PURE AND POTENT: THE ILIAD DISTILLED

There are so many translations of THE ILIAD. Ambitious, reverent, respectable translations compiled by similarly-natured men and women.  Too bad. Because this translation has what most of those scholarly tomes lack: verve, pizazz, clarity, and bluntness.  To be fair, those traditional translations are by adults for adults.  The version I’m talking about here is for children. 

The Iliad (Kingfisher Epics)Nick McCarty’s retelling of THE ILIAD is a bare bones story version.  Reading this version is like watching a soccer game — non-stop action, reaction, blow-by-blow…he’s calling the game!  Not a wasted word nor gratuitous comment anywhere.  And here’s a word I rarely ever use — GRIPPING!  The way he tells the story is gripping.  McCarty has distilled the story down to all the action bits.  THE ILIAD is about an interesting war to begin with, but that quality of bloodthirstiness is tamed and faded by the time the traditional scholars get through with it.  This version designed for children has all the imagery, action, power and range of emotion you might find in an oral telling in the original Greek.  Every word counts.  Every sentence paints a picture.  Every paragraph drives the action forward.  Nothing is wasted nor superfluous. 

"So they came — swan-prowed, open boats crashing through the deep, green sea and over the sparkling dawn waves…They rode, like carrion birds swooping the swelling waters together, close by the black cliffs and foaming spray."

F**k, yeah!  Bring it on! 

I absolutely love how the story namedrops like crazy.  It’s crazy with labels, too. 

  • Agamemnon, King of Men, son of Atreus, High King
  • Nestor the Wise
  • Idomeneus the Cretan, the spearman
  • Zeus, Lord of Lightning
  • Poseidon, the Earthshaker
  • Apollo, the Archer God
  • Thetis, Goddess of The Silver Feet

It’s not that this is new stuff, it’s that this version has done a superior job of putting all the action at the forefront. It’s all the best bits.  I’m surprised this is being marketed as a children’s book.  I would put this up against anything Loeb or Penguin has to offer.  It’s easy to follow the story.  The language is vivid to a high degree.  The qualities that make ILIAD a magnificent poem are here as well.  In several places during the story, the sentence structure or imagery closely echoes the original poem, such as the section of the thousand ships. An amazing feat of scholarship.  McCarty does that wherever he can.  He pulls the feel of the original poetic tale in, instead of dumbing it down as most children’s versions of classic stories tend to do.

Another writer who has brought Greek mythology to children is Mary Pope Osborne.  She has done a respectable collection of Greek myths retold for children and I use them.  Very reader-friendly.  But this ILIAD far outshines her Odyssey stories.  It’s the language.  The language is what makes all the difference.  Again, the vividness, the straighforward, no wasted words, picture-painting prose.  I’m excited about this book. Reading it gives me such a rush. It grips you from the beginning and hooks you from chapter to chapter.  It’s a stimulating read that’s great for reluctant readers.  You can read it aloud or let your students read it.  Your class can make skits from it.  This is a book that should be used in the classroom.

CH. VII:

Hector hurtled into the field in full battle armor.  His chariot had bronze rails and ivory fittings on the reins.  The reins were made of oxhide, strong enough to curb the wildest horses.  With his long spear in his left hand, Hector surged through the men fighting hand to hand, jsut as they were about to retreat.

"Stay!" he called.  "You won’t fight for nothing.  Be real men, not cowards.  Don’t give another step."

Oh yeah, it’s ON!  One of the things that’s so fun about this version is you can play with sports idioms.  I could go on about all the lessons that are possible with a story like this, but that’s not exactly my point.  It’s a fun book to read and it’s a great story to teach. Go for it.

A caveat: the edition I got from www.scholastic.com has a different cover from the one shown here.

Other books in the Kingfisher Series:

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Children’s Greek mythology by Mary Pope Osborne:

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Related posts:

Pen & Paper in Perfect Accord

IF CATS COULD READ…

 

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