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.
This is the Emily Wilson translation. I won’t compare this to other translations, but there are some good professional reviews that examine the translation process, in the Guardian and the LA Review of Books. The first time I read it, it was the Robert Fagles translation. I am not sure if I have a preference, but it was interesting to read about the differences, starting with Wilson’s unusual translation of the first line. (I would definitely recommend Fagles for The Iliad, though).
I loved Wilson’s introduction, which covers several topics, including the history of the poem itself, the portrayal of foreigners, of women and of slaves. It is long but definitely worth reading. If you have not read the poem before, you might want to wait and read the introduction afterward. Most of the introduction (after the first 16 pages) involves a detailed discussion of the plot, so it might make more sense if you are already familiar with the story. The endnotes have a synopsis for all 24 books in case you lose track of where you are in the story.
My favorite moments are probably the visit to the underworld, the encounter with Scylla and Charybdis, and some of the emotional moments in the stretch from book 16-24 (to the end), all of which concerns what happens when Odysseus comes back to Ithaca.
From the introduction:
The Odyssey is a very ancient and foreign text, although its long-standing prominence in Anglo-American and European cultures may mask its strangeness. Homers concerns — with loyalty, families, migrants, consumerism, violence, war, poverty, identity, rhetoric and lies — are in many ways deeply familiar, but here we see them in unfamiliar guises. The poem is concerned, above all, with the duties and dangers involved in welcoming strangers into one’s home. I hope my translation will enable contemporary readers to welcome and host this foreign poem, with all the right degrees of warmth, curiosity, openness, and suspicion.
|Penelope and the Suitors, John William Waterhouse (1912)|