The Odyssey
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The Odyssey

Homer, Emily Wilson

The first great adventure story in the Western canon, The Odyssey is a poem about violence and the aftermath of war; about wealth, poverty and power; about marriage, family and identity; and about travellers, hospitality and the changing meanings of home in a strange world.

This vivid new translation - the first by a woman - matches the number of lines in the Greek original, striding at Homer’s sprightly pace. Emily Wilson employs elemental, resonant language and a five-beat line to produce a translation with an enchanting  rhythm and rumble  that avoids proclaiming its own grandeur.

An engrossing tale told in a compelling new voice that allows contemporary readers to luxuriate in Homer’s descriptions and similes and to thrill at the tension and excitement of its hero’s adventures, Wilson recaptures what is epic about this wellspring of world literature.     

Review

Having listened to Mary Beard talk about Women & Power, starting with an incident in Homer’s The Odyssey, (‘I want to start very near the beginning of the tradition of Western literature, and its first recorded example of a man telling a woman to “shut up”; telling her that her voice was not to be heard in public.’) my attention was caught when I heard that the first English-language translation by a woman of The Odyssey was about to be published. Clearly, this was my chance to tackle a foundation work of the Western canon that I had always managed to dodge.

Every time I mentioned to a colleague that this was the first translation by a woman of, arguably, one of the two most seminal texts of Western Anglophone literature, we all marvelled that it had never been done before. While the political aspect is fascinating, and I highly recommend reading the wonderful introduction that exemplifies why a differing viewpoint on gender and presumption is of such importance, the text itself is a rollicking, joyful and truly odd reading experience.

Emily Wilson’s translation is the same length as the original and it is in iambic pentameter. As Wilson explains, iambic pentameter is the conventional meter for English narrative verse, and the choice brings an understandable spoken-narrative verse to the English-language reader. The great strength of this translation is the way in which this familiarity of form renders the truly odd and foreign choices and actions of the ancient-Greek heroes relatable, and yet also emphasises the strangeness and distance of the text. I recommend reading it aloud to yourself. I did, in the comfort of my own lounge room, and when I stopped to return to reading quietly I missed the wonder and freedom of hearing a great story told.


Marie Matteson is a book buyer at Readings Carlton.

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