The Iliad a public hit in Italy

Alessandro Barrico, the Italian translator of Homer, has outperformed The Da Vinci Code in sales in Italy with his new Italian version of the Iliad, published by Feltrinelli.

Enthusiasm for the book has led to public readings, starting 2,600 people listening for 12 hours a night for three nights to the spoken translation in Rome. On October 8, the book’s 20,000 or so lines were read in relays by people from different backgrounds in Verona for 24 hours. A new. The next step in this mass vote for the old bard and his martial themes could be to memorize the whole thing.

It wouldn’t be the first time some one has tried, though. Although it’s hard to find out much about it, a retired U.S. businessman called Steven V.N. Powelson decided to memorize the whole Iliad, and was able to perform vast chunks of it around 1994. This meant getting your personal Mnemosyne to get its aural archive around some 200,000 spoken syllables. Powelson took 16 years, working about an hour a day (making a total of 5,840 hours) as befits a 76 year old. He apparently used to recite it as part of a national tour to promote the classics, but I cannot discover whether he ever stood up like Italy’s war-scarred public (Iraq not Troy) and performed the whole thing from beginning to end. For a weird commentary on the ‘autoerotics’ of memorizing poems see this

Here’s how Barrico summarized his motivations:

Quando racconto questo lavoro, spesso la gente mi chiede: perché proprio l’Iliade? Alcuni vorrebbero l’Odissea (che io non amo, tranne il finale), o magari Dante o Ariosto. Ho due risposte: la prima è che l’Iliade mi sembra una storia bellissima. La seconda è che godere del racconto di una guerra mi sembra una cura efficace per allontanare il desiderio (tragico ma legittimo) di godere facendo la guerra.

Andrew Joscelyne
European, a language technology industry watcher since Electric Word was first published, sometime journalist, consultant, market analyst and animateur of projects. Interested in technologies for augmenting human intellectual endeavour, multilingual méssage, the history of language machines, the future of translation, and the life of the digital mindset.


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