Bringing The Illiad Into Arabic

Suleiman Al-Bustani at The Baffler:

UNTIL THE NINETEENTH CENTURYThe Iliad had only been translated into European languages. By 1914, however, the situation had changed. Suleiman Al-Bustani’s 1904 Arabic version was just one among many translations into non-European languages—Armenian, Bengali, Urdu, Turkish, Gujrati, and Marathi, among others. This sudden interest in an ancient Greek epic poem might be understood from an anti-colonial perspective. It reflects the belief, held by many intellectuals of the period, that the symbolic power of Homer could be used to resist European claims to authority in an era of imperial expansion. If Homer’s epic is born, as Bustani argues, of the four corners of the world, the principle so central to Western Europe’s “civilizing mission”—that the ideas of Ancient Greece are the cultural foundation of the Christian West—loses some legitimacy.

These translations were also far more than responses to Europe. For Bustani, The Iliad represented an inquiry into the Jahiliya of the Greeks: the period in Greek history that corresponds to the period in Arab history marked by the absence of divine guidance, prior to the revelation of the Quran.

more here.