Christopher Logue’s Patrocleia is a creative translation of Book 16 of Homer’s Iliad. It is part of his larger work War Music, in which Logue translates Books 1-4 and 16-19 of the Iliad. This was a continuing project of Logue’s, of which Patrocleia was the first portion. Logue later published two more portions of his adaptation of the Iliad, consisting of All Day Permanent Red and Cold Calls.
Patrocleia is best described as an adaptation or creative translation because, while it is clearly the story of Patroclus fighting and dying, it is only loosely based on the original Greek epic. In fact, Logue did not know Greek – his interpretation is based off of “vicarious proximity to the Greek texts through line-for-line transliterations of the Greek text produced by the classicist Donald Carne-Ross, as well as through listening to classicists vocalize Homer’s Greek text for him so that he could hear the sound patterns of the Homeric hexameter” (Greenwood 505). However, while it isn’t line for line, Logue manages to preserve much of the emotional weight of the Iliad. Compare, for example, the following similes, the first from Richmond Lattimore’s translation of the Iliad, which is in many ways faithful to the Greek, the second from Logue:
…And they, as wolves
who tear flesh raw, in whose hearts the battle fury is tireless,
who have brought down a great horned stag in the mountains, and then feed
on him, till the jowls of every wolf run blood, and then go
all in a pack to drink from a spring of dark-running water,
lapping with their lean tongues along the black edge of the surface
and belching up clotted blood; in the heart of each one
is a spirit untremulous, but their bellies are full and groaning (Lattimore, XVI.156-163)
Imagine wolves: an hour ago the pack
Smelt out a stag and tore it into shreds.
Now they have snuffled through its corpse
They want a drink to wash the curry down; so,
They sniff out a pool and loll their long
Thin, sharp-pointed tongues in it; and as they lap
Little crimson billows drift off their chops,
Spreading through the water like red smoke. (Logue, 9)
The general gist of each is the same, and despite the differences Logue still manages to evoke a sense of ominous violence. However, the simile is not a strict translation. It’s not just that the Patrocleia isn’t a word for word translation. Logue distinguishes it further by adding in anachronisms, modernizing elements of the narrative. For instance:
You know from books and talking pictures,
How people without firearms set about
Killing a tiger that has grown too old
To prey on antelope or zebra and
Must confine its diet to slower
Animals like man. Following its spoor,
They rig a long funnel of netting up
On spikes (like pointed clothes-props) and the lean
Striped beast is driven down its throat by gongs.
The net is shut. And when the beast is tired out
The humans kill it in their own good time.
But if the net breaks many humans die. (31)
Obviously, there was no such thing as television or firearms in Homer’s myth. By adding these elements, Logue departs from the source material. However, in doing so he modernizes the myth and makes it more accessible to a contemporary audience. In this way, Patrocleia isn’t so much a translation or adaptation as a continuation of the epic tradition. After all, the idea of an original is a relatively modern one. Homer did not create the myths within the Iliad or Odyssey – given that they evolved from an oral tradition, they would have changed each time they were told. Thus, Homer’s creativity came not from what the story was, but from how he delivered it. So, rather than being unfaithful to the source material, Logue honors the tradition it came from by updating elements to appeal to a modern audience.
Given this, it is unsurprising that Logue originally intended his poem to be performed, not read. Listening to the work adds an entire layer to it. It gives the work a type of life that it doesn’t have on the page. The performer can interact with and alter the text to suit each performance. Further, the language takes on a type of music – not just Logue’s poem, but the original Greek (as can be heard by listening to Stanley Lombardo read).
Logue attempts to put aspects of performance and fluidity in his poem, not just when it is performed, but also on the page. The text changes size – when Apollo interacts with Patroclus, text relating to him is larger than the surrounding, and when listing those Patroclus kills the font shrinks. Thus, Logue attempts to bring the creativity of performance to the fixed form of text.
While many elements of the Patrocleia then seem, despite surface differences, to be similar to Homer’s version of the Iliad, Logue makes two very significant alterations – the depiction of war and the concepts of the gods. War in the Iliad is characterized glorious and heroic, an integral aspect of culture and identity. In the Patrocleia, Logue depicts war as meaningless and wasteful, likening the Trojans heading to battle to dying lemmings:
You will have heard about the restless mice
Called lemmings. How, at no set time, and why,
No one is sure, after years of living
As patiently as any other mouse,
They join in one long column and they march
(Sleeping all day and moving all night long)
Out of the mountains, down, across the land,
Straight as a die until they reach the sea
Walk into it and drown. And yet
However many die before they meet the sea
Those yellow vermin are so prodigal
They multiply, and more of them exist to drown
Than started off.
Likewise the Trojans when they crossed the ditch. (16)
Logue portrays the senseless waste of war, showing none of the glory inherent in the Greek conception of battle. Additionally, Logue translates a scene in which Achilles prays to Zeus into a scene where he begins the Lord’s prayer, thus Christianizing the scene. These notable departures do serve to modernize the myth for a contemporary audience, as the anachronisms do. However, the degree of difference which these alterations introduce alter aspects of the meaning and effect of the myth. They go beyond updating the myth, and turn it from a translation to more of an adaptation.
Christopher Logue’s Patrocleia is not quite a translation, not quite an adaptation. Instead it is an amalgamation of the two, creating a myth that is recognizably continues the tradition it comes from, but innovates and becomes new.
Greenwood, Emily. “Sounding Out Homer: Christopher Logue’s Acoustic Homer.” Oral Tradition 24.2 (2009): n. pag. Freely Accessible Arts & Humanities Journals. Web. <http://journal.oraltradition.org/issues/24ii/greenwood>.
Homer. “Book Sixteen.” The Iliad. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1951. 330-53. Print.
Logue, Christopher, and Homer. Patrocleia. London: Scorpion, 1962. Print.