverbal sign system, giving the example of translating "verbal art into music, dance, cinema, or painting" (Jakobson 1959, 238). In the decades since, and especially with the advent of the Internet, intersemiotic translation has become much richer than Jakobson could have imagined. It can be argued that every piece of online fan fiction is an intersemiotic translation—from cinema, television, or animation to text, but also from static text to hypertext and from the sign system of traditional literary work to the particular sign system of fan work, with its codes for genre, tagging norms, and assumption of audience familiarity with fan culture at large.

[1.3] In this article, it is my intention to demonstrate the commonalities that translation and contemporary transformative fan work share by doing a close reading of the history of rewritings of the Homeric epics. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are among the most transformatively rewritten texts in Western culture. Except in their original context of ancient Greece, access to their original forms has always been limited to those who had learned the language—a small number, even at the height of classical education. In discussing the rewriting and retelling of Homer, I refer to the first chapter of Lefevere's Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame, in which he argues that nonprofessional readers (by which he means the bulk of readers—those who are not students or professors of literature) generally do not "read literature as written by its writers, but as rewritten by its rewriters" (Lefevere 1992, 4). Lefevere includes translations, abridgments, editions, anthologies, and so forth among forms of rewritings, and since such rewritings are not only the means by which the majority of "nonprofessional" readers are exposed to literature, but also "can be shown to have had a not negligible impact on the evolution of literatures in the past" (7), he calls for studies of them. "Those engaged in that study will have to ask themselves who rewrites, why, under what circumstances, for which audience" (7). I go one step further than Lefevere by adding fan fiction to his list and categorizing all of the rewriting in my study as "transformative." Just as fan fiction transforms the source text in order to express a particular interpretation of it, the translations and pastiches on which this study focuses make the same transformative moves, informed by the system in which the rewriter is writing. In fact, the field of fan studies has a great deal to offer the fields of classical studies and literary studies in general with respect to fan studies' paradigmatic acceptance of a multitude of readings of a multitude of source texts.

2. On the usefulness of systems theory

[2.1] As Lefevere does, I define my project using a systems heuristic. The use of the word system goes beyond merely describing a cultural context and indicates that each literary system is to a certain extent closed and self-regulating. A system is made up of many moving parts—literature is not a monolithic block of anything but rather a tapestry with many threads, woven in different directions, making up a whole piece of cloth that can, in turn, become a piece of something else. Literature is a "contrived" system, because it is a system of both the texts and the humans who read, write, rewrite, edit, and publish those texts. The system works on the human agents as a series of normative constraints, which they often do not realize. To them, the system is simply "what is done." Lefevere gives the example of Shakespeare writing in Elizabethan England: Shakespeare had to refrain from displeasing the queen, avoid the displeasure of Puritan authorities, stay in his patron's favor, and hold the interest of the public, all at the same time (Lefevere 1992, 13–14). When a text is rewritten, it is rewritten to satisfy the requirements of a particular system, in form or in ideology—and often these two things are intertwined. Whether in the heroic couplets of Pope's Iliad mixed with his highlighting of imperial power and disparagement of activity deemed immoral by 18th-century England, or the casting of Brad Pitt as Achilles and the rewriting of Patroklos as Achilles's "cousin" in Wolfgang Petersen's Troy, the system both influences the choices and ensures the successful reception of the rewrite.

[2.2] Systems theory is particularly useful when tracing rewrites through different cultural systems in different time periods, because it gives us the means to untangle the influences on the rewriters' choices, to a certain extent. To answer Lefevere's questions (who is writing? under what circumstances? why? and for what audience?), we must be able to talk about the different parts of the system, and about the cultural conventions and norms that define the system's constraints. These constraints can most starkly be seen by looking at translations; and in discussing translation in terms of systems theory, both Lefevere and Itamar Even-Zohar have additional points to make. According to Even-Zohar in the foreword to his Papers on Historical Poetics, "Literature is herein conceived of as a stratified whole, a polysystem, whose major opposition is assumed to be that of 'high' or 'canonized' versus 'low' or 'non-canonized' systems" (1978, 7). This view is especially useful when discussing translations and other rewrites of Homer because of the high level of prestige the Homeric epics command in comparison to all other literature systems. When Homer is translated, it generally enters the system at the "high," "canonized" level, often filling a "deficiency" (to use Even-Zohar's terminology) in a system that may include much in the way of "low" native literature, but little in the way of canon. This was the case for the Romans when Vergil rewrote the Homeric epics into his distinctly Roman Aeneid. Even-Zohar himself uses the example of Greece and Rome when talking about prestige: "The reasons for prestige are various, as for instance, when a [source language] is old and there is no established local literature to begin with. This was the position of Greek vs. Roman culture, and of both vs. all European literatures" (Even-Zohar 1978, 49). Even-Zohar overstates both the dearth of local Latin literature and the unity of Greek and Roman literature and culture, but it is unmistakably true that the Renaissance humanists who first translated Homer into European vernaculars were deliberately attempting to remedy what they saw as a deficiency in their own local literatures.

[2.3] Jorge Luis Borges also references the issue of prestige, in part, in his 1932 article "Some Versions of Homer," at the same time that he acknowledges the importance of rewriting. "Our first reading of famous books is really the second, since we already know them," he claims (Borges and Levine 1992, 1136). According to Borges's translator, Suzanne Jill Levine, the role of this article, like that of "Pierre Menard" and "The Translators of the 1001 Nights," is to "question translation's marginal status and resituate the translator's activity at the center of literary discussion" (1134). Borges's article is also an early expression of his model of translation as a form of reading as well as writing, and of both as interpretive acts. As a reader of the Odyssey who does not read Greek, Borges has only the language of the translations by which to judge Homer, and after looking at a few lines in their translations by Chapman, Pope, Cowper, Butler, Buckley, and Butcher and Lang, he makes it clear that each has its pleasures for a non-Greek reader. "Which of these translations is faithful? the reader may ask. I repeat: none or all of them" (1138). "Faithful" has become almost meaningless in the face of so many successful translations of one text.

[2.4] "Faithfulness" is largely beside the point when talking about fan fiction as well. The marginal status of the translator and of translations can be easily compared to the marginal status of fan fiction and its writers. Borges's suggestion that one read a translation not as an exact transfer of the source text but as a creative work in its own right is one that echoes forward in time to the work of fan writers and artists.

3. "Vergil wrote Homer fan fiction"

[3.1] The Aeneid is one of the pieces of literature held by fandom to be most like modern fan fiction. Fanlore's entry on "fan fiction" names it as the earliest example of fan fiction's origins in "prehistory," though it is generally agreed that modern fan fiction begins with the advent of copyright and the distinction between professional and amateur writing. This distinction is admittedly more economic and cultural than narrative. Vergil elevates a minor character from Homer's Iliad to the level of protagonist in his own epic, and then puts him through all the trials of Odysseus only to have him breeze through them in less than half the time. In fandom terms, Aeneas resembles a "Mary Sue": a self-insert character who outdoes the protagonist of the original source text, and with more style and grace. Mary Sue characters are usually thought of as female, on account of the demographics of fandom, but Aeneas's narrative-warping power and Vergil's need for him to surpass both Achilles and Odysseus can be argued to make him one. However, Aeneas's extraordinary qualities are due more to nationalism than to Vergil's self-insert fantasies, whatever they may have been. This underlines the differences between Vergil's system and a fan writer's.

[3.2] In order to fully comprehend the dynamic at the intersection of Greek and Roman culture in the centuries between Rome's physical conquest of Greece and the colonization of Greek literature by the Roman perspective, a systems view is crucial. The Roman system was "deficient," to use Even-Zohar's terminology, in the "high," or "canonized" system of literature and needed the prestige that filling that deficient slot would bring. Enter the Greeks, who by the Hellenistic era, as Tim Whitmarsh explains in Greek Literature and the Roman Empire: The Politics of Imitation, "presented themselves as educators, but now as 'the educators of all the world, of both Greeks and barbarians'" (2001, 8). This was the century in which the library at Alexandria, "containing 'all the books in the world,'" was built, in "an attempt to construct prestigious cultural links back to the old Greek world…It was in Hellenistic Egypt that paideia [Greek education] first began to assume the task of creating cultural continuity (especially in situations where that continuity could not be taken for granted) that we see so visibly marked in Roman Greece" (8–9). In the Roman system, "procedures from the inventory of certain polysystems [were] 'transplanted' into another one, where they [would] become 'weapons' in the struggle for the canonized position" (Lefevere 1979, 72). This struggle eventually left Greek literature with little identity but one that was yoked to the Roman Empire. In the later encounters, as Even-Zohar puts it, of "both vs. all European literatures" (1978, 49), Greek narratives would be told in Roman frameworks, with every Greek god given a Roman name and the Roman values at the forefront.

[3.3] In the years before and after Vergil wrote the Aeneid, one can trace the attitude of the Romans toward the Greeks as parallel to the stereotypical European view of the East that Edward Said describes in Orientalism (1979). In fact, the idea that the ancient Greeks had a system worth appropriating whereas the modern Greeks are merely shells of their race's former greatness is also a common theme of the Orientalist. Although Said situated Greece on the Western side of the East-West cultural divide, this can be seen as an enduring effect of the Roman absorption of the Greek system; clearly, for the Romans, the Greeks were part of the exotic, effete, and corrupt East. In the Aeneid, this can be most clearly seen in the characterization of Odysseus.

[3.4] The poem begins with the arrival of Aeneas at Dido's Carthage, where the wanderer tells the host monarch his story, much as Odysseus tells his own to Alkinoos in the Odyssey. In order to take a closer look at Vergil's reception of Odysseus and the values that adhere to his version, I have highlighted below a few of the times Odysseus is mentioned by name (that is, by "Ulixes," which is what Vergil calls him) in the Aeneid. The first is in Book II, as Aeneas is recounting the fall of Troy to Dido and her court. Odysseus is present throughout this story, as both the device of the horse and the idea of leaving a man behind to trick the Trojans into allowing it beyond the gate originated with him.

[3.5] O miseri, quae tanta insania, cives?
Creditis avectos hostis? Aut ulla putatis
dona carere dolis Danaum? Sic notus Ulixes?
aut hoc inclusi ligno occultantur Achivi,
aut haec in nostros fabricata est machina muros
inspectura domos venturaque desuper urbi,
aut aliquis latet error; equo ne credite, Teucri.
Quicquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentis. (Virgil and Mynors, II, 42–9)

[3.6] "Sic notus Ulixes" is a bit idiomatic; literally, it means "Thus Ulixes is known?" and translated more freely it becomes something like "Does that sound like Ulixes to you?" There is emphasis on the dolus of the Greeks: a device, artifice, contrivance. This is what Odysseus is known for, but it is the dolus of the Danaans, not just of Odysseus. Odysseus's characteristic trickery becomes the Greeks' characteristic trickery. In this, we can see the structural orientalism of the Roman cultural system that I discussed above. The Greeks are not to be trusted. This has become an aphorism: Beware Greeks bearing gifts. (The last line above literally means "I fear the Greeks, and/even bearing gifts.") The next passage to use Ulixes's name emphasizes this theme:

[3.7] Invidia postquam pellacis Ulixi—
haud ignota loquor—superis concessit ab oris,
adflictus vitam in tenebris luctuque trahebam,
et casum insontis mecum indignabar amici.
Nec tacui demens, et me, fors si qua tulisset,
si patrios umquam remeassem victor ad Argos,
promisi ultorem, et verbis odia aspera movi.
Hinc mihi prima mali labes, hinc semper Ulixes
criminibus terrere novis, hinc spargere voces
in volgum ambiguas, et quaerere conscius arma. (Virgil and Mynors 1972, II 90–9)

[3.8] Here Sinon is telling the Trojans that it was "by the deceitful grudge of Ulixes" that he came to be left behind on the shore. The word pellacis, from pellax, is related to ποικιλομήτης, according to Lewis and Short's Latin dictionary. Ποικιλομήτης is one of Odysseus's many Homeric epithets that derive from μῆτις, Odysseus's defining virtue. In a Greek context, μῆτις is cleverness, tricky wisdom. μῆτις is the mother of Athena; she is the goddess whom Zeus consumed before giving birth to Athena from his forehead. μῆτις is the word for the wiliness of the god-king who disguises himself to take lovers and discover the unpious, of the goddess of wisdom and diplomacy, and of the hero who survives through the strength of his wits. It is the defining virtue of all three. But in a Latin context it is "seductive, deceitful." With these words Sinon maligns his general in order to convince the Trojans to trust him: haud ignota loquor, "in no way an unknown speech," or, idiomatically, "as everyone knows." Everyone knows that Odysseus is both grudging and deceitful—at least, all Trojans and Vergil's Roman audience appear to know this. But neither of those adjectives accurately describe the Odysseus of the Odyssey. They are Vergil's Ulixes, not Homer's Odysseus. Vergil's Ulixes is full of malice; Sinon tells of being harassed by him in the second half of this excerpt, and though Sinon is lying about being Ulixes's enemy and outcast from the Greek camp, the reason he is so believable is that the Trojans and the Roman audience both recognize his description of Ulixes as the truth.

[3.9] Vergil not only rewrote the Odyssey, he rewrote Odysseus. By painting Odysseus in as negative a light as possible and by making Aeneas that much more pious, respectful, and lucky—and therefore even more beloved of the gods—Vergil makes Rome all of these things as well, in contrast with Greece. The actual structural changes he makes to the Homeric epics in his rewrites—elevating a minor background character from the Iliad to the level of protagonist and reusing plots and settings from the original to demonstrate the superiority of his chosen protagonist—are not unheard of in fan fiction contexts. However, some of the aspects of the fandom system that make it unique, most especially the sense of community and the affective responses of fans, make it difficult to argue that the Aeneid is entirely equivalent to fan fiction. Vergil was writing within the constraints of his system with a specific intent: to elevate Roman culture until it equaled Greek in prestige, while demonstrating Roman individual superiority. What the Aeneid's relationship with Homer does make clear, however, is that it is not the invention of entirely original characters, plots, and settings that makes great literature.

4. Pope's Homer

[4.1] The preeminent Homeric translation of the 18th century, Alexander Pope's, is marked by its own era's beliefs about leadership, order, and war. Pope makes it clear in "An Essay on Criticism" that great poetry must consist of deliberate and artful choices. Vergil, he claims, had discovered in his study of Homer that Nature and Homer were the same: "Convinc'd, amaz'd, he checks the bold Design, / And Rules as strict his labour'd Work confine, / As if the Stagyrite o'er looked each Line. / Learn hence for Ancient Rules a just Esteem; / To copy Nature is to copy Them" (Pope 1970, 136–39). By "Nature" he means poetics that are "naturally" pleasing to the ear, in both meter and the phonemes used: "True Ease in Writing comes from Art, not Chance, / As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance, / 'Tis not enough no Harshness gives Offence, / The Sound must seem an Eccho to the Sense" (Pope 1970, 362–65).

[4.2] In her "'The Sound must seem an Echo to the Sense': Pope's Use of Sound to Convey Meaning in His Translation of Homer's Iliad" (2004), Cynthia Whissell argues that not only does Pope use heroic couplets to give the sense of orderly marching warriors, but he also makes deliberate decisions about the words he uses to describe different events according to the phonemes themselves in the words. Whissell's study starts with the premise that certain sounds are perceived as more "active" (/g/, /t/, /r/, and /ər/) and others as more "passive" (/l/, /m/, /ə/, and /ě/). Analyzing the over 52,000 phonemes in the first two books of Pope's Iliad, she found that they appear with different frequencies in different contexts. The episode in those books with the highest frequency of active phonemes is the one in which Achilles withdraws from the Greek camp in protest over the appropriation of Briseis. The episode with the highest frequency of passive phonemes is the one in which the Argives are marshaled before re-engaging—the first marshaling since Achilles left the cause. It is not difficult to see here what these amassings of "active" and "passive" phonemes signify. Whether the assignations of "active" and "passive" to the various phonemes is universal or culturally specific, it is likely that the phonemes' distribution reflects the ideology of Pope's poetics.

[4.3] Pope's particular rhyme scheme was more than just aesthetic, it was a political position. The appeal of the heroic couplet derived from the fact that that it was a traditional form of English poetry, dating back to Chaucer. The heroic couplet is highly ordered, and marks the poet who uses it as one who is not lured by Miltonic blank verse and, by metonymy, Milton's politics. Read aloud, it gives the feeling of soldiers on the march. Creating order out of chaos is a major theme in Pope's era, not just in form but also in content. Let us look at the first few lines of the Iliad, to get a sense of Pope's priorities. Here are the original Greek, my rough translation of it, and Pope's:

[4.4] μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,
πολλὰς δ᾽ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν
ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν
οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι, Διὸς δ᾽ ἐτελείετο βουλή,
ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε
Ἀτρεΐδης τε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.
τίς τ᾽ ἄρ σφωε θεῶν ἔριδι ξυνέηκε μάχεσθαι;
Λητοῦς καὶ Διὸς υἱός: ὃ γὰρ βασιλῆϊ χολωθεὶς
νοῦσον ἀνὰ στρατὸν ὄρσε κακήν, ὀλέκοντο δὲ λαοί,
οὕνεκα τὸν Χρύσην ἠτίμασεν ἀρητῆρα
Ἀτρεΐδης: ὃ γὰρ ἦλθε θοὰς ἐπὶ νῆας Ἀχαιῶν
λυσόμενός τε θύγατρα φέρων τ᾽ ἀπερείσι᾽ ἄποινα,
στέμματ᾽ ἔχων ἐν χερσὶν ἑκηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος
χρυσέῳ ἀνὰ σκήπτρῳ, καὶ λίσσετο πάντας Ἀχαιούς,
Ἀτρεΐδα δὲ μάλιστα δύω, κοσμήτορε λαῶν:

[4.5] [The anger sing, goddess, of Peleidian Achilles,
Cursed [anger], which gave the Achaians countless pains,
Sending many mighty souls of heroes to Hades,
Making their selves spoils for dogs
And all birds, bringing about the will of Zeus,
From when the two separated and struggled:
Atreides, lord of men, and divine Achilles.
Who then of the gods set them to fight in discord?
The son of Leto and Zeus: for he in anger at the king
Called forth the evil sickness on the army, people were dying
Because Atreides had dishonored the priest Chryses:
For he had come to the Achaians' swift ships
To free his daughter and bearing gifts to ransom her,
Wreathed, holding up in his hand the golden staff
Of far-shooting Apollo, and he beseeched the Achaians,
But especially the two Atreides, those marshalers of the troops.]
(Iliad I 1–16)

[4.6] Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumber'd, heavenly goddess, sing!
That wrath which hurl'd to Pluto's gloomy reign
The souls of mighty chiefs untimely slain;
Whose limbs unburied on the naked shore,
Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore.
Since great Achilles and Atrides strove,
Such was the sovereign doom, and such the will of Jove!

[4.7] Declare, O Muse, in what ill-fated hour
Sprung the fierce strife, from what offended Pow'r!
Latona's son a dire contagion spread,
And heap'd the camp with mountains of the dead;
The King of Men his rev'rend priest defy'd,
And for the King's offence the people dy'd.

[4.8] For Chryses sought with costly gifts to gain
His captive daughter from the victor's chain;
Suppliant the venerable father stands,
Apollo's awful ensigns grace his hands,
By these he begs, and, lowly bending down,
Extends the sceptre and the laurel crown.
He sued to all, but chief implored for grace
The brother-kings, of Atreus' royal race.
(Homer, Pope, and Mack 1967, I 1–22)

[4.9] Here we can see that as Pope tells the story of Agamemnon's refusal to ransom Chryseis, he flavors the translation with value judgments not as keenly felt in the Greek. "The King of Men his rev'rend priest defy'd" asserts a moral outrage much more heavy-handedly than does οὕνεκα τὸν Χρύσην ἠτίμαςεν ἀρητῆρα Ἀτρεΐδησ, "because Atreides had dishonored the priest Chryses." The priest is given the additional epithet "venerable," and the signs of his priesthood for Apollo are described as "awful," where they have no such modifier in the original. That is not to say that there is no judgment in Homer: "People were dying because he had dishonored the priest" is a fair enough indictment on its face, but Pope wants to emphasize the role of Chryses's priesthood. This is not surprising; Pope is no stranger to moralizing and prescriptive poetry, and his good friend Samuel Johnson had established that it is the only appropriate tack for literature to take. It may be a foregone conclusion that there is virtue in Homer, for does not Homer "bear a greater resemblance to the sacred books than…any other writer" (Homer, Pope, and Mack 1967, xv)? Is Homer not the foundation for Roman and European virtue? These presumptions are never questioned by Pope or Johnson, and thus it is clearly not problematic to add to the holiness of Chryses and his accoutrements: Pope has him holding a scepter, rather than a mere staff.

[4.10] Pope sounds another interesting moral note in Book VI, when Hector returns to the palace of Troy and is offered refreshment by his mother:

[4.11] Far hence be Bacchus' gifts (the chief rejoin'd);
Inflaming wine, pernicious to mankind,
Unnerves the limbs, and dulls the noble mind.
(VI 329–331)

[4.12] By contrast, the original reads:

[4.13] Τὴν δ' ἠμείβετ' ἔπειτα μέγας κορυθαίολος Ἕκτωρ·
μή μοι οἶνον ἄειρε μελίφρονα, πότνια μῆτερ,
μή μ' ἀπογυιώσῃς, μένεος δ' ἀλκῆς τε λάθωμαι·

[4.14] [Then answered great Hector of the flashing helmet:
Do not lift the honey-minded wine to me, lady mother,
Do not deprive me of my courage, or run off my strength.]
(VI 263–265)

[4.15] In his rendition, Pope clearly gives the wine much more evil intent than it is ever given by Homer. The invocation of Bacchus (not present in the Greek, even in the form of his Greek counterpart, Dionysos) can be seen as a signifier of the chaos and danger that follows that god, especially for the Romans and their cultural heirs in Western Europe. The Greek is straightforward, arguing that now is not the time for Hector to drink any wine, but not making any claims about wine's inherent virtue or lack of it, which Pope does quite overtly. Wine is "pernicious to mankind," and not a gift to men from the gods, to ease their cares, as the Greeks believed. This is clearly a moral judgment made by Pope from his position in space and time, and not at all a translation of the Greek intent. Whether Pope himself agreed with this judgment or felt it was opportune is difficult to know—in any case, it conformed to the norms of his age and of his immediate audience.

[4.16] Pope, writing as he was in the midst of the printing revolution, saw his version of Homer as even more of an original than the original. This belief is much more in evidence in his reaction to criticism of it, and his attitude toward criticism in general, than it is in his preface to the Iliad. For though he states in the preface that "it is certain no literal translation can be just to an excellent original in a superior language," and "there is often a light in antiquity which nothing better preserves than a version almost literal. I know no liberties one ought to take, but those which are necessary for transfusing the spirit of the original" (Homer, Pope, and Mack 1967, xv), it is clear from a close reading of the Greek of Homer that there is nothing about Pope's translation that is literal. Even among his contemporaries, there were those who firmly believed that he completely lost sight of the original. But for Pope, the project of translating Homer was also an issue of status and economics, and his translation of the Iliad is an example of the way in which the elevated status of ancient Greek literature has been utilized to give translators authority and power. Pope's project of rewriting the works of classical authors, from his translations of Homer to his epic "The Rape of the Lock" and his "Imitations of Horace," demonstrates his deep understanding of the power of rewritings. This understanding led to an accomplishment that no other English translation of Homer has achieved: centuries of relevance. In the introduction to Robert Fagles's 1996 translation of the Odyssey, Bernard Knox calls Pope's translation "the finest ever made" (Homer, Fagles, and Knox 1996), and searching for "the Iliad" and "Pope" gives four pages of results. That the translation itself is much less than literal isn't as interesting for the purposes of this study as the fact that the choices he made—both poetic and ideological—spoke not only to his own system, but to later eras, down to today. Whenever classicists or other translators want to evoke the tradition of British literary prestige, they reference the translation by Pope. And yet, although Pope's work is generally accepted as a translation, it is also, undoubtedly, a transformative rewrite. Creative interpretation pervades his version in ways that are reminiscent of some modern fan fiction, but because his work belongs to an entirely different literary system, we do not refer to it as such.

5. 20th-century translations of Homer and fan fiction

[5.1] Translations are a form of rewriting, and I would argue that all forms of rewriting can be theorized in terms of translation, but conventionally in Anglophone cultures we have made a distinction between translation qua translation and other kinds of rewritings. We call the latter "adaptations," or "reimaginings," or "versions." In his article "The Values of Translation: Contestation and Creativity in Homer's English Iliads," Robert Shorrock makes the point that "translations are not inherently less creative than adaptations (or any text, for that matter), and that they are equally deserving of critical attention" (2003, 440). Translations of Homer in the 20th century, such as those by Richmond Lattimore and Robert Fagles, may appear at first glance to be more "literal" than Pope's—and in many ways they are. However, critical attention to them reveals the particular subjective readings that are present in all rewriting. Again, the interpretation of the text is heavily influenced by the system whence it comes.

[5.2] It wasn't until after World War II that American translations of Homer into English outnumbered British ones (note 1). Richmond Lattimore, an American professor of Greek at Bryn Mawr and a World War II Navy veteran, published his translation of the Iliad in 1951, and it is still in heavy use in college classrooms to this day. Lattimore's translation eschews poetic meter for a closer literal translation, but adheres to some traditional interpretive moves that date back to the first English translations.

[5.3] When Chapman published his translation of Homer in 1598, Elizabethan England was an England in transition, growing in influence both politically and culturally. France had been engaged in the renaissance of classical culture for longer, having been under the influence of the Medicis and the Italian Renaissance, but was declining in political power in the late 16th century as the French monarchy struggled with the rise of the Huguenots and issues of succession. French translations of Homer existed before English translations did, and the English system was in need of the prestige that came with having its own Homer.

[5.4] The key interpretive move that Hall and Chapman both make and that Pope and Lattimore retain is the reading of Agamemnon as an absolute high king. Agamemnon's role and the extent to which he has the authority to order about other kings, such as Achilles, is indeed a major theme of the epic. What the English translations do, however, is erase some of the instability of Agamemnon's position by translating Greek terms of authority into more absolute terms. For example, in the 16th line of the first book, Agamemnon and Menelaus together are referred to as κοσμήτορε λαῶν, which is a direct reference to their responsibility in ordering the men (λαός) or just "the people." They are the "marshalers of the troops," or the "orderers of the people," but in Chapman's hands they become the ones "who most ruled" (Homer and Chapman 1956, I 15). Further, whereas ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν (leader of men) is one of Agamemnon's common epithets (note 2), it is not used for him exclusively. Anchises, the father of Aeneas, is referred to as ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν in Book V, as is Aeneas himself, and a few other Greek and Trojan generals are also referred to with that epithet. Achilles's common epithets include δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς [divine Achilles] and θεοείκελος Ἀχιλλεύς [godlike Achilles], which in an ancient Greek worldview make him superior to a leader of mere mortals. In the cultural system of the English Renaissance, however, the divinity of Achilles was at best uninteresting and at worst blasphemous, so it went either unremarked or effaced.

[5.5] Pope's translation continues this tradition of reading Agamemnon as "king of men," implying "king of all men" in an English context. One might think that Richmond Lattimore, as a modern translator, would set to right the rank of Agamemnon with respect to the other Achaian leaders. In fact, Lattimore's interpretation follows the tradition of Chapman and Pope in regard to Agamemnon's kingship. In the introduction to his Iliad he gives a section to what he considers "The People of the Iliad": Hektor, Achilleus, Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Aias. That these are his choices is interesting in the first place—there is no Menelaos nor Paris in this collection, which may betray Lattimore's conception of the story more than anything. This is not a story of a war over a woman—in the decade following World War II, it is a story of the heroes who fight the war. Lattimore describes each of the men with epithets of his own: Hektor is "the defender," Achilleus the "tragic hero," Odysseus the "prudent counsellor and complete man," Aias the "soldier," and Agamemnon "the king" (Homer and Lattimore 1967, 45–51). In discussing the kingship of Agamemnon, however, Lattimore admittedly cannot explain exactly why Agamemnon is "the greatest king among them."

[5.6] Whether he is emperor of the Achaians, or general of the army, or the king with the most subjects, whose friends stand by him in his brother's quarrel (unless he insults them), is a question apparently as obscure to the heroes of the Iliad as it is to us. But essentially a king is what he is; not the biggest Achaian, says Priam to Helen, but the kingliest; a bull in a herd of cattle; a lord who must be busy while others rest, marshaling his men for ordered assault. In the quarrel with Achilleus, he demands recognition of his kingly stature, as if afraid of losing his position if he lacks what others have, in this case a captive mistress. So he comes off badly, yet even here, while he reviles Kalchas and beats down Achilleus, his first thought is for the army. (Homer and Lattimore 1967, 48–49)

[5.7] Lattimore's argument here is unconvincing. Priam's words to Helen with regard to Agamemnon are

[5.8] …ἐξονομήνῃς
ὅς τις ὅδ᾽ ἐστὶν Ἀχαιὸς ἀνὴρ ἠΰς τε μέγας τε.
ἤτοι μὲν κεφαλῇ καὶ μείζονες ἄλλοι ἔασι,
καλὸν δ᾽ οὕτω ἐγὼν οὔ πω ἴδον ὀφθαλμοῖσιν,
οὐδ᾽ οὕτω γεραρόν: βασιλῆϊ γὰρ ἀνδρὶ ἔοικε.

[5.9] [ …tell me
Who this Achaian man is, both brave and great,
Surely there are others whose heads are taller,
But never have my eyes seen such a noble one
Nor more venerable; for he seems a kingly man.]
(Iliad III 167–170)

[5.10] Again, not the "most kingly" but very "noble" (καλὸν can also mean merely "good" or "beautiful"). These descriptors can be and are used of the other Achaian heroes, as well as the Trojan ones. That Priam uses them here marks Agamemnon as the marshaler of the men, but not as a high king. In addition, his description of Odysseus is

[5.11] ἀρνειῷ μιν ἔγωγε ἐΐσκω πηγεσιμάλλῳ,
ὅς τ᾽ οἰῶν μέγα πῶϋ διέρχεται ἀργεννάων.

[5.12] [He seems to me like a thick-fleeced ram,
who passes through a large flock of white sheep.]
(Iliad III 197–98)

[5.13] So it is in fact Odysseus who is characterized as a "bull in a herd of cattle," not Agamemnon. Considering the discussion above of Agamemnon's relative rank and the weakness of Lattimore's characterization here, it is reasonable to conclude that Lattimore is relying largely on the literary tradition of Agamemnon as high king, rather than actual textual analysis.

[5.14] Robert Fagles's translations have an explicit connection to those of Alexander Pope. Fagles served as one of the associate editors of the Twickenham edition of Pope's Iliad and Odyssey, and in his 60-page introduction to Fagles's Odyssey, Bernard Knox states as a fact that Pope's translation is "the finest ever made" (Homer, Fagles, and Knox 1996, 5). In the "Translator's Preface" to his Iliad, Fagles begins with a quote from Pope—"Homer makes us Hearers, and Virgil leaves us Readers"—which he credits to "the great translator of Homer" (Homer, Fagles, and Knox 1990, ix). Pope's influence is, of course, mediated by the context in which Fagles is translating—no self-respecting classicist of the late 20th century would disregard all the work that has been done in Homeric studies to limit himself to Pope's understanding of the Greeks. But Fagles (and Knox, as his collaborator) indicates his stand clearly in the section of the introduction to each epic titled "The Spelling and Pronunciation of Homeric Names."

[5.15] Though the English spelling of ancient Greek names faces modern poet-translators with some difficult problems, it was not a problem at all for Shakespeare, Milton, Pope and Tennyson. Except in the case of names that had through constant use been fully Anglicized—Helen, Priam, Hector, Troy, Trojans—the poets used the Latin equivalents of the Greek names that they found in the texts of Virgil and Ovid, whose poems they read in school. These are the forms we too are familiar with, from our reading of English poets through the centuries: Hecuba, Achilles, Ajax, Achaeans, Patroclus…Rigid adherence to this rule would of course make unacceptable demands: it would impose, for example, Minerva instead of Athena, Ulysses for Odysseus, and Jupiter or Jove for Zeus. We have preferred the Greek names, but transliterated them on Latin principles: Hêrê, for example, is Hera in this translation; Athênê is Athena. Elsewhere we have replaced the letter k with c and substituted the ending us for the Greek os in the names of persons…The conventional Latinate spelling of the names has a traditional pronunciation system, one that corresponds with neither the Greek nor the Latin sounds. Perhaps "system" is not the best word for it, since it is full of inconsistencies. But it is the pronunciation English poets have used for centuries, the sounds they heard mentally as they composed and that they confidently expected their readers to hear in their turn. (Homer, Fagles, and Knox 1996, 65–66) (note 3)

[5.16] With this introductory note, Fagles and Knox mark this translation as one that prioritizes domesticating rather than foreignizing the text. Fagles's priority is "to find a middle ground (and not a no-man's-land, if I can help it) between the features of [Homer's] performance and the expectations of a contemporary reader" (Homer, Fagles, and Knox 1990, x). This focus on "the features of Homer's performance" prioritizes form and meter, not the particularities of archaic Greek culture in the text—particularities that have been smoothed over by translations such as Pope's and all the translations that look to his.

[5.17] Fagles walks the middle road with the traditional influence in interpretation, as well. His translation of the scene in which Hector declines the wine offered by his mother is stripped of the judgmental language we saw in Pope, above.

[5.18] But Hector shook his head, his helmet flashing:
"Don't offer me mellow wine, mother, not now—
you'd sap my limbs, I'd lose my nerve for war.
(Homer, Fagles, and Knox 1990, 312–14)

[5.19] But his translation of ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν is the traditional "lord of men," and he occasionally refers to Agamemnon as "King Agamemnon," which again implies he is king over all the other Achaeans and not first among equals, which is a point of contention within the text itself. Choosing language that treats Agamemnon's kingship as established fact narrows the field of interpretation. Fagles's emphasis on what is "conventional," "traditional," and familiar to the English reader goes beyond the spelling and pronunciation of Greek names and places. His project in rewriting is not to challenge the traditional understanding of the relationship between these men, but to update Pope's rendition for modern readers, with modern aesthetics and a deeper understanding of the Greek context, but not too much deeper. As he says in the translator's preface, the more "literal" approach would be too little English, and the more "literary" too little Greek (Homer, Fagles, and Knox 1990, x).

[5.20] Fagles's choices go beyond the level of language to the level of cultural structures. Writing his translations in the 1980s and 1990s, looking back to the 1960s and 1970s for the most recent influential American translation, he chose a more conservative route than Robert Fitzgerald, who thoroughly foreignizes the Greek character names—using Akhilleus instead of Achilles, for example—and uses what appears to be arbitrary accentuation. Fitzgerald's foreignizing choices may reflect the rise of postcolonial thought in literary studies and translation, with its foreignizing spellings, whereas Fagles's choices walk these spellings back to an extent—not all the way back to Pope, but enough to hold Pope up as ideal. By referencing Pope and choosing Romanized spellings, Fagles is, in a sense, borrowing prestige from Pope's system just as Pope borrowed it from Homer's. At the same time, Fagles has a good sense for how far it is acceptable to move away from both the Greek source text and the traditional presentation of a very familiar set of characters and events. His translations are well received among contemporary college students and their instructors.

[5.21] When fan fiction is written using Homer as the source text, it is often done for Yuletide, the rare fandoms gift exchange run at Christmastime. Out of 229 Homeric stories archived at the Archive of Our Own as of this writing, 47, or 20 percent of them, were written for Yuletide. Yuletide in particular and fandom in general are their own subcultures, their own systems, and they have their own norms for both the writing and the reception of their literature. When a story is written for Yuletide, it is written as a gift, with a specific recipient in mind. Commercial rewriters such as Madeleine Miller and Zachary Mason had to write to please their publishers and their markets, just as the early translators of Homer had to work within their cultural norms. Yuletide authors write to please their recipients and also the Yuletide readership at large. The expectations of the audiences differ, as do the relationships between authors and readers in the different systems. Fan fiction is often written with the expectation that the audience is already intimately familiar with the source text in question, for example, and so little time is spent on introducing characters, setting, or background plot events. Fandom is a unique subculture, as much of the scholarship of fan studies, including the work of this journal, makes clear. Because of this, I argue that while fan fiction is transformative rewriting, not all transformative rewriting is properly called "fan fiction."

[5.22] In the case of Homer fan fiction, it is clear that the prestige of the source texts is less important than the affection that the writers and readers have for them. The Homeric poems are not under copyright; anyone who wants to publish a transformative rewrite is at least not legally prevented from doing so. The fans who write Homeric fan fiction do so because they enjoy the text, they enjoy playing with the text, and they enjoy sharing their play with their community. This is a different incentive than Vergil's, Alexander Pope's, or Robert Fagles's—and the difference is significant enough within the context of fandom's literary system that to call the work of these latter authors "fan fiction" would be reductive. However, the bulk of mainstream criticism of fan fiction—that it is "unoriginal" and "stealing"— could be, but never is, leveled at Vergil, Pope, or Fagles.

6. Conclusion

[6.1] When André Lefevere wrote Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame in 1992, he cited Homer in general, and the Iliad in particular, as the strongest example of his thesis (87–98). The level of prestige Homer's epics reached in his own system was sought by all subsequent systems that aspired to the level of hegemony that classical Greece achieved. Vergil's allusions to both the Iliad and the Odyssey deserve much more attention than one section of this article can give them, but his explicit use of those allusions to mark his own cultural system as not only equal, but superior, to that of the Greeks is significant. Aeneas speeds through the obstacles that kept Odysseus from his home, and his adventures before reaching Italy make up less than half of the Aeneid. The political message of Vergil's epic—that the Romans are everything the Greeks were and more—is unsurprising, given the state of the nascent Roman Empire and his relationship with Augustus.

[6.2] Pope's translation, in that nationalistic Augustan age of the burgeoning British Empire, rewrote Homer to advance the nationalistic cause until such time as the English system could remove the scaffolding and rewrite him further. Like the poet of the first Augustan age, Pope makes the poem his own, and writes to the heart of his own people and the politics of his own king.

[6.3] In the 20th century and beyond, translations still take a certain amount of freedom with their source texts, as is inevitable. In addition, the traditional interpretations set by earlier eras of translation continue to inform the overall reception of a text. Thus, upon closer inspection, we can see the ways in which academic translators such as Richmond Lattimore and Robert Fagles are still taking liberties with the texts and doing work that is transformative.

[6.4] Each retelling of the stories breathes new life into them and strengthens their place in the canonized systems to which they belong, as well as the ones into which they were borrowed. It is those stories that are borrowed and retold; from early translations to Yuletide gifts, those stories are the ones that last forever. Fan fiction is but one of the myriad ways that stories are told and retold; but the system in which fan fiction participates, and the subsystems of each fandom, are unique in their specificities. In the introduction to Textual Poachers, Henry Jenkins outlines at least five distinct dimensions of fan culture: "its relationship to a particular mode of reception; its role in encouraging viewer activism; its function as an interpretive community; its particular traditions of cultural production; its status as an alternative social community" (Jenkins 1992, 1–2). What Jenkins describes are the unique characteristics of fandom as a literary system, and while fandom at large perhaps is less interested in rewriting Homer to borrow prestige, it cannot be denied that fandom's desire to claim the Aeneid and other canonical works as fan fiction is an attempt to borrow prestige at a meta level. If we adjust our framework concerning translation, adaptation, and fan fiction into a larger category of transformative rewriting and mark the differences between the kinds of rewriting in terms of systems theory, a new discourse has the potential to emerge in which fan studies, translation studies, and classical studies speak the same language.

7. Notes

1. Wikipedia contains a very thorough chart of the chronology of the translations of Homer into English, which can be found at

2. Most likely it is so common for metrical reasons. The phrase ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων has a meter of ᴗ /—- ᴗ ᴗ /- -, which provides a full foot in the middle and an emphatic spondee on the end of Agamemnon's name.

3. The introductions to Fagles's Iliad and Odyssey are not completely identical. The last three sentences quoted here, beginning with "The conventional Latinate spelling," appear in the latter but not the former.

8. Works cited

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Even-Zohar, Itamar. 1978. Papers in Historical Poetics. Tel Aviv: Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics.

Farley, Shannon K. 2013. "Translation, Interpretation, Fan Fiction: A Continuum of Meaning Production." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 14. doi:10.3983/twc.2013.0517.

Homer, and George Chapman. 1956. Chapman's Homer: The Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Lesser Homerica. New York: Pantheon Books.

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Homer, Alexander Pope, and Maynard Mack. 1967. The Iliad of Homer. London: Methuen.

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Lefevere, André. 1979. "Slauerhoff and 'Po Tsju I': Three Paradigms for the Study of Influence." Tamkang Review: A Quarterly of Comparative Studies between Chinese and Foreign Literatures 10:67–77.

Lefevere, André. 1992. Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame. London: Routledge.

Pope, Alexander. 1970. An Essay on Criticism, 1711. Menston: Scolar.

Shorrock, Robert. 2003. "The Values of Translation: Contestation and Creativity in Homer's English Iliads." International Journal of the Classical Tradition 10 (3–4): 438–53.

Tymoczko, Maria. 2007. Enlarging Translation, Empowering Translators. Manchester: St. Jerome.

Virgil, and R. A. B. Mynors. 1972. P. Vergili Maronis Opera. Oxford: Clarendon.

Whissell, Cynthia. 2004. "'The sound must seem an echo to the sense': Pope's Use of Sound to Convey Meaning in His Translation of Homer's Iliad." Perceptual and Motor Skills 98 (3): 859–64. doi:10.2466/pms.98.3.859-864.

Whitmarsh, Tim. 2001. Greek Literature and the Roman Empire: The Politics of Imitation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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