Emily Wilson's translation of The Odyssey

It is extraordinary that you chose that word as your example because it is precisely that word which the article’s author frames the article against, and which Wilson chose very deliberately, both as the work’s first description of the protagonist, and also a key to her whole style as a translator.

As the article listed all the thirty-odd previous ways which that word had been translated into English, I, too, felt that “twists and turns” seemed best. However, Wilson’s explanation of her choice was eye-opening and chosen quite carefully, as it turns out. I think you would really enjoy the article.

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It is delightful and serious and funny. John is a scholar, poet and wonderful writer.

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I also really like Lombardo’s. Highly recommend. I’ve only read his Iliad though - which is a much better poem anyway.

Like a few others, I have problems with that “complicated” in the first line. In contemporary usage it has a whiff of… what? Love letters written in felt pen? California psychobabble? Lover’s conversation in a fern bar across a bottle of chianti in a raffia basket? It’s wrong here anyway.

I do look forward to reading the NYT article though - there’s no problem quite like translation problems. And I can probably forgive the translator for one clanger. Probably.

Also a good word for Christopher Logue’s partial translations, which are absolute corkers. If only there were more. If you can handle rambling nonsensical SF shaggy dog stories R.A. Lafferty’s Space Chantey is worth a look.

And if you just plain like comparing stuff, I really enjoyed Homer in English, which is snippets from many many different translations.


Peter Green’s superb Iliad came out in 2015, and his Odyssey will be out in March 2018. I’d recommend Green if Fagles is too bombastic-flowery and Wilson is too dull. Fagles adds a lot to Homer and is a bit tinny after 20 years. Am looking forward to Wilson!

On the other hand, I was rather disappointed by David Ferry’s recent Aeneid, sad!

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I’ve always been partial to Fitzgerald. He must be one of those


As a translation into English, though, Anglophone bias is not only alright it’s to be preferred.

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It is an interesting article (I’ve since read it, having just paused to dash off a comment) but my choice isn’t that extraordinary. That use of ‘polytropos’ is moderately famous (it is if you are academically into the classics or if you were a part of an education system that decided that, by gum, you would be into the classics, by hook or by crook) and her translation translates it radically differently.

And I am puzzled by the article. It is written as if translating ‘polytropos’ as ‘complicated’ is a new thing but it isn’t. Middle-Liddell isn’t new and it isn’t a particularly exhaustive dictionary and yet there complicated lies as meaning three of ‘polytropos.’ And it is beyond imagining that I should know this and she an Oxford classicist, for heaven’s sake wouldn’t.

Yes, focusing on just the positive qualities (wise, &c) or negative (wily, shifty, &c) is a mistake: a reading-in that’s not permitted by the text. Her translation[1] improves on those, but I think ‘a man of twists and turns’ is better as it, using English idiom, conveys the manifold meanings of the Greek original: both turned and turning, both exalted wisdom and base cunning. A complicated man[3].

[1] I actually think her final lightly grandstanding ‘straying husband’ is half-better. ‘Husband’ is reaching too far, surely[2], but ‘straying’ is an interesting choice.
[2] ‘Andros’ is husband, fair enough, but it means husband only in context, cf. ‘man and wife.’ If the author meant husband right off the bat they’d have used ‘posis’ or ‘gametes’ surely. That’s why I think she’s grandstanding a bit, because I’ve no doubt she has a LSJ to hand and knows all of this way, way, way, &c better than I do.
[3] Shaft joke mercifully removed.

I’m similarly puzzled by the section on ‘maidservants.’ Yes, in modern usage it doesn’t convey that these are nearly certainly young female slaves, but the word ‘maidservant’ was used extensively in this very meaning in the KJV Bible which earlier translators doubtless expected the readers to be quite familiar with. I will grant that the original contains no slurs, of course, and her translation of this section is as precise and well-rendered as any could hope for.

Still, I am glad this sort of thing is still worked on and talked about. And the ultimate test of the translation isn’t really what you or I or anyone here thinks about it: if it resonates with people and if it connects them with an ancient tradition, then it will doubtless thrive. Omnis traductor traditor, naturally, but like in history it isn’t treason if you win. :wink:


Thanks for that - I used to read a lot of War Nerd, as somewhere between a guilty pleasure and a legit one. I’ve just bought this and am a few chapters in. It reads like you’d expect from the War Nerd - crass and a bit snarky, but fluent, and underneath it the knowledge that buttressed the old old War Nerd columns - that all this talk of glory is just shorthand for vicious arrogant stupidity, and that things are sure to end badly.

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Centuries of stodgy, numbing translations of The Odyssey have left it a bad classroom memory for generations

Clearly someone who’s never read the Fitzgerald translation.

I remember when my teacher said: Whenever you see a small word that you can’t parse, it’s invariably ἵημι.

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Having read neither, if I had to choose after this comparison, I’d go for the Fagle version without hesitation.

Perhaps hipster-grifter is a good translation of polutropon? As in

Sing to me, Muse, of the hipster-grifter man,
and all the coke and Henney he consumed
on his long way back from windy Troy…


A sort of multi-purpose word-spackle that fills any holes you have remaining in your sentence. What does it mean? Oh. This an that. All sorts of things, really.


wilson better than fagles? well, comparisons are odorous, to quote another literary classic.
the odyssey and illiad are works to read and re-read throughout one’s life, in many different translations. it’s not about figuring out which is the best translation and reading THAT one. that’s like determining who painted the best mary and child and only ever viewing that one painting.

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And this hearing, they Amazon Return’d him to the mast, and some in their way bound themselves to their station, lest the monstress Amazon them into the sea or unbidden end.

When the rocks became Uber But for Volcanic Processes that distinguished by letting the sailor know where he had in youth become Lyft but for Attractive Fish, the recognition cracked his glazed affect, that his area had his Uber Locations.

Pn3lOP_8guard would not connect when stood 3 wernicks from the cashier, and that sent his sandals immediately Ribbon Bearnings Near You the first shepherd youth, to cancel the Uber for DTF and instead hire nothing.

Yeah, the Greek word^WWordpress Plugin for Commerciallize.


“Complicated” works for me.

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