Elizabeth A. Hoffman
The lasting popularity of Alexander Pope’s Homer testifi es to the poetic genius he brought to his role as translator. In his introduction to the Twickenham Edition texts, Maynard Mack cites the “demand for new editions throughout Pope’s lifetime and for a century after” as evidence of popular acclaim, despite less consistently positive critical response (Twickenham 7:xlii). The same genius which guaranteed the success of Pope’s translation also informed his keen powers of observation as critic, and his prolonged contact with the Greek text during the translation process, from 1713 to 1726, produced insights that have yet to be fully
The modern clarifi cation of the distinctions between orality and literacy has provided a retrospective vantage point from which to observe the conceptual limitations of the literate mind throughout the age of literacy. A reading of Pope’s preface to his 1715 edition of the Iliad shows him making a series of distinctions between oral and literate modes of composition hardly to be found wanting by twentieth-century standards.
Even as he delineates the two categories, however, he remains unable to put a name to them: one involves active, participatory communication for “Hearers,” the other passive, impersonal composition for readers. Standing on the brink of discoveries fi rst clearly articulated by Milman Parry and Albert Lord in the early decades of this century, Pope, as well as the two centuries of Homeric scholars who followed him, remained unable to penetrate to the heart of the Homeric Question.