Author to Know: Emily Wilson

Emily Wilson is slightly different from the authors we like to spotlight on this website. Though a writer, her primary occupation is as a classicist. In 2017, she released the first iteration of The Odyssey ever to be translated by a woman.

 

The Odyssey is the first great adventure story in the Western canon. It is a poem about violence, wealth, and power, as well as the aftermath of war, marriage, and family. The reader follows hero Odysseus, king of Ithaca, on his journey home after the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War; those ten years are full of adventure, heartache, and pontification.

 

Wilson’s new translation is a marked diversion from previous iterations of the classical text. Her speed and pacing are some of the most notable changes; she renders the story of Odysseus in swift, minimalist, and staccato prose. Though due in part to her poetic voice, her translation choice is to blame: though the original ancient Greek version of The Odyssey is written in dactylic hexameter, a longer line, Wilson has chosen to write her translation in shorter lines of iambic pentameter. Most English translations have chosen to deal with the dactylic hexameter by writing two lines of translation for every line of Greek; Wilson, instead, chose to write one line of English for each line of Greek.

 

Additionally, Wilson offers a fresh interpretation of The Odyssey’s female characters—specifically Penelope, wife of Odysseus. The author posits that previous interpretations of this ancient text are inherently sexist; she points to the example of translating a line describing a group of young, innocent girls as a group of whores. In sticking closely to the original text, Wilson breathes new life into timeless characters and stories.

 

 

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