Tell me about a complicated man.
November 3, 2017 11:05 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about a complicated man. / Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost / when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy, / and where he went, and who he met, the pain / he suffered in the storms at sea, and how / he worked to save his life and bring his men / back home. He failed to keep them safe; poor fools, / they ate the Sun God’s cattle, and the god / kept them from home. Now goddess, child of Zeus, / tell the old story for our modern times. / Find the beginning.
Emily Wilson is the first woman to translate The Odyssey into English. via posted by Rumple (29 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Oh man, I am DEFINITELY reading this
posted by potrzebie at 11:31 PM on November 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am very, very excited to read this. I've read...three, I think? different translations over the years, and I am stoked for this one because:

One: When I read this article earlier today, the first comment in the comment section was something like "But why do you mention she is the first female translator, that is divisive" and I was thought "you clearly did not RTFA you dumbass shut the fuck up" and also
“If I was really going to be radical,” Wilson told me, returning to the very first line of the poem, “I would’ve said, polytropos means ‘straying,’ and andra” — “man,” the poem’s first word — “means ‘husband,’ because in fact andra does also mean ‘husband,’ and I could’ve said, ‘Tell me about a straying husband.’ And that’s a viable translation. That’s one of the things it says. But it would give an entirely different perspective and an entirely different setup for the poem. The fact that it’s possible to translate the same lines a hundred different times and all of them are defensible in entirely different ways? That tells you something.” But, Wilson added, with the firmness of someone making hard choices she believes in: “I want to be super responsible about my relationship to the Greek text. I want to be saying, after multiple different revisions: This is the best I can get toward the truth.”
What a translation is doing — and what it should do — has been a source of vigorous debate since there were texts to translate. “I’m not a believer,” Wilson told me, “but I find that there is a sort of religious practice that goes along with translation. I’m trying to serve something.”
Can't wait till Tuesday!
posted by rtha at 12:14 AM on November 4, 2017 [25 favorites]

I like!
posted by mwhybark at 12:17 AM on November 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

i already like this translation the best and i am definitely reading this, possibly aloud, possibly dramatically, probably continuing long after people wish i would stop.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:30 AM on November 4, 2017 [29 favorites]

amazon also wants me to buy the rubbishy tie-in novel for the new assassin's creed so i will do so bc of the ironic juxtaposition
posted by poffin boffin at 12:33 AM on November 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

You like olden days stuff with like, fighting in.
posted by Segundus at 12:55 AM on November 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

I think I sparknotesed my way through the Odyssey (English class) and struggled to translate even the tiniest snippets from the Aeneid (Latin class), but I might read this. I think I might like it.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:14 AM on November 4, 2017


My realization on reading it was, how much Star Trek owes to it. It even has redshirts.
posted by thelonius at 3:12 AM on November 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I'll definitely pick up this version. This is interesting.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:03 AM on November 4, 2017

So, but then I want to read the alternate translation, which does begin, "Tell me about a straying husband."

Just for kicks.
posted by allthinky at 7:03 AM on November 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

Absolutely reading this one.
posted by angiep at 7:06 AM on November 4, 2017

Thanks for the heads-up; will definitely check this out. As I slog my own way through translating Book VI at a speed and with a facility that might be unfavorably compared to that of troop advances in the trenches of WWI, it'll be a pleasure to see a pro take it on.
posted by the sobsister at 7:15 AM on November 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Not learning Greek is a regret in my life...I actually made a go of trying to learn at least the rudiments of it, a few years ago. It's tough going trying to do it by self-study, and I fell by the wayside. Still, it was enriching to learn the alphabet and a little vocabulary and a little bit about how inflected languages work.
posted by thelonius at 7:28 AM on November 4, 2017

They did a school play of the Odyssey in like grade 3?

The excerpt flows more naturally than Odysseys I've read before. I am into this.
posted by rodlymight at 7:44 AM on November 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Isn't the Odyssey basically that season of Doctor Who where the TARDIS was broken and he was stuck on Earth?
(The Iliad is a detailed case study of one of those stupidity contests so common in the bronze age)
posted by thatwhichfalls at 10:39 AM on November 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I did like this article (and would've posted it myself if I weren't on holiday), but I do somewhat question her take that prior translators choosing this or that word to resolve the ambiguity are necessarily doing so out of a drive for "rightness." It's just as possible that, in their view of the overall text, at least some of them believed that the potential ambiguity should be resolved in one way or another (as better cohering with that text), and earlier rather than later. That doesn't mean her choice is wrong, but that approach does seem defensible. After all, there is ambiguity inherent in many important words in virtually any story, particularly in one written in a language with no native speakers left alive. That doesn't necessarily mean the author intended ambiguity. I'm reading Book VI of the Iliad right now and the two different commentaries I'm using disagree about the interpretation of a given word (or whether its meaning is so "wrong" that another word must be read in its place). Different choices for πολύτροπος make for a different story, but there are room for many different interpretations here, surely?
posted by praemunire at 10:55 AM on November 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

As a kid you read the Odyssey and with a fifties kid's mind, you see Penelope waiting at the dinner table, and Odysseus out and about and you never imagine any carnality in this. Pretty much the western tradition is veiled, with the interesting (naughty bits,) left out. Then the translations meant to gloss over the imperfect and focus on the perfect manliness and violence, over women, rights of inheritance, rights of ownership, love of city state. The intimacy is the violence. I have been meaning to read the Odyssey again, and this will be the translation I choose. I like the idea of it.

I read Jason and the Argonauts to my brother and we would run around the house crying out, "Give me the eye that I may see him; give me the tooth that I may bite him!" Deep, we were so deep.
posted by Oyéah at 11:45 AM on November 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

My realization on reading it was, how much Star Trek owes to it. It even has redshirts.

posted by grobstein at 12:06 PM on November 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

(It's the one where Aeneas travels to the land of the dead with the Cumaean sybil.)
posted by grobstein at 12:09 PM on November 4, 2017

I am also excited, but seriously? She is not the first woman to have translated the Odyssey; it's ridiculous to even suggest so. She might be the author of the first translation promoted by a large publisher, but she is certainly not the first woman to learn Greek and set down her own interpretation. The headline is not only annoying, but also erases all the educated women (in the days when education meant having facility with Greek and Latin) who wrote for themselves or friends/family. Also, if you haven't checked out Alice Oswald's Memorial, her reading of the Iliad, most definitely do so. And that's not even mentioning Anne Carson.
posted by jokeefe at 12:41 PM on November 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

I always wanted to call him “the manywayed man.” In comparing translations for a college paper. I found some real clunkers, like “that man skilled in all ways of contending” and “the care of all the world for policies.”
posted by Countess Elena at 1:01 PM on November 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

So the question,” Wilson continued, “of whether he’s the turned or the turner: I played around with that a lot in terms of how much should I be explicit about going for one versus the other

It's both. Both together. We find our situation turned against us, and then turn it to our advantage. We are twisted by fate, then twist words and meaning to achieve our goals, and then we are twisted again by bonds of obligation. Turning to new challenges, we turn away from friends and family, only to turn to them again in need.

Thanks for this post.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:51 PM on November 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

It was the Dido affair and then - whoops! time to sail off! - that made me think, that was pretty Kirk-like of Aeneas.

that man skilled in all ways of contending
I found a comparison of Fitzgerald, Lattimore, and Fagles versions of the opening verse (Iliad as well). Wilson, no doubt, knows these very well, among others.
posted by thelonius at 6:07 PM on November 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

What the fuck, Fitzgerald?
posted by tobascodagama at 6:28 PM on November 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

She is not the first woman to have translated the Odyssey; it's ridiculous to even suggest so.

The first to have translated the entire Odyssey into English, perhaps? I looked through this list of translations and found no women in its list until Wilson (I do see Oswald and Alexander for the Iliad, though). It certainly seems more than possible as you say that it has been done, of course. If you know of any example, I would certainly be interested!

Thanks for the post, by the way. I have been meaning to re-read Homer and this will be a great way to do so.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:00 PM on November 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

There's a good (short) review of women and Homeric translation here.

Emily Wilson herself addresses the issue in this article, which I found interesting for the references to early Greek-French (Ann Dacier in 1699 and 1706(!)) and Greek-German translations by women of The Odyssey.

Regardless of intentions, however, female translators often stand at a critical distance when approaching authors who are not only male, but also deeply embedded in a canon that has for many centuries been imagined as belonging to men. The inability to take classical texts for granted is a great gift that some female translators are able to use as a point of leverage, to shift the canon to a different and unexpected place. Ruden once commented that “women are good at translating classics” because it puts them in a typically “feminine” position of abjection, always yearning for an eternally absent male figure: “it’s like developing a relationship with God”. But even for atheists, lesbians or women who just don’t feel that way about Virgil or Homer, the position of being a woman translating one of these dead, white men creates a strange and potentially productive sense of intimate alienation.

I also found this profile of Anne Carson to be well worth the read, not least for the closing email exchange:

"Toward the end of “Red Doc >,” the story leaps into tragic territory: the death of Geryon’s mother. They are some of the saddest pages I’ve ever read. “And the reason he cannot bear her dying is not the loss of her (which is the future) but that dying puts the two of them (now) into this nakedness together that is unforgivable. They do not forgive it. He turns away. This roaring air in his arms. She is released.” When I told Carson how devastating this was, she seemed surprised. She said she couldn’t quite tell.

“I somehow wrote that book without having any relation to it,” she said.

In the days that followed, I thought about this statement and realized I had no idea what it meant. Carson was back in Michigan by then, so I sent her one last e-mail, asking her to explain. This, in its entirety, was her response:


1 a particle is a thing in itself. a wave is a disturbance in something else. waves themselves are probably not disturbed.

2 there are some big particles inside Red Doc> — of information (ice), of grief (mother), of caprice (musk ox mind) — but by the time i wrote them down i had moved out to the condition of wave.

3 maybe i’m just saying that i’m a tough old bugger.

4 remember Monica Vitti saying, I can’t watch the sea for a long time or what’s happening on land doesn’t interest me anymore

posted by Rumple at 9:00 PM on November 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I saw the book on the shelf for sale today. I think I'll wait and get it from Amazon in a few days, since $40 at the now Barnes-and-Noble-owned campus bookstore vs. $25 at Amazon is a pretty easy choice, since I'm not costing a local business the sale.
posted by thelonius at 3:02 PM on November 8, 2017

SCREAM my book is here i am excite

also 2lbs of beef jerky so idk really what goes on at 4am in my home but clearly i am living my best life
posted by poffin boffin at 3:29 PM on November 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

the introduction alone is already the most interesting and engaging thing i have ever seen involving the odyssey aside from george clooney's soggy bottom
posted by poffin boffin at 8:20 PM on November 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

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