Odysseus saw the townlands and learned the minds of many distant men, and weathered many bitter nights and days in his deep heart at sea, while he fought only to save his life, to bring his shipmates home.
– Robert Fitzgerald, The Odyssey
I still am amazed that Robert Fitzgerald’s version of The Odyssey still beats out all contenders (at least for me). His remarks at the end of that great work by Homer on his first setting site on Ithaka, homeland of Odysseus still bring a certain clarity and :
“The ship on which I sailed from Piraeus one summer night approached Odysseus’ kingdom from the south in the early morning. Emerging on deck for the occasion, I saw a mile or so to the west the bright flank of a high island, broadside to the rising sun. This was Kephallenia, identified by tradition with Same of The Odyssey; in fact the port where we presently put in is called Same. Beyond it to the north and dead ahead rose another island mass, lying from northwest to southeast and therefore visible only on its western side, all shadow, a dark silhouette. This was Thiaki or Ithaka.”1
He mentions the uncertainty surround a specific description that is in the Homeric poem’s text that has stymied the scholars up to his time:
“Uncertainties ramify handsomely in the first line, but let me confine myself here to the second, which literally means, or appears to mean, that Ithaka lies “toward the gloom, while the other islands lie apart toward the Dawn and the Sun.” Long before my Ithakan landfall I knew that this line has been thought simply inaccurate. But when I saw the islands with my own eyes in the morning light I felt at once that I had discovered the image behind Homer’s words. He, too, I felt sure, had looked ahead over a ship’s bow at that hour and had seen those land masses, one sunny and one in gloom, just as I saw them. An overnight sail from Pylos would have brought him there at the right time.”
This sense of word and image coming together forming the real that brings an ancient description and its modern variant suddenly together, transforming them from the realm of pure speculation to the clarity of the Real where eye and mind no longer distant from the actual, bring the virtual into the momentary movement of the mind in its becoming aware. It’s this quality that Fitzgerald in his versions of the Illiad and Odyssey was exemplary at conveying and transcribing, and allowing readers to envision and see through an allurement of the sensual image in its grasping of the Real.
- Homer; Robert Fitzgerald. The Odyssey: The Fitzgerald Translation (Kindle Locations 7203-7207). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.