There is a huge number of English translations of The Odyssey and The Iliad in circulation, but the last decade is significant in producing the first of these written by women. Emily Wilson is the first female translator of The Odyssey in English and has discussed her work both through social media and several interviews.
Wilson released a series of tweets discussing the famous sirens episode in the Odyssey, and how she feels her work differs from canonical translations. She commented specifically on how the presentation we are most familiar with of the sirens – as “sexy” – is not found in the original text. Wilson, as an example, highlights that when the sirens sing, this is commonly described as pouring from their ‘lips’; however, she argues that the Greek word actually means ‘mouth’. She emphasises how ‘the seduction they offer is cognitive: they claim to know everything about the war in Troy, and everything on earth. They tell us about the nuances of pain’.
Another example of how Wilson differentiates herself from other translators is through her treatment of the scene in which the women who live with Penelope are hanged. Previous translations have included derogatory words in these passages, a feature which Wilson states is not in the original text and does not have a place in hers: “I wanted to make clear in the language of the simile that these women are fully human. This is bringing out the horror of what happened to these women.”
Medieval and Modern Languages applicants might be interested in how this reflects the nature of translation, both across cultures and time periods; specifically, they might consider to what extent the gender of a translator is significant. Classics applicants may also be interested in comparing translations of The Odyssey.
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