- The Husbands: An Account of Books III and IV of Homer’s ‘Iliad’ by Christopher Logue
Faber, 55 pp, £6.99, October 1994, ISBN 0 571 17198 2
I first came across Christopher Logue’s ‘account’ of the Iliad in 1975 at Oxford where I went to hear a vigorous reading by two young men of Patrocleia, his version of Book XVI. It was an opportunity to experience the poem in its original medium, by the ear rather than the eye. Homer himself had probably chanted his verses plucking the strings of a lyre, like the bard Demodocus in the Odyssey and for many centuries after his death people did not read Homer: they listened to skilled rhapsodes, whose dramatic delivery mesmerised audiences and earned the performers ample rewards, as we know from Plato’s Ion. I learned later, from the Preface to War Music, that Logue had undertaken the project at the suggestion of Donald Carne-Ross, who was then commissioning a version of the Iliad for the BBC.
Vol. 17 No. 11 · 8 June 1995
Bernard Knox knocks Christopher Logue’s Husbands for not being what it was never designed to be, a literal translation (LRB, 11 May). Really, it’s like going after Sonny Rollins for playing ‘All the Things You Are’ in a manner quite different from what Jerome Kern probably had in mind. But it’s a very interesting version, no? Logue has his antecedents in this sort of thing. Paraphrase, quote, interpolation – these are hardly cutting-edge techniques, but belong rather to good old High Modernism. Knox would have to know Pound’s ‘Homage to Sextus Propertius’, which takes considerable liberties with the original indeed, but gives us the most vital Propertius in English. He would know of Schoenberg’s liberties with Handel or Schnittke’s with Mozart or Lucian Freud’s version of Watteau in his Large Interior, W11. One could spend an afternoon ransacking libraries, museums and record-bins for examples of this sort of thing. When Logue writes of the sky agleam ‘As when Bikini flashlit the Pacific’, I cannot help but think he is aware that the Iliad was composed before atomic weapons were around.
Vol. 17 No. 13 · 6 July 1995
Mr Kleinzahler (Letters, 8 June) cites Pound’s Homage to Sextus Propertius as something I ‘would have to know’ in order to understand ‘good old High Modernism’. It so happens that I read and admired Pound’s version when I was a schoolboy in London in the early Thirties. Pound, however, unlike Logue, did not mangle the structure of his original, introduce a host of new characters with outlandish names, and lay on faecal and sexual obscenities with a lavish hand. There are phrases in Pound’s poem that send the reader back to Propertius’ text with new insight and sometimes to find an unnoticed felicity – something that will not happen to the reader of Logue, who does not know the original and who is for at least 50 per cent of the time drawing freely on his own lurid imagination.