Rage that reverberates unto the very heavens, desire for glory that deforms devotion to home, grief so profound as to make a warrior relent and a king beg—these are only a few of the subjects of Homer’s Iliad. Yet as much as the Iliad is about matters of great magnitude, there are as many moments of tenderness and delicacy. The poem imbricates the enormity and intimacy of human life given over to violence.

Emily Wilson’s 2023 line-for-line translation of the Iliad puts the epic into English blank verse. As a result, her translation is imminently readable—but this raises a question for its readers: should a poem both beautiful and barbaric be easy to read? In addition to confronting questions that the poem itself puts before us, this seminar will also consider what it means to read such a poem and how much—or little—translation may interrupt or illuminate its timeless meaning.

Image: Canova Antonio, Achilles Delivers Briseis to Agamemnon’s Heralds


Mary Elizabeth Halper reflects on reading & friendship


Mary Elizabeth Halper

Mary Elizabeth Halper joined St. John’s College, Annapolis as a tutor in 2021. Previously, she was Associate Director of the Hertog Foundation. She graduated with B.A.s in Philosophy and Classics from the University of Dallas and has since been devoted to liberal education in various forms. She earned her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Catholic University of America, where she defended a dissertation on the political philosophy of Plato’s Protagoras and Gorgias.

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