So what is the Ilias Latina?  In the first century A.D., during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, Latin poet Baebius Italicus translated Homer's Greek epic, the Iliad, into Latin.  He also greatly reduced the content.  From twenty-four books of Greek poetry, Italicus produced a version in just 1,070 Latin hexameter lines.  The result was the Ilias Latina, which became the primary text through which people of the Middle Ages knew the story of the Trojan War.


After the rediscovery of the Homeric manuscripts, the Italicus rendering fell into disregard.  What many enjoy in Homer, the long speeches and character development, are largely gone in the Latin version.  Instead we have war poem that is all action, start to finish.


I began translating this piece during my lunch period in the fall of 2005 and decided to publish it when I realized there were no accessible English translations available.  One, by George Kennedy, is no longer in print, and another by Kathryn McKinley exists only in a journal of Medieval literature.


To get a taste for what the Ilias Latina is like, consider the following lines:


Gigantic war rises up, and on both sides

Much blood is poured forth, and bodies are scattered

On all the fields, and groups in turn

Of both Trojans and Danaans fall.

No rest is given the men:  Mars sounds from all sides,

And showers of weapons fly everywhere.

The son of Thalysias falls,

Sunk into the shades by the stout blade of Antilochus,

            And abandons the wished-for light.

From there the son of Telamon, Ajax, seizes

With his strong hand the son of Anthemion, who was hot

On the backs of the Greeks, and transfixes his breast

With a hard, tempered spear.  Anthemion vomits his crimson,

Blood-mixed soul and soaks his face as he dies.

Achilles in Rome contains the Latin text on facing pages with the English translation.


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