The rhythm of the Homeric poems is based on a strict yet flexible meter called the dactylic hexameter. Each line contains
six units or feet, each foot either a dactyl consisting of three syllables (heavy-light-light) or a spondee of two syllables
(heavy-heavy), except the last foot, which always has two syllables and is either a spondee or a trochee (heavy-light). The
Greek verse is measured by quantity--the length of time it takes to say a syllable--while the English meter is based on stress,
so the line I have used is accentual. However, the length of each syllable is also important in the overall rhythm of the
English line. Here is the "Proem," the first ten lines of the Odyssey, first in a transliteration of the Greek
with a circumflex mark over the long syllables, then in my English version with an accent mark over the metrically heavy syllables;
lines in both passages are divided into feet with the slash mark. If you wish, you can listen to me reciting the Proem in
Greek and my translation of it; the files are .mp3s of around 400 kilobytes apiece.
Listen to the Proem in Greek
ândra moi / ênnepe, / Moûsa, po/lûtropon, / hôs mala / pôlla
plângthe, e/peî Troî/ês hiër/ôn ptoli/êthron e/pêrse;
pôllôn / d'ânthrô/pôn iden / âstea / kaî noön / êgnô,
pôlla d'ho / g'ên pôn/tô pathen / âlgea / hôn kata / thûmon
ârnumen/ôs hên / tê psûch/ên kaî / nôston he/taîrôn.
âll' oûd' / hôs heta/roûs êr/rûsato, / îëmen/ôs per;
aûtôn / gâr spheter/êsin a/tâsthali/eîsin o/lônto,
nêpioi, / hoî kata / boûs hyper/îonos / êëli/oîo
êsthion; / aûtar ho / toîsin a/pheîleto / nôstimon / êmar.
tôn hamo/thên ge, the/â, thuga/têr Dios, / eîpe kai / hêmîn.
The English version:
Listen to the English version
Téll mé,/ Múse, of the / mán versa/tíle and re/soúrceful, who / wándered
mány a / seá-míle,/ áfter he / ránsácked / Tróy's holy / cíty.
Mány the / mén whóse / tówns he ob/sérved, whóse / mínds he dis/cóvered,
mány the / paíns in his / heárt hé / súffered tra/vérsing the / seáwáy,
fíghting for / hís ówn / lífe and a / wáy báck / hóme for his / cómrádes.
Nót even / só did he / sáve his com/pánions, as / múch as he / wíshed to,
fór by their / ówn mád / réckléss/néss they were / broúght to des/trúction,
chíldísh / foóls--they de/cíded to / eát up the / cóws of the / hígh lórd
Hélios, / whó thén / toók from the / mén theír / dáy of re/túrning.
Éven for / ús, holy / daúghter of / Zeús, stárt / thére to re/coúnt thís.
An understanding of such technical matters is admittedly more important for the translator than for the reader. The rhythm
is easy to hear, and it comes most alive when the verse is read aloud. Then the variations on the basic rhythm take on full
value, and so do the formulaic repetitions, which resemble the repetitions in musical compositions of all sorts, from songs