The Iliad (Collins)

Part of the "Ancient Classics for English Readers" series, the books of which series are useful as a preliminary acquaintance to readers that wish to read the ancient texts for the first time and also a nice interpretation of them for readers that are already acquainted with them.










It is proposed to give, in these little volumes, some such introduction to the great writers of Greece and Rome as may open to those who have not received a classical education—or in whose case it has been incomplete and fragmentary—a fair acquaintance with the contents of their writings, and the leading features of their style.

The constant allusions in our own literature, and even in our daily press, to the works of the ancient classical authors, and the familiarity with the whole dramatis personæ of ancient history and fable which modern writers on all subjects assume on the part of their readers, make such an acquaintance almost necessary for those who care not only to read but to understand.

Even in the case of readers who have gone through the regular classical course in their day, this acquaintance, if honest confession were made, would be found very imperfect. It is said, of course, that “every English gentleman reads Horace;” but this is one of those general assertions which rest upon very loose ground. An ordinary observer of the habits of the class might find himself somewhat at a loss for instances.

In the case of ladies, and of the large body of general readers who have received either no classical education, or a very imperfect one, probably less is now known of Homer, Virgil, or Horace, than in the days when Pope’s, Dryden’s, and Francis’s translations were first published, and took their place for the time on every literary table.

There appears a strong probability that the study of Greek and Latin, which has so long been our exclusive idea of a “liberal” education, will hereafter be confined within a narrower circle. Yet some knowledge of the ancient classics must continue to be the key to much of our best English literature. If, as some educational reformers suggest, a systematic course of English reading be substituted for Latin and Greek in our “middle-class” schools, such a training will necessarily involve the careful study of the masters of English thought and style, and more especially of those earlier authors whose taste was formed very much upon the old classical models, and whose writings are full of allusions to their characters and imagery.

It may be said that we have translations of all the best and most popular of the classical authors, and that many of these are admirable in their execution. This is quite true. The Iliad, the Odyssey, the Æneid, Horace, and some of the Greek Dramatists, have lately found translators who, in point of taste and general accuracy, leave little to be desired. But the results of their work will be best enjoyed and valued by those whose acquaintance with the originals enables them to appreciate not only the positive beauty of the English version, but its relative merit as conveying the spirit and sense of the Greek or Latin author. Even the best translation (especially of the classical poets) may fail to have a continuous interest for the merely modern reader, unless he has some previous familiarity with the argument of the work, the personages introduced, and the characteristics of the age in which the scene and action lie.

The aim of the present series will be to explain, sufficiently for general readers, who these great writers were, and what they wrote; to give, wherever possible, some connected outline of the story which they tell, or the facts which they record, checked by the results of modern investigations; to present some of their most striking passages in approved English translations, and to illustrate them generally from modern writers; to serve, in short, as a popular retrospect of the chief literature of Greece and Rome. The attempt appeals, as will be seen, to a circle outside that of classical scholarship; though possibly some who have all legal claim to rank as scholars, but who now stand rather on the “retired list” of that service, may in these pages meet some old acquaintances whom they have almost forgotten. If, in any case, they find our re-introduction unsatisfactory, none would advise them more heartily than we do to renew the old personal intercourse for themselves.

It has been thought desirable in these pages to use the Latin names of the Homeric deities, as more familiar to English ears. As, however, most modern translators have followed Homer’s Greek nomenclature, it may be convenient here to give both.

Zeus = Jupiter.
Herè = Juno.
Arēs = Mars.
Poseidōn = Neptune.
Pallas Athenè = Minerva.
Aphroditè = Venus.
Hephaistos = Vulcan.
Hermes = Mercury.
Artemis = Diana.

The passages marked (D.) are from Lord Derby’s translation; (W.) from Mr Worsley’s; and (P.) Pope’s.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.