n Acta Classica : Proceedings of the Classical Association of South Africa - The Iliad of Homer: A Southern African Translation, Richard Whitaker : review article

Volume 56, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0065-1141
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The publication of Professor Whitaker's translation has been eagerly awaited. It has been, as the very first sentence in his Preface proclaims, 'a labour of love' and has been widely trailed in readings, seminars and lectures in Europe as well as in South Africa. This international hinterland is important, but it was initially the South African context that inspired the work. Whitaker's 'love' is for Homer's text and for the possibilities that it opens up for the students that he teaches. To actualise that through translation also invokes his love for his country and its richness of linguistic energy, past, present and future. Both aspects of this 'love' are informed by Whitaker's experience of encountering Homer for the first time as a teenager in an English translation. This was the prose translation by E.V. Rieu, first published by Penguin in 1950 and reprinted many times. Whitaker went on to study Ancient Greek at the University of the Witwatersrand and in his professional career taught the both in the original language and in translation (Preface p. 7). This dual teaching was important in developing his sensitivity to the power translations have to awaken literary sensibility and to communicate insights into the relationships and contrasts between the cultures of the Homeric world and of modern readers. His reading of the Greek text and its 'Englishing' led to dissatisfaction with the Anglo-American English translations that predominated. He felt that the language of these was often remote from the lived experience of Southern African readers and audiences and that this served to deny the many resonances that Homer offered to their situation and heritage. Furthermore, he considered that Southern African English had developed 'a vocabulary and register of its own that deserved to be reflected in poetic translation' (p. 7).

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