Being immersed in classic Russian literature, thanks to Jim (see my Christmas post—and another box came today, with Batyushkov, Kuprin, Akhmatova, and lots and lots of Turgenev!), I’ve branched out from the books actually on hand and investigated other early poets, like Gnedich, author of the classic Russian translation of the Iliad. As soon as I read the opening few lines, I was hooked; it creates a poetic force worthy of the original while remaining admirably true to the meaning:
Гнев, богиня, воспой Ахиллеса, Пелеева сына,
Грозный, который ахеянам тысячи бедствий соделал:
Многие души могучие славных героев низринул
В мрачный Аид и самих распростер их в корысть плотоядным
Птицам окрестным и псам (совершалася Зевсова воля)…
(I note, incidentally, that the Грозный [grozny] that opens the second line translates the Greek οὐλομένην ‘destructive,’ which suggests that the often-repeated warnings that the same adjective in Иван Грозный [Ivan Grozny] ‘Ivan the Terrible’ really means ‘awe-inspiring’ or the like are overstated.)
The amazing thing about this translation, aside from the quality, is that Gnedich spent years composing an entirely different one, in alexandrines. In 1813, when Gnedich had already completed eleven books, Uvarov, an unpleasant reactionary but a sound classical scholar, convinced him that only hexameters (hardly used until then in Russian verse) could properly represent Homer. Gnedich destroyed everything he’d written over the previous six years and spent another decade and a half rewriting it; the whole translation finally came out in 1829. Now, that’s dedication to your art.
Incidentally, if you can stand having your salivary glands violently stimulated, check out what Jim’s been eating; he has the good fortune to share the table of the Clumsy Cook. We should all be so clumsy.