For me, The Odyssey has always been the dreaded epic read in class that I do not understand and rely solely on class discussion to decode, rather than actually read it myself (don’t tell my professors). Lucky for all future generations, Emily Wilson has translated The Odyssey into contemporary English that we can all understand and appreciate. The New York Times wrote a piece on Wilson’s work where she said, “the fact that it’s possible to translate the same lines a hundred different times and all of them are defensible in entirely different ways? That tells you something.” As the first woman to translate the epic, her contemporary take differs greatly from those that we’ve seen in the past.
Image Via The New York Times
Here’s an excerpt from The Odyssey ‘Book I’ translated from Greek by Emily Wilson.
Tell me about a complicated man.
Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost
when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy,
and where he went, and who he met, the pain
he suffered in the storms at sea, and how
he worked to save his life and bring his men
back home. He failed to keep them safe; poor fools,
they ate the Sun God’s cattle, and the god
kept them from home. Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.
Find the beginning.
All the other Greeks
who had survived the brutal sack of Troy
sailed safely home to their own wives—except
this man alone. Calypso, a great goddess,
had trapped him in her cave; she wanted him
to be her husband. When the year rolled round
in which the gods decreed he should go home
to Ithaca, his troubles still went on.
The man was friendless. All the gods took pity,
except Poseidon’s anger never ended
until Odysseus was back at home.
But now the distant Ethiopians,
who live between the sunset and the dawn,
were worshipping the Sea God with a feast,
a hundred cattle and a hundred rams.
There sat the god, delighting in his banquet.
The other gods were gathered on Olympus,
in Father Zeus’s palace. He was thinking
of fine, well-born Aegisthus, who was killed
by Agamemnon’s famous son, Orestes.
He told the deathless gods,
“This is absurd,
that mortals blame the gods! They say we cause
their suffering, but they themselves increase it
by folly. So Aegisthus overstepped:
he took the legal wife of Agamemnon,
then killed the husband when he came back home,
although he knew that it would doom them all.
We gods had warned Aegisthus; we sent down
perceptive Hermes, who flashed into sight
and told him not to murder Agamemnon
or court his wife: Orestes would grow up
and come back to his home to take revenge.
Aegisthus would not hear that good advice.
But now his death has paid all debts.”
looked at him steadily and answered, “Father,
he did deserve to die. Bring death to all
who act like him! But I am agonizing
about Odysseus and his bad luck.
For too long he has suffered, with no friends,
sea all around him, sea on every side,
out on an island where a goddess lives,
daughter of fearful Atlas, who holds up
the pillars of the sea and knows its depths—
those pillars keep the heaven and earth apart.
His daughter holds that poor unhappy man
and tries beguiling him with gentle words
to cease all thoughts of Ithaca; but he
longs to see even just the smoke that rises
from his own homeland, and he wants to die.
You do not even care, Olympian!
This fantastic and fresh version of Homer’s epic is coming out this week on November 7th. Get it here to enjoy this story in a whole new light!
Feature Image Via The New York Times / Goodreads