A BRIEF NOTE ON EMILY WILSON'S TRANSLATION OF THE ODYSSEY ( W. W. NORTON & COMPANY 2017)

I'm really not a fan of Emily Wilson’s new 2017 translation of the Odyssey - it would be good to teach from, in that the language is clear (if a little prosaic), but I found the compulsive understatement got incredibly irritating after a while. I am astonished to see cited with approval, Wilson's translation of πολυτρόπως ("many turning" or "of many turns") as "complicated" (she said, rolling her eyes with a sigh) - the word actually conveys a combination of versatility and restlessness - "many-wiled". That seems to me less the much publicised and vaunted "fresh" female perspective than just plain bad translation. Similarly there's nothing particularly clever about rendering ἀλλ᾽οὐδ᾽ὣςἑτάρους ἐρρύσατο as "he failed to keep them safe" when ἐρρύσατο has an active connotation, like pulling or dragging - ἐρρύσατο would be more accurately translated as something like "deliver" as in "he could not deliver them (from harm)" or in the broader context of the line, "he could not carry them with him to safety". Again, not a clever feminist take - just bad faith translation. Sensitive to the nuances of the text, my arse.

Curiously most of the press around the publication is more intent on complaining about earlier translations being "stodgy" or "boring" (suggesting a lack of familiarity with available breadth of translations) or trumpeting what it means for women (certainly it is a laudable step forward for women in the field and in publishing in general), but everyone seems to be ignoring the salient question of whether it actually works well as a translation - ie, whether it accurately represents the original language of the text. If you want a retelling of the story with women at the centre, I strongly recommend Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad. In saying that, Wilson does a good job of teasing out the culturally contextual and linguistic elements that, for example, show how Penelope has and uses her agency, but I don't think that needs to be at the expense of accurately presenting the cultural product of a strongly patriarchal society, warts and all, because that's one of the core purposes of studying the Odyssey in the first place.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

THINKING ABOUT LUKE WILLIS THOMPSON

WHY PETER GILDERDALE CAN GET STUFFED

BOHEMIA'S FURTHEST SHORE: CZECH INFLUENCES ON NEW ZEALAND CULTURE