Reasons Why we Really Did Need a New Translation of “The Odyssey”

Because Homer’s Odyssey has turned out to be such an influential work of Western literature, it has been translated at least 60 times from Greek to English. Emily Wilson has just published yet another Odyssey translation.

Why was this Translation Really Necessary?

Basically, Emily Wilson is the first female translator to translate this work into English. Who the translator is can make a great difference to the interpretation of a text. This is because often a translator’s own biases and beliefs can have at least some effect on the overall translation of something like the Odyssey. Wilson stated that the aim of the translation was to get out the truth of the content of the Odyssey.  She believes that there is a relationship between gender and translation, especially in something as ancient as the Odyssey, where there are links between when engaging poetry in translation.

Gender and its Relationship to Translation

In Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey where Odysseus demands the death penalty for all the slave girls who had slept with Penelope’s suitors, previous translations offer a different translation.  The girls are not referred to as slaves, but as “whores”, “sluts” and “creatures. Slavery was common in that era of ancient Greek history. Earlier translations of The Odyssey called them “maidservants.” In a New York Times report, Wilson says this idea is not only misleading but is not a literal translation either.

Wilson has aimed at the story being more accessible to today’s reader. It seems that her translation of certain aspects of the Odyssey may be upsetting to some; particularly in the way she has translated “polytropos,” the Greek word which is used at the start of the poem to describe Odysseus. “Polytropos” means literally “many turns” but earlier translators have chosen “sagacious” and “crafty” and a “man of twists and turns”. This shows how a poem interpretation is so dependent on whom the translator is.

Even though she may have added some freshness to some of the old fashioned language used in the original poem, she has managed to keep her version of the translation to the same number of lines that were used in the original Greek poem. She has also carefully replicated the rhythm of the original poem as well.

Some of the most difficult and contentious translations are those in the literature field because the original version of the text was created by someone who wanted to put across unique ideas.