Though the Spelling of ancient Greek names faces modern poet-translators with some difficult problems, it was not a problem at all for Shakespeare, Milton, Pope and Tennyson. Except in the case of names that had through constant use been fully Anglicised – Hector, Helen, Troy – the poets used Latin equivalents of the Greek names, which they found in the poems of Virgil and Ovid that they read in school. These are the forms we also are familiar with, from our reading of English poets through the centuries: Circe, Scylla, Sirens.
Recent poet-translators have tried to get closer to the original Greek and have transliterated the Greek names directly, not through the medium of their Latin adaptations. One translator, for example, presents his readers with Kirkê, Skylla and the Seirênês. Another shares several of these spellings but will strike a compromise at times – Circe, Skylla. All translators compromise when it comes to such fully naturalised forms as Helen, Trojans and Argives (Helenê, Trôes and Argeioi in the Greek), and they also retreat from strict transliteration in cases like Odysseus (Odusseus), Priam (Priamos) and Thrace (Thrêikê).
This is an area in which no one can claim perfect consistency: we too offer a compromise. Its basis, however, is a return to the traditional practice of generations of English poets – the use of Latinate spellings except for those names that have become, in their purely English forms, familiar in our mouths as household words.
Rigid adherence to this rule would of course make unacceptable demands: it would impose, for instance, Minerva instead of Athena, Ulysses for Odysseus, Jupiter or Jove for Zeus. We have preferred the Greek names, but transliterated them on Latin principles: Hêrê, for example is Hera in this translation; Athênê is Athena. Elsewhere we have replaced the letter k with c and substituted the ending us for the Greek os in the names of persons (Patroklos becomes Patroclus). When, however, a personal name ends in ros preceded by a consonant, we have used the Latin ending er: Pisander for Peisandros. The Greek diphthongs ai and oi are represented by the Latin diphthongs ae and oe (Achaean for Akhaian, Euboea for Euboia).
This conventional Latinate spelling of the names has a traditional pronunciation system, one that corresponds with neither the Greeks nor the Latin sounds. Perhaps “system” is not the best word for it, since it is full of inconsistencies. But it is the pronunciation English poets have used for centuries, the sounds they heard mentally as they composed and that they confidently expected their readers to hear in their turn. Since there seems to be no similar convention for the English pronunciation of modern transliterated Greek – is the h sounded in Akhilleus? is Diomedes pronounced dee-oh-may’-days or dee-oh-mee’-deez? – we have thought it best to work with pronunciation that Keats and Shelley would have recognised.
As in Achilles (a-kil’-eez), ch is pronounced like k throughout. The consonants c and g are hard (as in “cake” and “gun”) before a – Acastus (a-kas’-tus), Agamemnon (a-ga-mem’-non); before o – Leucothea (lew-ko’-the-a), Gorgon (gor’-gon); before u – Autolycus (aw-to’-li-kus); and before other consonants – Patroclus (pa-tro’-klus), Cauconians (kaw-kho’-ni-unz). They are soft (as in “cinder” and “George”) before e – Circe (sir’-see), Geraestus (je-ree’-stus); before i – Cicones (si-koh’-neez), and before y – Cyclops (seye’-klops), Gyrae (jeye’-ree). The final combinations cia and gia produce sha – Phaeacia (fee-ay’-sha) – and ja – Ortygia (or-ti’-ja) – respectively. There are however, cases in which the pronunciation of the consonants does not conform to these rules. One of the names of the Greeks, for instance – Argives – is pronounced with a hard g (ar’-geyevez, not ar’-jeyevz), by analogy with the town of Argos.
The vowels vary in pronunciation, sometimes but not always according to the length of the Latin (or Greek) syllable, and the reader will have to find guidance in the rhythm of the English line or consult the Pronouncing Glossary at the back of the volume. Final e is always sounded long: Hebe (hee’-bee); final es is pronounced eez, as in Achilles. In other positions, the letter e may represent the sound heard in sneeze or that heard in pet. The letter i may sound as in “bit” or “bite”: Antinous (an-ti’-no-us) or Atrides (a-treye’-deez). The two sounds are also found for y – Cythera (si-thee’-ra) or Cyrpus (seye’-prus) – while o is pronounced as in Olympus (o-lim’-pus) or Dodona (doh-doh’-na). In this spelling system, u except in the ending us and in combination with other vowels (see below) is always long, since it represents the Greek diphthong ou. But it may be pronounced either you as in “dew” – Dulichion (dew-li’-ki-on) – or oo as in “glue” – Arethusa (a-re-thoo’-sa).
The diphthongs oe and ae are both pronounced ee – Achaeans (a-kee’-unz), Oenops (ee’-nops). The combination aer does not produce a diphthong: Laertes (lay-ur’-teez); in cases where these letters are sounded separately, a dieresis is used: Phaëthusa (fay-e-thoo’-sa). The diphthong au is pronounced aw – Nausicaa (naw-si’-kay-a) – but in name endings, Menelaus, for example, it is not a diphthong, and the vowels are pronounced separately (me-ne-lay’-us). Since his name is familiar to the English reader, we have thought it unnecessary to use the dieresis in such cases. The ending ous is similar: Pirithous (peye-ri’-tho-us). The ending eus is sounded like yoos – Odysseus (o-dis’-yoos), except in the case of the name of one river – Alpheus (al-fee’-us) – and one Phaeacian elder, Echeneus (e-ken-ee’-us).
All other vowel combinations are pronounced not as diphthongs but as separate vowels. Double o is pronounced o-oh: Thoosa (tho-oh’-sa). Similarly, oi is treated not as a diphthong but as two separate sounds – Oicles (oh-ik’-leez). The sequence ei, however, is pronounced eye, as in the feminine name ending eia: Anticleia (an-ti-kleye’-a), Eurycleia (yoo-ri-kleye’-a) and other names as well; the constellation called the Pleiades (pleye’-a-deez) and the sea-nymph Eidothea (eye-do’-the-a); but Deiphobus (dee-i’-fo-bus) is an exception.
Obviously we cannot claim complete consistency even within the limits we have imposed on the system. Where no Latin form exists, as in the case of Poseidon, we have used the transliterated Greek, traditionally pronounced po-seye’-don (not po-see’-i-don). But we can claim to have reduced the unsightly dieresis to a minor factor and to have given the reader who comes to Homer for the first time a guide to pronunciation that will stand him or her in good stead when reading other poets who mention Greek names. We have also provided a Pronouncing Glossary of all the proper names in the text, which indicates stress and English vowel length.