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Homer for Henry

In response to:

The Man Who Should Be King from the October 23, 1986 issue

To the Editors:

In his review of Roy Strong’s Henry Prince of Wales and England’s Lost Renaissance [NYR, October 23, 1986], Christopher Hill asserts (p. 19): “…it was at Henry’s request that Chapman undertook his translation of Homer, dedicated to the prince.” This assertion echoes Strong (p. 180), who claims, “It is stated that…it was at the Prince’s request that he undertook the translation of Homer.” Elsewhere, however, on the same page, Strong more accurately cites Chapman on Henry’s having commanded him to proceed with the rest of the translation. Strong himself cites as an authority Graham Parry. The Golden Age restor’d: The Culture of the Stuart Court, 1603–42 (Manchester U.P., 1980), who claims (p. 68): Chapman’s “translation of The Iliad…he undertook under the patronage of Henry….”

To assert that “it was at Henry’s request that Chapman undertook his translation of Homer” is misleading. In 1598, Chapman had already translated the Iliad‘s Books I, II, VII–XI, and dedicated these to the Earl of Essex (rev. STC 13632). In 1598, too, he published Achilles shield (rev. STC 13635), a part of the Iliad‘s Book XVIII, also dedicated to Essex. Since, in 1598, Prince Henry (born February 19, 1594) was four years old, the assertion of Chapman’s Homeric undertaking at “Henry’s request” seems somewhat unlikely.

W.R. Elton

City University of New York

New York City

Christopher Hill replies:

One up to Mr. Elton. I should have written “Chapman finished his translation of Homer at Henry’s request, and dedicated the completed version to the prince.”

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