Exit Hector, Again and Again

Classicist Emily Wilson surveys translations of one of the most famous scens in The Illiad:

In one of the most moving and memorable scenes from the “Iliad,” the great Trojan warrior Hector says farewell to his wife, Andromache, who has urged him not to risk his life by fighting on the plain. He gives their baby back to her, tells her to go home, and reiterates his decision to advance on the enemy….

Each of these translations — along with dozens more — suggests a different understanding of the central themes of courage, marriage, fate and death.

She includes translations spanning four centuries, including George Chapman (1611), Alexander Pope (1715), Samuel Butler (1898), Robert Fagles (1990), and her own recently published translation:

With these words,
he gave his son to his beloved wife.
She let him snuggle in her perfumed dress,
and tearfully she smiled. Her husband noticed
and pitied her. He took her by the hand
and said to her,
“Strange woman! Come on now,
you must not be too sad on my account.
No man can send me to the house of Hades
before my time. No man can get away
from destiny, first set for us at birth,
however cowardly or brave he is.
Go home and do the things you have to do.
Work on your loom and spindle and instruct
the slaves to do their household work as well.
War is a task for men — for every man
born here in Troy, but most especially, me.”
When he had finished speaking, glorious Hector
picked up his helmet with its horsehair plume.
His loving wife set off for home, but kept
twisting and turning back to look at him.
More and more tears kept flooding down her face.

Here’s a couple more translations of the same passage. Literature and History’s episode used Caroline Alexander’s 2015 translation:

So speaking he placed in the hands of his beloved wife
his son; and she took him to her perfumed breast,
laughing as she cried. And her husband took pity, watching,
and with his hand he caressed her and spoke to her and said her name;
“Foolish one, do not, I beg you, distress your heart too much.
No man against fate will hurl me to Hades;
for no man, I think, escapes destiny,
not the cowardly, nor the brave, once he is born.
But go to the house and tend to your work,
to your loom and distaff, and direct your handmaids
to ply their work; war is the concern of men,
all men, and me most of all, who live in Ilion.”

So speaking, shining Hector took up his helmet
crested with horsehair; and his beloved wife went home,
turning to look back all the while, letting the full tears fall.

Inspired by Literature and History, I’m in the middle of reading Stanley Lombardo’s 1997 translation. He renders the scene as:

And he put his son in the arms of his wife,
And she enfolded him in her fragrant bosom
Laughing through her tears. Hector pitied her
And stroked her with his hand and said to her:

“You worry too much about me, Andromache.
No one is going to send me to Hades before my time,
And no man has ever escaped his fate, rich or poor,
Coward or hero, once born into this world.
Go back to the house now and take care of your work,
The loom and shuttle, and tell the servants
To get on with their jobs. War is the work of men,
Of all the Trojan men, and mine especially.”

With these words, Hector picked up
His plumed helmet, and his wife went back home,
Turning around often, her cheeks flowered with tears.