Translated by Emily Wilson
I read another translation of “The Odyssey” in the past and found it interesting. Now, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Emily Wilson’s translation of this ancient classic and realized, even as I started reading it, that I now understand why this old masterpiece has been treasured for thousands of years. Emily Wilson has done an excellent service for us.
The long poem reveals ancient times. Odysseus is not our ideal hero. But he was the ideal in the violent Bronze Age and the ideal of Hamas today. He and others felt it was proper to steal what belonged to other people and expect to get presents whenever they visited others, even when they intended to rob them. Odysseus was famous for being a liar. He was very concerned that his wife, whom he had abandoned for twenty years, would have sex with another man while he had sex almost without let up in many different lands. He lamented briefly when he led his men into disasters when they died. But he soon forgot about them. He remembered not how they acted appropriately but how they fought in battles.
Emily Wilson gives a stunning, much-appreciated gift to us. She makes the poem/book clear in simple English in four ways. (1) She gives us an extensive, informative, engaging, and exciting Introduction of 91 pages. It is an instructive book in itself. (2) She translates Homer’s twenty-four books, with over twelve thousand lines of epic composed in everyday Greek, into ordinary twenty-first-century English. While other translations do not clarify obscure phrases, she does so. (3) She devotes 26 pages at the end of the classic to Notes. They contain a full, clear summary of each of the 24 books followed by detailed explanations of many items in each book written in Wilson’s clear English style. (4) This is followed by a 25-page Glossary of a similarly clear listing of all the people and places in the tale. It has the proper pronunciations, such as Persephone is pronounced pur-se fo-nee, not pur-se-phone. While most non-scholarly readers do not read glossaries, they will learn much by reading the one Wilson prepared for us.
In short, this is a brilliant book. I look forward to her “Iliad,” released next year.