Translator and professor Robert Fagles was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 11, 1933. He received a BA in English from Amherst College and a PhD in English from Yale University. While obtaining his degrees, he studied Latin and Greek on the side. He taught at Yale for one year and then joined the faculty at Princeton University as an English professor and remained there until he retired in 2002. While at Princeton, he created the university's department of comparative literature and received an honorary doctorate in June 2007. He was also a renowned translator of Latin and Greek. His first published translation was of the Greek poet Bacchylides (1961), which was followed by versions of The Oresteia by Aeschylus and the plays, Antigone, Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles. Fagles was best known for his versions of The Iliad (1990), The Odyssey (1996) and The Aeneid (2006). Instead of being an exacting literal translator, he sought to reinterpret the classics in a contemporary idiom which gave his translations a narrative energy and verve. He died of prostate cancer on March 26, 2008.
The son of a clergyman and grandson of an Anglican bishop, Samuel Butler seemed destined for a life in the church. After graduating from Cambridge, however, he spent some time in New Zealand as a sheep-rancher. When he returned to England, he settled down as a journalist and writer. He engaged in many controversies over Darwinism. Butler is best known by two satirical novels, Erewhon (1872) and The Way of All Flesh (1903). Erewhon, an anagram for "nowhere," attacked contemporary attitudes in science, religion, and social mores. The Way of All Flesh was a study of the Pontifex family in a surprisingly modern tone. Erewhon Revisited (1901) continues his attack on religion. Another work, The Fair Haven (1873), is another subtle attack on religion, presented in the guise of a defense of the Gospels, though it actually undermines them. The Family Letters is a selection from the correspondence of Butler and his father, with several letters to and from his mother and sisters and one or two other relatives. Those between Butler and his father show how close the early part of The Way of All Flesh was to the events in the son's life. A brilliant, versatile writer, Butler was one of the most searching critics of his time. Butler died in 1902.
Homer is the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, the two greatest Greek epic poems. Nothing is known about Homer personally; it is not even known for certain whether there is only one true author of these two works. Homer is thought to have been an Ionian from the 9th or 8th century B.C. While historians argue over the man, his impact on literature, history, and philosophy is so significant as to be almost immeasurable. The Iliad relates the tale of the Trojan War, about the war between Greece and Troy, brought about by the kidnapping of the beautiful Greek princess, Helen, by Paris. It tells of the exploits of such legendary figures as Achilles, Ajax, and Odysseus. The Odyssey recounts the subsequent return of the Greek hero Odysseus after the defeat of the Trojans. On his return trip, Odysseus braves such terrors as the Cyclops, a one-eyed monster; the Sirens, beautiful temptresses; and Scylla and Charybdis, a deadly rock and whirlpool. Waiting for him at home is his wife who has remained faithful during his years in the war. Both the Iliad and the Odyssey have had numerous adaptations, including several film versions of each.