Iliad Translated into Microsoft Messenger. End of Civilisation Obviously Nigh.

Head to the escape pods, the end is near, friends.

The Iliad, the epic poem that for 2700 years has been our best dramatisation of the Trojan War, has been translated into Windows Messenger.

The poem’s 15,693 lines of achingly beautiful hexameter are now condensed in to 363 words and some smileys. All this for the 21st century “instant messaging generation”, and as part of a promotion for Microsoft’s chat application.

However, I imagine there were a few people like me in the 15th century who declared the the end of civilisation when the first printed edition appeared in 1488.

“The new ‘TrIM Troy’, a Messenger translation of the first five books of the 24 book classic tome, has been designed to give MSN Messenger’s eight million users a whistle stop tour of Homer’s world, the motives behind Menelaus’ rage, the bravery of the Greek army, the tragic death of Hector and the fall of Troy in their online lingo”, says the press release.

The upshot of this shallow and purely marketing-led butchery is best seen in its effect on the chilling opening verse:
Rage —
Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving towards its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of mean and brilliant Achilles.
Somehow, this now becomes:

“Ur right to still be ngry, Anchilles has m’ssed things up 4 da Grks wiv his rage”

I would class this as a lossy compression scheme, without any doubt.

Robert Fagel’s astonishing 1996 translation, available from Penguin

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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?