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Style Study: Fitzgerald Translation of Homer

[5.279-308] Now the great seaman, leaning on his oar, steered all the night unsleeping, and his eyes picked out the Pleiades, the laggard Ploughman, and the Great Bear, that some have called the Wain, pivoting in the sky before Orion; of all the night's pure figures, she alone would never bathe or dip in the Ocean stream. These stars the beautiful Kalypso bade him hold on his left hand as he crossed the main. Seventeen nights and days in the open water he sailed, before a dark shoreline appeared; Skhería then came slowly into view like a rough shield of bull's hide on the sea.

But now the god of earthquake, storming home over the mountains of Asia from the sunburned land, sighted him far away. The god grew sullen and tossed his great head, muttering to himself: "Here is a pretty cruise! While I was gone the gods have changed their minds about Odysseus. Look at him now, just offshore of that island that frees him from the bondage of his exile! Still I can give him a rough ride in, and will."

Brewing high thunderheads, he churned the deep with both hands on his trident--called up wind from every quarter, and sent a wall of rain to blot out land and sea in torrential night. Hurricane winds now struck from the South and East shifting North West in a great spume of seas, on which Odysseus' knees grew slack, his heart sickened. [. . .]

[324-37] A great wave drove at him with toppling crest spinning him round, in one tremendous blow, and he went plunging overboard, the oar-haft wrenched from his grip. A gust that came on howling at the same instant broke his mast in two, hurling his yard and sail fair out to leeward. Now the big wave a long time kept him under, helpless to surface, held by tons of water, tangled, too, by the coat of Kalypso. Long, long, until he came up spouting brine, with streamlets gushing from his head and beard; but still bethought him, half-drowned as he was, to flounder for the boat and get a handhold into the bilge--to crouch there, foiling death.

[. . .] The god of earthquake heaved a wave against him high as a rooftree and of awful gloom. A gust of wind, hitting a pile of chaff, will scatter all the parched stuff far and wide; just so, when this gigantic billow struck the boat's big timbers apart. Odysseus clung to a single beam, like a jockey riding, meanwhile stripping Kalypso's cloak away.

[426-442] Odysseus' knees grew slack, his heart faint, a heaviness came over him, and he said, "A cruel turn, this. Never had I thought to see this land, but Zeus has let me see it--and let me, too, traverse the Western Ocean--only to find no exit from these breakers. Here are sharp rocks off shore, and the sea a smother rushing around them; rock face rising sheer from deep water; nowhere could I stand up on my two feet and fight free of the welter. No matter how I try it, the surf may throw me against the cliffside; no good fighting there. If I swim down the coast, outside the breakers, I may find shelving shore and quiet water--but what if another gale comes on to blow? Then I go cursing out to sea once more. Or then again, some shark of Amphitrite's may hunt me, sent by the genius of the deep. I know how he who makes earth tremble hates me."

From Robert Fitzgerald's translation of Homer's The Odyssey, Book V, lines 279-308; 324-37; 426-442 (NY: Anchor Books, 1963). (I have eliminated the line breaks so that the passage will read more like prose.)

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