Critical Lens Essay Odyssey

Wilson’s translation is radical, not only because it humanizes disenfranchised characters, but also because it invites the reader to critically engage with the poem’s complicated legacy as both a classic hero’s journey and a horrific patriarchal fantasy.

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The word “complicated” also signals Wilson’s decision to contextualize within our current political climate.

Characterizing Odysseus as a “complicated man” tells the reader that this version will engage with his particular brand of moral ambiguity in a more critical way.

This idea of the “abject” or “uncanny” becomes especially clear with Odysseus’ encounter with three monsters: the shades of Anticleia, Agamemnon, and Achilles.

After hearing from Tiresias, Odysseus first interacts with the ghost of his mother, Anticlea.

This is not to say that Wilson’s politics take priority over accuracy; on the contrary, Wilson’s critical perspective allows her to correct the anachronistic misogyny that appeared in previous translations.

In arguably the most disturbing section of the poem, Telemachus murders all of the slaves who slept with Penelope’s suitors.Almost every line of dialogue here is critically important as they set the tone of blurred boundaries for the rest of Odysseus’ .Early on, Odysseus’ diction manifests the obscurity of this experience: “my mother approached and drank the dark, clouding blood”(254). The very premise of Odysseus’ journey to the underworld evokes the abject as he is crossing borders between life and death.These women would have been very young, possibly minors.They work in the wealthy families’ kitchens and fields for no pay, so they are slaves. But Wilson’s version represents several other “firsts” as well: the first English translation with the exact same number of lines as the original, the first in a regular meter, the first to describe the protagonist as “complicated,” and the list goes on.While a woman translating Homer’s epic is certainly a huge milestone, Wilson’s interpretation is a radical, fascinating achievement regardless of her gender.Some, like George Musgrave’s “tost to and fro by fate,” went the passive route, while others like George Palmer’s “adventurous” have almost the opposite connotation.According to many translation theorists, including Wilson, all translation is an act of interpretation, and, fittingly, the wildly varying translations of this tricky word seem to depend on which character trait the translator chooses to highlight.Rather, it simply refers to “female ones.” There was certainly misogyny in Homer’s time, but this specific type of sexual shaming is an “imported” type of sexism.So instead, Wilson translates this word as “girls,” which both maintains the more neutral tone of the original Greek word and, in context, makes the girls’ deaths feel brutally harrowing: Crucially, Wilson doesn’t insert this horror into the text, but simply illuminates the horror that is already there.


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