Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Dusting off the classics

Mr. Fagles translated Aeschylus and Sophocles, among other authors, but he is most famous for his versions of “The Iliad,” published in 1990; “The Odyssey,” in 1996; and “The Aeneid,” which came out in 2006. All were published by Viking.

He is one of very few translators to have taken on all three of the great classical epics — something that not even Pope attempted — and all three have sold millions of copies, both in print and in audio versions narrated by Derek Jacobi, Ian McKellen and Simon Callow.

Their success was due largely to Mr. Fagles’s gifts as a writer. He was not an exactingly literal translator but rather one who sought to reinterpret the classics in a contemporary idiom. He once compared his job to writing Braille for the blind, and said that he imagined in a generation or two that someone would have to come along and re-Braille it.

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