“Mumbling Like a Maniac”: An Interview with Robert Fagles



At 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, The Paris Review has copresented an occasional series of live conversations with writers—many of which have formed the foundations of interviews in the quarterly. Recently, 92Y and The Paris Review have made recordings of these interviews available at 92Y’s Poetry Center Online and here at The Paris Review. Consider them deleted scenes from our Writers at Work interviews, or directors’ cuts, or surprisingly lifelike radio adaptations.

Because our new Summer issue has a focus on translation, we’ve dug up two interviews with translators to present this week. This one features Robert Fagles, who died in 2008—a prolific translator of ancient Greek and Roman texts, he’s remembered especially for his seminal editions of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Patricia Storace interviewed Fagles on November 24, 1997; their talk formed the basis of Fagles’s Art of Translation interview, published in our Summer 1999 issue. “His manners,” Storace wrote then, “are fine in the way that Americans, having not yet evolved a word, still inappropriately describe as courtly, a word that misses the lack of ostentation and the deliberate grace that are at the heart of democratic elegance.” And you don’t have to listen to him long to hear that grace:

There are about twenty-seven hundred years that separate the two traditions, and the trick (and the hard labor) is somehow to bring the two together. What I always do is read the Greek aloud until I begin to feel or find some English lurking between the Greek words, between the Greek lines, and I keep on mumbling like a maniac.

We are able to share these recordings thanks to a generous gift in memory of Christopher Lightfoot Walker, longtime friend of the Poetry Center and The Paris Review.

Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.