‘The Odyssey’ by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

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 and family; about travelers, hospitality, and the yearning for home.

In this fresh, authoritative version–the first English translation of The Odyssey by a woman–this stirring tale of shipwrecks, monsters, and magic comes alive in an entirely new way. Written in iambic pentameter verse and a vivid, contemporary idiom, this engrossing translation matches the number of lines in the Greek original, thus striding at Homer’s sprightly pace and singing with a voice that echoes Homer’s music.

Wilson’s Odyssey captures the beauty and enchantment of this ancient poem as well as the suspense and drama of its narrative. Its characters are unforgettable, from the cunning goddess Athena, whose interventions guide and protect the hero, to the awkward teenage son, Telemachus, who struggles to achieve adulthood and find his father; from the cautious, clever, and miserable Penelope, who somehow keeps clamoring suitors at bay during her husband’s long absence, to the “complicated” hero himself, a man of many disguises, many tricks, and many moods, who emerges in this translation as a more fully rounded human being than ever before.

A fascinating introduction provides an informative overview of the Bronze Age milieu that produced the epic, the major themes of the poem, the controversies about its origins, and the unparalleled scope of its impact and influence. Maps drawn especially for this volume, a pronunciation glossary, and extensive notes and summaries of each book make this an Odyssey that will be treasured by a new generation of scholars, students, and general readers alike.

My Review

In 2017 I read Homer’s The Iliad and loved the storyline but I was left with a sense that there was something missing from my reading experience. At times the Iliad bored me with its clunky writing style and, at the time, I concluded that this was down to the translation that read.

So in 2018 I decided to read two versions of Homer’s classic epic poem The Odyssey simultaneously to decide if I would have a different reaction to the different translations of the same texts.

And I 100% did!

I chose to read Robert Fagles’ translation that many have considered to be the definitive translation and a recently published translation by Emily Wilson.

Why translations matter:

Why reading new translations of old texts matters with regards to equality of the sexes and the depiction of women:

The point I want to make here is that in Homer’s The Odyssey it is not at all problematic that female characters were oppressed. But when a translation chooses to unnecessarily reinforce negative female stereotyping because of the choices the translator makes regarding the wording they use, then that’s something that I have issue with. And what is utterly refreshing about Wilson’s translation is that she’s not making this a feminist modern Odyssey, she’s just trying to make it more authentic to the original and attempting to not add any extra (misogynistic-tinged) layers to the text that Homer did not intend to be there. This article, written by Emily Wilson, that appeared in The New Yorker in December 2017 perfectly explores the role of the female, in particular Penelope, in the Odyssey.

What is also wonderful about Wilson’s translation is that it is eminently readable. She has maintained a natural flow and rhythm to the verse that really helped me as a reader to engage with the story. I never lost interest or had to track back and check if I understood what the text was saying because she kept the language contemporary to our times. I remember when I read The Iliad last year I found it difficult to always follow the text. At times it read in a very clunky fashion and I found myself frequently getting distracted. And I think this is due to the use of faux olde-style English. As if because this is a classic text then it should be translated in a word-heavy style to give it some sort of extra gravitas. Wilson dismisses this notion and instead delivers a text that is accessible to all readers and doesn’t make you want to fall asleep from boredom. Fagles’ translation, while also quite readable, I did find suffered at times from that same classic heaviness and I much preferred the Wilson version. Wilson also kept her translation to exactly the same length as the source text whereas Fagles’ was longer and more drawn out.

As for the story itself. It really is wonderful. It is epic in its scope, wonderfully exciting and was everything I could have hoped and expected from a classic Greek text.

I would award four stars to the Odyssey story with an additional star added to the rating of Emily Wilson’s translation because of how much more I enjoyed it. So if you are looking to read The Odyssey then I highly recommend you seek out her translation even though it is more expensive than Fagles’ Penguin edition (although since I read it it has been released in paperback and has come down in price). Otherwise Fagles’ version is perfectly satisfactory.

For more reviews and book related chat check out my blog

Follow me on Twitter

Friend me on Goodreads

5 thoughts on “‘The Odyssey’ by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson – Book Review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s