Sounding Out Homer: Christopher Logue’s Acoustic Homer


Christopher Logue’s adaptations of Homer’s Iliad go by the collective title of War Music, hinting at the importance of sound for Logue’s conception of the project. This article examines Logue’s Homer in the context of other contemporary translators of Homer who have all sought, in various ways, to produce translations that bring Homer to life. In Logue’s case, performance is a vital part of this enlivening, resulting in a poem with an intrinsic oral dimension, which is reproduced on the page via various typographical cues and reinforced by the poem’s performance history on radio and stage. In this essay the soundscape of Logue’s Homer is illustrated by a detailed case study of a single scene from Book 16 of the Iliad, in which the sound effects present in the Homeric simile are amplified. It considers the paradox of attributing aural fidelity to a free adaptation of Homer, before concluding that Logue’s adaptation can make us more attuned to the acoustic potential of Homer. Conversely, the tension between writing and oral genres inherent in Homeric epic can lead us to a better understanding of the relationship between the written and spoken word in Logue’s Homer.


Iliad, Book 16 1981/2001a edition of “Patrocleia” (Logue 2001b, CD 5, track 13):

Try to recall the pause, thock, pause,
Made by axe blades as they pace
Each other through a valuable wood.
Though the work takes place on the far
Side of a valley, and the axe strokes are
Muted by depths of warm, still standing, air,
They throb, throb, closely in your ear;
And now and then you catch a phrase
Exchanged between the men who work
More than a mile away, with perfect clarity.

Likewise the sound of spear on spear,
Shield against shield, shield against spear
Around Sarpedon’s body.

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