The Odyssey (1900)

First edition, inscribed by Samuel Butler (BII ODY 1900.1)

Butler took delight in the very domestic and mundane aspects of the Odyssey. ‘Nothing can well be more franchement bourgeois & unheroic’, he wrote to his sister May, calling Ulysses a ‘servant’s hall hero’. Following numerous rejections from prospective publishers, Longmans eventually agreed to publish both the Iliad (1898) and the Odyssey (1900), bringing them out in the reverse order in which Butler had translated them.

While his down-to-earth approach annoyed Classical scholars, contemporary reviewers praised Butler’s ‘vivid and direct’ prose, and the value of his translations in bringing the poems to life for English readers has increased over time. Butler’s is said to be one of only two translations James Joyce used in writing his great 20th-century epic Ulysses (1922).

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