The world-conquering Elena Ferrante has invaded our household as well; my wife is on the second novel in the Neapolitan series and has passed the first, My Brilliant Friend, on to me. I’m enjoying it greatly — it’s one of those unputdownable books — but I was stopped by an expression in chapter 2 of the second section. A teacher is said to speak “Italian that slightly resembled that of the Iliad,” and since the Iliad is not in Italian, I was puzzled. I checked the original, L’amica geniale, in Google Books, and sure enough: “il suo italiano che assomigliava un poco a quello dell’Iliade.” Of course there are translations (here’s one), but why would the Iliad be taken as a measuring-rod for Italian?
Update. Biscia provides the answer in the comment thread:
I asked my Italian partner what the phrase made him think of (without giving any other context) and he instantly said, “Monti’s translation of the Iliad, i.e., solemn, pompous language.”
Addendum. I just ran into another bit of text that badly needs added information. The narrator’s father takes her to the center of Naples, where she’s never been, and shows her the sights: Piazza Carlo III, Via Foria, Piazza Dante, etc. Then he takes her to Piazza Municipio, where he works, tells her everything has changed, and adds “the only old thing left is the Maschio Angioino, but it’s beautiful, little one, there are two real males in Naples, your father and that fellow there.” I asked my wife what she had made of that when she read it, and she had guessed the same thing I had, that it must be a masculine-looking statue. But no; Google tells me it’s the popular nickname for the Castel Nuovo. Now, how the hell is the English-speaking reader supposed to know that? Again, if you don’t want to footnote it, shoehorn the information into the text somehow.