I’ve just finished my first complete read through of George Chapman’s early seventeenth century translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. I’m marking the occasion with Keat’s early nineteenth century poetic memorial. There’s a lot here to be said about the importance of Chapman’s Homer for English literature, at least up to James Joyce’s own Homeric tribute, Ulysses, the importance of transition in national literature, the importance of Homer, the importance of ways of understanding and interpreting Homer (Giambattista Vico’ comes into this a lot, setting up the nature of Enlightenment and historical thought). That will come later. For the moment just Keats’ poem, the suggestion that Chapman’s Homer is very worth reading, and an indication of some ideas important to me at present.
‘On first looking into Chapman’s Homer’
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.