Translation of Homer's Odysses


Unlike poets with more traditional literary backgrounds – the Cambridge-educated Byron, for example – John Keats trained in medicine, and knew Latin, but not Greek. This translation inspired his sonnet ‘On First Looking in to Chapman’s Homer’. 

Who wrote it The Odyssey

Western tradition holds that the epic poems The Iliad and Odyssey were written down by a Greek poet called Homer, they likely arise out of a more complex oral tradition. Between 1614 and 34, George Chapman produced personal responses, rather than word-for-word translations. This book, The Odyssey, is the story of the hero known as Odysseus to the Greeks, and Ulysses to the Romans.

When was this edition published? 

Between 1614 and 1634. This was an important time for the status of English as a literary language – the King James Bible was published in 1611. 

How did Keats encounter Chapman? 

Thomas Alsager, a Times journalist, lent his copy to Leigh Hunt, who lent it to Keats’s friend Charles Cowden Clarke. In Recollections of Writers (1878), Clarke describes it as a ‘beautiful copy of the folio edition’; all that he otherwise specifies is that it is an ‘old’ one, earlier than Richard Hooper’s of 1857.  

When they read it together, probably on 25 October 1816, Clarke recalled that Keats responded with ‘one of his delighted stares’ to a description of the shipwrecked hero Ulysses ‘The sea had soak’d his heart through’.  

Keats went home in the early hours, and had his sonnet in response – one of the most famous in English – delivered to Clarke by ten o’clock the next morning; it was printed in Leigh Hunt’s Examiner that December. Clarke also compares Keats’s later Endymion (1818) to Chapman’s ‘Hymn to Pan’.

Full title:
Homer's Odysses. Translated according to ye Greeke by Geo. Chapman
estimated 1616, London
Book / Illustration / Image
George Chapman [translator], Homer
Usage terms:
Public Domain
Held by:
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

The Romantics and Classical Greece

Article by:
Stephen Hebron

The Romantic period was one of growing interest in ancient Greece. Stephen Hebron explores how this shaped the subject matter and forms of the era’s poets.

Related collection items

Related works

'Ode to a Nightingale'

Created by: John Keats

John Keats (1795-1821) composed this poem one morning in early May 1819, when he was still mourning the death of his ...

Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of St Agnes and Other Poems

Created by: John Keats

This volume by John Keats (1795-1821) was published in July 1820. It included: the three narrative poems listed in ...


Created by: John Keats

Both Hyperion and the revised version The Fall of Hyperion are unfinished allegorical poems. The drafts were written ...


Created by: James Joyce

Ulysses, a novel by the Irish writer James Joyce, is a key text of literary modernism. Divided into 18 chapters, it ...