06 Mar 2019
While I will not pretend to be an expert on Homer’s works, they have long been at the margins of my academic pursuits. I have been meaning to get around to Emily Wilson’s Odyssey translation for quite a while.
Aristotle said that the “Iliad” was a poem in which things happened to people, while the “Odyssey” was a poem of character. And with formulaic language stripped away, it is the characters and their interactions that take center stage. The frustrations of the teenage Telemachus come through clearly. So do the breezy complacency of Menelaus, the innocence of Nausicaa, the gruff decency of the swineherd Eumaeus. Wilson is good too with the poem’s undertones and double meanings.
In her new translation of the “Odyssey,” Emily Wilson allows herself some creative freedom with Homer’s formulaic phrases. “I have used the opportunity offered by the repetitions,” she writes in her introduction, “to explore the multiple different connotations of each epithet.”
Translations too are works of recollection. In her recent rendition of The Odyssey, Emily Wilson attempts to make the archaic contemporary … Remembering, we realize, must be distinguished from misremembering, from nostalgia. Precision generates the conditions for surprise to flourish.
But being such an ancient work, in an ancient version of the Greek language, it is inherently difficult to bring to new generations of students a fresh vision of what the “Odyssey” is to them, and what it was to its original audience. Each translator brings his – and now, with Professor Emily Wilson’s translation, her – own attitudes and interests: how much is the translation to be a reflection of the original text – filled with the rhetorical styles that were fresh and effective to the original audience, but impenetrable to us – and how much is it to respond to the writing and speaking styles of the translator’s times? Do we want the experience to be vivid and personal, or to be a kind of time-machine, carrying us back to the ancient times?
Professor Emily Wilson has decided to make her translation a vivid personal experience for readers today.