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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2010

18-and-under, 1st Prize

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Naomi Ackerman

The Funeral of Hector, Horse-tamer,
from The Iliad XXIV (lines 782–804)
by Homer

And so he spoke, and they yoked oxen and mules to their wagons,
And then they gathered with speed before the city.
For nine days indeed they brought a store of wood beyond measure.

But then the tenth light of day appeared, shining on mortals,
And shedding tears they carried out courageous Hector
And they placed his corpse on the very top of the funeral pyre, and threw fire upon it.

When early-born light of day appeared with rosy fingers,
Then the people gathered around the pyre of renowned Hector.
And when they gathered together and had assembled
First, with gleaming wine they quenched all the funeral-pyre,
As much as the force of the fire had taken hold of.

And then his blood relatives and companions picked up the brilliant-white bones,
Melting into tears, and copious tears trickled down from their cheeks.
And they gathered the bones and placed them in a golden urn
Having enveloped them with soft purple woven cloths.

And with speed they placed it in a hollow grave,
And they covered it above with great, close-packed stones.
And swiftly they raised a grave-mound over it; and look outs were set all around,
Lest the well-greaved Achaeans should make an early attack.

And having raised the grave-mound they went back again;
Then having gathered together according to custom, they held a banquet
And gave a glorious feast in the house of Priam, god-cherished king.

In this way they took care of the burial of Hector, horse-tamer.

Translated from the Ancient Greek by Naomi Ackerman

The original poem may not display properly in older browsers or on computers running non-unicode-compliant operating systems. To view an image file of the poem, click here (opens in new window).

The Funeral of Hector, Horse-tamer,
fromThe Iliad XXIV (lines 782–804)

ὣς ἔφαθ᾽, οἳ δ᾽ ὑπ᾽ ἀμάξῃσιν βόας ἡμιόνους τε
ζεύγνυσαν, αἶψα δ᾽ ἔπειτα πρὸ ἄστεος ἠγερέθοντο.
ἐννῆμαρ μὲν τοί γε ἀγίνεον ἄσπετον ὕλην:
ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε δὴ δεκάτη ἐφάνη φαεσίμβροτος ἠώς,
καὶ τότ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐξέφερον θρασὺν Ἕκτορα δάκρυ χέοντες,
ἐν δὲ πυρῇ ὑπάτῃ νεκρὸν θέσαν, ἐν δ᾽ ἔβαλον πῦρ.
ἦμος δ᾽ ἠριγένεια φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς,
τῆμος ἄρ᾽ ἀμφὶ πυρὴν κλυτοῦ Ἕκτορος ἔγρετο λαός.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεί ῥ᾽ ἤγερθεν ὁμηγερέες τ᾽ ἐγένοντο
πρῶτον μὲν κατὰ πυρκαϊὴν σβέσαν αἴθοπι οἴνῳ
πᾶσαν, ὁπόσσον ἐπέσχε πυρὸς μένος: αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
ὀστέα λευκὰ λέγοντο κασίγνητοί θ᾽ ἕταροί τε
μυρόμενοι, θαλερὸν δὲ κατείβετο δάκρυ παρειῶν.
καὶ τά γε χρυσείην ἐς λάρνακα θῆκαν ἑλόντες
πορφυρέοις πέπλοισι καλύψαντες μαλακοῖσιν.
αἶψα δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐς κοίλην κάπετον θέσαν, αὐτὰρ ὕπερθε
πυκνοῖσιν λάεσσι κατεστόρεσαν μεγάλοισι:
ῥίμφα δὲ σῆμ᾽ ἔχεαν, περὶ δὲ σκοποὶ ἥατο πάντῃ,
μὴ πρὶν ἐφορμηθεῖεν ἐϋκνήμιδες Ἀχαιοί.
χεύαντες δὲ τὸ σῆμα πάλιν κίον: αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
εὖ συναγειρόμενοι δαίνυντ᾽ ἐρικυδέα δαῖτα
δώμασιν ἐν Πριάμοιο διοτρεφέος βασιλῆος.
ὣς οἵ γ᾽ ἀμφίεπον τάφον Ἕκτορος ἱπποδάμοιο.


Translation commentary

When deciding what to translate, I searched for a poignant extract which would transcend the barriers of time, and touch both the classicist and the modern reader. I feel the last part of The Iliad does exactly this. A communal focus on the funeral of one person, rather than on feats of strength or heroism, takes the poem to a universal level as readers throughout time can empathise with the ongoing pain of loss and grief.

I wished to convey this sense of accessibility and continuity in my translation. I translated ‘ἀμάξῃσιν’ as ‘wagons’, which conjures a sense of common domesticity, rather than ‘chariots’ which conjures an image of distant war. Past participles in English also have this effect of portraying an ongoing process; therefore I translated most Greek aorist participles in the extract as such. Translation of ‘ἐϋκνήμιδες’ was problematic, as ‘well-greaved’ is fairly inaccessible; yet I felt this was needed in order to translate accurately Homer’s meaning.

Striking a balance between elegant, accessible English and keeping Homer’s unique style and spirit was also important. Although ‘αἴθοπι’ literally translates as ‘fire coloured’, ‘gleaming’ sounded more appropriate in English, whilst still conveying Homer’s image of wine reflecting the firelight. Secondly, although the translation leans towards a modern style of English, I felt the archaism ‘lest’ was the most appropriate translation of ‘μὴ πρὶν’. Overall I preserved Homer’s line structure, yet I felt my short stanzas were effective when reading the translation, as they emphasise both the sequential stages of Hector’s burial, and those one experiences following bereavement.

Overall, this extract brings a poem of war and anger to a tragic end. We may take it today as reflective; it is possibly Homer’s comment on how, inevitably, the main consequence of war is death. Kudos may be won from it for the few, but for the families and communities of those who die, war ends in grief.

Naomi Ackerman