"In 1713, Alexander Pope began his translation of the Iliad, a work that took him seven years to complete and that literary critic Samuel Johnson, Pope's contemporary, pronounced the greatest translation in any language."

This is a GMAT question. I am curious about the last part of the sentence. What does "the greatest translation in any language" mean? Does it mean Samuel Johnson was fluent in all languages of the world and had compared the translation of the Iliad to every other translation work that ever existed at that time?

Thank you.

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This is a literary device that is called hyperbole.

When somebody is described as "the most beautiful woman on earth", the speaker probably has not seen all 3,5 billion women on earth. However, the speaker thinks that the woman is so beautiful, it must be (almost) impossible that any woman is more beautiful.

Likewise, Johnson did not know all languages, and had not examined all translations, but he simply found Pope's translation so great, that he deemed it near impossible that any greater one would exist.

  • Johnson was so prolific, I'd almost be willing to believe it of him. – T.E.D. Jul 20 '15 at 10:21
  • In 1720, I'd wager the Iliad had only been translated into a handful. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 20 '15 at 12:47
  • @EdwinAshworth It's not clear whether Pope only meant translations of the Iliad. Even if he did, it is unlikely he has actually read every single translation that ever had been made into Latin or Arabic (A lot of classical Greek works were translated into Arabic during what is know as the Dark Ages in Europe). – oerkelens Jul 20 '15 at 12:50
  • @oerkelens I assume you mean Johnson. Though I'm not contesting your 'hyperbole' label. // Perhaps there were other critics whose opinions he relied upon. In any case, it's quite a claim to make (but he was quite an authority). – Edwin Ashworth Jul 20 '15 at 13:01
  • @EdwinAshworth Yes indeed, it was Johnson's claim of course. It's true that some people reach such a position of authority one would (almost) take their hyperbole at face value. Sometimes this is actually done to undermine one's authority, by (falsely) assuming that no hyperbole was employed: "Johnson made an impossible claim, so why would we trust what he says?" Which in itself, of course, is a straw man. – oerkelens Jul 20 '15 at 13:06

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