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Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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10.4 Word order in Greek

Greek authors could use the flexibility of Greek word order to achieve some striking effects. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, for example, both start with a noun in the accusative case, ‘μῆνιν’ (mēnin, ‘anger’, i.e. the anger of Achilles) and ‘ἄνδρα’ (andra, ‘a man’, i.e. the hero of the poem, Odysseus).

μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος ...

mēnin aeide thea Pēlēiadeō Achilēos ...

Sing, goddess, of the anger of Achilles, son of Pelias ...

Homer, Iliad, 1.1

ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον ...

andra moi ennepe, mousa, polytropon ...

Speak to me, Muse, of the man of twists and turns ...

Homer, Odyssey, 1.1

This use of word order creates such a strong impact that translators have sometimes attempted to preserve it. Here is the beginning of Robert Fagles’s version of the Iliad :

Rage – Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles.

Homer, Iliad, 1.1, translated by Robert Fagles