I recently finished another great boat-centric book that contained the hallmarks of modern action-adventure fantasy: shipwrecks, monsters, intrigue, heroes, a complicated good guy, evil-smashing, regrets, and a happy ending. Turns out, the book is among the oldest tales in Western literature. The very title sometimes causes memories of high school requirements to surface. Yet The Odyssey—especially this latest version—still rings true beside our modern marvels (see what I did there).
I’ll say it again: Emily Wilson’s new translation of Homer’s Odyssey (Norton, 2017) is vastly different from the version I read in high school. Where I remember the ominous drone of Pope’s version of the invocation—
“The man for wisdom’s various arts renown’d,
Long exercised in woes, O Muse! resound,”
—Wilson’s Odyssey begins as it means to continue, in uncomplicated, flowing English that feels exciting again, … and right for our time: “Tell me about a complicated man.”
I, like many other readers, was immediately delighted by this shift, and any lingering high school-related dread fell away as the adventure took over. When Dr. Wilson spoke about her five-year translation journey into the epic poem last month at The Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia, I made a point of going and then peppered the University of Pennsylvania professor, Yale PhD, classics editor, literary theorist, and translator of works from Euripides to Homer with a whole stack of questions, covering everything from poetry to prose, translation and re-envisioning, to superheroes modern and past.