Robert Fagles and the Art of Translation

The Manuscripts Division is pleased to announce the recent donation of the papers of Professor Robert Fagles (1933-2008), a distinguished scholar, teacher, and poet, best known for his acclaimed translations of ancient Greek and Latin classics. The papers were the generous gift of his wife, Lynne Fagles, and were combined with his Greek drama translation files, donated to the Library in 1986. Fagles joined the faculty of the Department of English in 1960 and later became Arthur Marks ’19 Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton University, until his retirement in 2002. He directed the Program in Comparative Literature from 1966, until it became a university department in 1975, and then served as its chair until 1994. The papers consist of his professional and publishing correspondence, along with manuscript and typescript drafts, corrected proofs and galleys, notes, revisions, and other files regarding all of his English translations of major ancient Greek and Latin texts, including Homer’s Iliad (1990) and Odyssey (1999), Virgil’s Aeneid (2006), Aeschylus’s Oresteia (1975), and Sophocles’s Three Theban Plays (1982). Also represented are his early translations of works by the Greek poets Bacchylides and Pindar, as well as his 1978 collection of original poetry, titled I, Vincent, a series of poems intended as translations of the paintings of Vincent van Gogh.

Fagles kept extensive working files on his translations, which often include detailed notes on his vocabulary choices, his study of themes, symbols, motifs, and meter, and his allusions to philosophical concepts from modern thinkers. He worked closely on most of his translations with Bernard Knox, a respected classicist and director of Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies. His working files contain drafts heavily annotated by Knox, along with correspondence between the two men regarding Fagles’s progress on his translations of Sophocles, Homer, and Virgil over the several years or sometimes decade during which he labored over each translation. The papers also include correspondence with various poets, classicists, professors, university presidents, and former students, including Louise Glück, Anne Carson, Robert Fitzgerald, Harold Shapiro, James Dickey, Joyce Carol Oates, William Meredith, Francine du Plessix Gray, Rachel Hadas, Robert Hollander, Francis Fergusson, George Steiner, Robert Goheen, Charles Tomlinson, and others.

The Robert Fagles Papers complement other holdings of the Manuscripts Division related in whole or part to the art of modern literary translation. Worthy of special mention are papers of the following authors and translators: Edmund L. Keeley, Charles Barnwell Straut Class of 1923 Professor of English, Emeritus, who translated Constantine Cafavy, George Seferis, Odysseus Elytes, Giannes Ritsos, Angelos Sikelianos, Vassilis Vassilikos, and other Modern Greek poets (C0763); Kimon Friar (1911-93) , who translated Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, among other Modern Greek works (C0713); and Stanley Kunitz, who worked with Max Hayward to translate Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Andrei Voznesenskii, and other Russian poets (C0837). Two other collections contain the translation files of Ezra Pound (1885-1972) for Greek and Japanese drama (C0301, C0658). The Manuscript Division’s extensive holdings of American publishing archives and modern Latin American literary archives also contain substantial materials relating to translation and translators.

For information about using the Robert Fagles Papers (C1499), researchers can consult the online finding aid or contact This collection is stored offsite. Please consult with the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections about having offsite materials recalled to Firestone Library, a process that normally takes 48–72 hours notice.

Corrected draft of Pindar translation

Corrected draft of Pindar translation