Oh Muse

My favorite line from the Homeric epic, The Odyssey, starts with:

"Sing to me, oh muse,..."

It's a line that comes into my mind frequently, and every time I open up a package of materials, or start a new notebook, I think of that line. There's another version of that line that I equally love, and it goes:

"Sing in me, oh muse, and through me tell the story..."

I'm wildly fascinated by translations, I could sit all day and wonder about word play, or the manipulation of words. I think the fascination comes from my living abroad in Spain. When I was there I realized that some phrases from Spanish couldn't be translated in English properly, they didn't have the same punch, and vice versa. Being immersed there, in another language, I had to learn how to communicate in ways that both my translation from English would be understood and that my Spanish could carry the same depth and cleverness. My typical American humor got completely lost in translation and I had to find new ways to carry on a conversation where I could still use little jokes here and there.

The translation of the Homeric epics, from what I've read, has varied immensely over the centuries. The Iliad and The Odyssey have been translated numerous times and each translation was not specific to the author/translator, but also to the language used during the time. I remember reading how a Pope from the 1700s (or something like that) translated the poems and he omitted, or softened, some of the language in order to keep the poems clean and correct under the eyes of the Church. I had this thought about how readers from the 1700s would've gotten a completely different version, or feel from the texts, than what I got out of it. The translations by Robert Fagles (which are the versions that I found most easy to read) were done in such a way that made these books easy to read and understand; they felt almost contemporary.

The 2 lines above are up for debate amongst scholars. Some believe that The Odyssey begins with, "Sing to me.." and others believe it starts with, "Sing in me." It's crazy that a simple change in wording can completely change the context.

The first--sing TO me--implies that an audience member is sitting in a crowd and recording the story. They are there listening to the story and being told it. The second--sing IN me--is much more spiritual. I love this translation because it's as if the narrator is giving his body over to the spirits and the spirits are using his voice as a vehicle to tell the story.

I think about this all the time because I often wonder how I might translate an idea into metal and what I meant for it to explain, but the wearer will have a different translation of the piece altogether. We act as different translators to the same piece, and yet what will happen to the meaning of a piece over the time? What will the future say about the piece? Will it be more about the original wearer or will it be about my research and design? It's such a curious thought and one that I (nor you) will ever have the answer to, and I kind of like that each work will take on a new way of communicating or inspiring.

Thank you for reading,


Heinrich Maria Hess
Apollo and the Nine Muses