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This review is taken from PN Review 173, Volume 33 Number 3, January - February 2007.

CONFRONTATIONS OF DOUBT SIMON ARMITAGE, Homer's Odyssey (Faber and Faber) £14.99
SIMON ARMITAGE, Tyrannosaurus Rex versus the Corduroy Kid (Faber and Faber) £12.99

Simon Armitage's dramatisation of the Odyssey was commissioned by BBC Radio and broadcast in the summer of 2004, and much of the excitement of the resulting version derives from the tension between the original's narrative and how it has been translated into convincing dialogue. Which is not to say that Armitage significantly reshapes the story of the original: it remains satisfyingly familiar. What he adds is a heightened awareness of how, in every situation, speech is used as a tool to shape events, whether to impress or persuade; to display loyalty or reveal contempt.

In any version of the Odyssey, the translator will have to show at crucial points in the narrative how Odysseus uses rhetoric to express his nobility and power. Characteristically, these scenes are presented as set-pieces, at which attention is deliberately focused on his skilful use of language. Such passages remain in Armitage's version, most notably when Odysseus washes up at Phaecia, bedraggled and without any possessions, and has to rely on his wit alone to win the sympathy of Nausica and her parents:

... I'll be as blunt as I dare.
I'll be as crude as I am bare
Under this ill-fitting gown.
I'll be as truthful as flesh and bone,
Which is all that I am now
And which is all that I own.

The use of pronounced rhythm and rhyme sets the passage apart ...


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