Trans. Emily Wilson

The Odyssey by Homer. Trans. Emily Wilson is the first published translation by a woman of Homer’s Odyssey. As with any translation, the translator has an infinite number of choices to make in terms of diction, emphasis, ambiguities in the language, meter, etc. Wilson’s choices make for a unified and consistent approach, drawing attention to subtleties and nuances in the work that had previously been overlooked. Her translation invites a new reading of The Odyssey.

Wilson makes some interesting choices. Her unabashedly gendered perspective exposes some of the gender bias in previous translations. Her translation has the advantage of fleshing out the female characters, treating them with sympathy. In the case of the slave girls who are executed at the end of the poem, Wilson’s language suggests they should not have been held culpable for cooperating with the suitors since they were slaves and had no choice. Throughout her translation, Wilson stresses the interplay of gender relations; the silencing of mortal female voices; and the deep-seated male fears about female power.

Using sparse, clear diction presented in the familiar rhythm of iambic pentamer, Wilson’s translation is probably the most accessible and readable of all its predecessors. It has a very down-to-earth, plainly spoken feel to it, stripping it of the grand epic voice we have come to associate with an epic poem. But her occasional use of colloquialism has a jarring effect. One hardly expects to hear Telemachus addressing Eurycleia as “Nanny” or Penelope addressing her as “sweetheart,” or Telemachus addressing Eumaeus as “Grandpa,” or the use of “canapés” for what Fitzgerald translates as “savories.”

Wilson’s thoughtful and scholarly translation of The Odyssey yields new and interesting ways of interpreting the poem. She has made a significant contribution to our understanding of The Odyssey by translating it through a different set of lenses. And just as Caroline Alexander shattered a glass ceiling by being the first female to publish a translation of the Iliad, Emily Wilson has done the same with her translation of The Odyssey. That alone makes it a worthwhile read.

Highly recommended.

AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review