The title of this article may be surprising, but the details are even more so. The first major edition of the most famous voyage story in Western Literature, The Odyssey, only appeared in a translation made by a woman very recently. In fact, last month. That translator is Emily Wilson, and while the translation is a faithful representation of the original language of the epic poem, the fact that a female translator has been at work has opened up new avenues in interpretation and may provide us with a very different story.
The Odyssey follows Odysseus and his men on their years-long journey to return home after the Trojan War. But there are a number of female characters in the story, from Odysseus’ wife Penelope, to magical beings, goddess, and princesses. The differences we may see in a translation made by a female scholar are that the various ways in which women are treated equally or unequally to men in the story are actually less likely to be glossed over, according to Wilson, and may avoid an overly heroic tone that’s traditionally been taken when translating The Odyssey, a tone which may “silence dissent and discourage deeper modes of engagement.”
Readers so far have noted that this new edition speaks in very “plain” and direct English, which may help us get closer to interesting concepts in the work and keep us from assuming we know what an ancient, heroic story should sound like or convey.
The new translation is not set forth as a feminist reading, but rather one that avoids assumptions that may have colored our previous translations of The Odyssey through the years.
Wilson’s translation of the opening line, “Tell me a story about a complicated man”, has garnered a lot of discussion, and is a good indication of what you’ll find inside–a very old story told anew in a fresher and more direct way than we may have previously seen.
You can find Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey right here.