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The Translation of the Odyssey: A Landmark in Translation Services – Part II

Latin Beginnings


The Odyssey was first translated into Latin by Raffaele Maffei in 1510. Despite the translation’s popularity, Maffei distorted the poem by taking significant artistic liberties and therefore stripping the text of its true Greek meaning. Nevertheless, this translation proved highly influential when efforts to translate The Odyssey into European languages picked up in the mid 16th century. In 1537, the first German translation by professional translator Simon Schaidenreisser emerged, paving the way for future translators throughout Europe to translate the work into their own languages. By the end of the century, The Odyssey had been translated into almost all of the major languages in Europe, including French, Spanish, Dutch, and Italian; a major achievement for translation services.


English Translation of The Odyssey


The English translation did not come to fruition until the early part of the 17th century. In 1616, George Chapman translated a compilation of Homer’s works into English. Like his predecessors, Chapman embellished the original text.  However, his translation was popular for many years. Yet the publication of Alexander Pope’s version proved even more successful. An astute scholar, Pope recognized the importance of restoring The Odyssey’s original Greek meaning. To accomplish this, Pope used literal Latin translations of the work based from the Greek to create a translation that was not only accurate, but also maintained the poeticism of the original. Pope’s translation proved to be a major financial triumph.  According to Pope’s first contract, he was paid 200 guineas a volume for his translation services, a large sum of money to translate documents at the time.


Modern Odyssey Translation Services


Pope’s version eventually fell out of favor among scholars and was replaced by new translations, each with a unique take on the poem. For instance, Robert Fitzgerald’s 1961 version of The Odyssey featured verses without the rhyming structure used by previous editions. Other translators such as Martin Hammond have tried to transform the poem into prose in order to make it easier for modern readers to enjoy the classic work. Regardless of approach, the various efforts to translate The Odyssey have contributed greatly to the improvement of global translation services and provide great professional translating lessons for language services companies today.