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The Cowper and Newton Museum
Cowper's translation of The Iliad
To translate the Homeric epic, Cowper set himself the target of forty verses a day. The regular labour absorbed him utterly and protected him from depression. He wrote:

No school-boy is as attentive to the performance of his daily task as I

A translation of the Iliad was in general use when Cowper began his own version. Pope had produced a best selling publication in rhyming couplets and although Cowper respected Pope's moral satires and admired his artistry, he believed Pope's version suffered from an excess of harmony and delicacy. Cowper hoped his translation would restore Homer's simplicity and sublimity.

Although in his finished preface Cowper claims not to compete with Pope, he had written to a Gentlemen's Magazine in 1785 and argued under a pseudonym that Pope had quite failed to capture Homer's bold and manly spirit and that in the desire to load his verse with adventitious beauties he had often been diverted from the meaning of the original.

The publication failed to usurp Pope's Iliad as the standard poetic version. However it attracted 500 subscribers and brought Cowper £1000 pounds, making his foray into authorship one of his most lucrative ventures.

On 24 Sept 1788, the day after finishing the Iliad he began work on the Odyssey, so that the two could be published together in a joint volume. Cowper was satisfied that he had met the targets he had set for himself, in volume and content.

In September 1790 Cowper sent to press a dutiful and honest, accurate translation of Homer's Iliad. He added nothing and studiously avoided what he saw as Pope's mistakes. It was not an immediate success and was considered to be too literal, flat and lacking Homeric fire.

First edition of Cowper's translation, 1791

William Blake was a subscriber.

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