Homer first appeared in translation, as far as we can tell, in the 3rd century BC, with Livius Andronicus’ Latin Odussia. Translating Homer has continued through the ages to be a process of reflecting on the power of that ancient poem, and the capacity of rendering it in other languages and cultures. The poet Keats said of reading Homer in Chapman’s translation that he felt like Cortez beholding the Pacific for the first time: a vast and hitherto unknown part of the world. Matthew Arnold, in his lecture On Translating Homer, protested at a translation which rendered the epic in English ballad form, thereby, for Arnold, reducing its grandeur. And in the 20th century, the poet Christopher Logue has produced a powerful adaptation in his War Music.
But what about translating Homer into different media? Most people will expect me now to talk at length about Hollywood and the movie Troy, but I’m far more interested in the Stitched Iliad currently being produced by Bristol graduate Silvie Kilgallon. You can find out more about her project here: it’s a rendition of the Iliad in cross stitch, with each stitch standing for a letter of the Greek alphabet. As Silvie explains, her translation is “a simple letter-for-colour substitution” and her aim is to highlight the “visual aesthetic” of the text. Looking at, and feeling the texture of, the finished product, I am reminded of the weight of Homeric epic, how its grandeur is partly conveyed through its sheer volume.