Professor at University of Pennsylvania becomes First Woman to Translate “The Odyssey”

By Atlas LS

Emily Wilson, Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, is the first woman ever to translate The Odyssey, in its entirety from the Ancient Greek text to English.odyssey translation

Wilson said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer that she wrote her translation in a loose iambic pentameter. She translated this way in order to preserve the text’s “musical” and rhythmic nature. The Times applauded Wilson’s use of the meter. They stated that it sounded like “a natural mode for its speaker.”

Homer’s original text of The Odyssey dated back 8th Century BC. He describes Odysseus’ journey from the Trojan War to his home. Published in early November 2017, Wilson’s translation received overwhelmingly positive reviews stating she gave Homer’s epic a “contemporary voice without sacrificing its depth of folklore.” The New York Times said Wilson gave the text a “radically contemporary voice” while The Washington Post praised her work as “fresh, unpretentious, and thrilling.”

Wilson reported to the Inquiry that while writing her translation, she became particularly fascinated with the character, Penelope. This character was to wait for Odysseus, her husband, to return home.

“She only has one choice, really. Stay with Odysseus or marry someone else. Meantime, Odysseus can travel the world, an exclusively elite-male privilege in this story,” said Wilson.

According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wolf Humanities Center, the translation process which Wilson used encompassed meticulous consideration of how Homer’s work “represents and configures both sex and gender.” When Wilson was shaping the Odyssey’s central characters, she made sure to give these issues certain attention.

“Having a female scholar and translator look with fresh eyes upon one of the foundational myths of Western civilization is nothing short of revolutionary,” Aline Ohanesian, author of Orhan’s Inheritance, said in a review.

More About Emily Wilson

  • Wilson chairs the Program in Comparative Literature and also Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania
  • She has written three books. The most recent of her works is called, “The Greatest: A Life of Seneca,” which is a 4th Century BC biography of a Roman philosopher.
  • Published by W.W. Norton & Company, Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey can be found both online and at major bookstores. However, during press time, it was sold out on both Barnes & Noble and Amazon’s websites.