Dr Emily Wilson Profile picture
Writer, classicist, translator. Working on translations of the Iliad & Plato. 3 cats, 3 kids, 1 dog she/her or they https://t.co/IrhW3bRv4P youtube: emilyrcwilson
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Aug 8, 2018 13 tweets 3 min read
A question that is always present, for any translator: What is stylistic "equivalence"? Is "equivalence" even the right term? Translation Studies over the past few decades has taught us a lot about how complex that question always is. Homer includes words from many eras and many dialects. It's regular metrical dactylic hexameter, not prose, and it comes from a time when prose didn't yet exist. Many formulaic elements. Many polysyllabic words. But syntactically v. easy, quick, fun and absorbing to read.
Aug 6, 2018 24 tweets 4 min read
Why and how is translation so hard? Here's a little non-comparative case study to help make the process more visible. 9 words from the very start of the Odyssey, lines 1-2: ὃς μάλα πολλὰ / πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν. Syntactically easy. Relative clause: the "man" is one who had/ did/ suffered a whole lot of going-astray/ bafflement/ wandering. Then temporal clause: when he'd sacked Troy. Why just him, singular? Scholiast claims, b/c he thought of the Wooden Horse. Maybe!
Jul 22, 2018 9 tweets 2 min read
Here is a classic in-progress translation struggle. I am working on "Oedipus Tyrannos". Creon says he is not, or not yet, τοσοῦτον ἠπατημένος as to want anything other than good things that benefit him. These two lines are, I'm finding, really tough to get into an idiomatic but viably-serious-verse-drama-register iambic pentameter couplet. Specifically, do I want him to say, "I'm not kidding myself"? Or is that too slangy? Or, "I'm not yet so deluded", or is that too stiff?
Jul 20, 2018 4 tweets 2 min read
Jul 16, 2018 10 tweets 2 min read
After one of my recent "Conversation" interviews (in Sydney), someone asked me if the hanging of the slave women in the Odyssey is "right". Summarizing my answer here on rec. of a friend, bc it brings up a key distinction for thinking about any literary text. Lit. 101. There are 3 separate questions intertwined. 1: Do I personally, Emily Wilson, think it's right to murder women because of any sexual behavior, even if they were 100% empowered and responsible for whatever it was? Easy question. No.
Apr 19, 2018 13 tweets 3 min read
The Homeric poems are very ancient and very alien and very formulaic. They are also vivid, direct, gripping, beautiful, enjoyable, ethically and psychologically complex works of narrative and poetic art. Translators have to choose which matters most: to alienate, or to engage. Why do some reviewers assume that translations that play up the poem’s repetitiveness & foreignness are self-evidently more “faithful” or less “partial” than those (like mine) that play up Homer’s beauty and clarity and depth?
Mar 8, 2018 22 tweets 4 min read
I know this is a downer but... for #IWD2018 I am thinking about violence against women. About how violence is enabled & perpetuated. About how gender inequality intersects with other forms of social injustice, like class, race and wealth. About recognition, stories and change. I am thinking today, as often, about the slave women in the Odyssey, the ones who sleep with the suitors, who have been claimed by the wrong owners, who have the wrong memories. For Odysseus to claim back all power over his household, they need to be eliminated.
Mar 4, 2018 21 tweets 4 min read
Everyone knows the story of the Sirens from the Odyssey. They're the singers who tempt all those who sail past to listen to them forever, forgetful of their families. Odysseus, instructed by Circe, has himself bound to the mast so he can listen to their song. He also has his men bung up their ears with wax so they can't hear. In the modern popular imagination, the Sirens are tempting because they're sexy mermaid-ish ladies -- as in the scene in "O Brother Where Art Thou".
Mar 2, 2018 11 tweets 2 min read
Anthropos in Greek is the word from which we get "anthropology", the study of humans, and "misanthropy", the hatred of humans. It is masculine in form (-os ending), but it can be feminine in meaning. Anthropos occurs multiple times with the feminine article, referring to female human beings. If ancient Greek writers want to refer specifically to male humans, or husbands (same word), they can use a different word, aner, from which we get "androcentrism".
Feb 11, 2018 11 tweets 2 min read
Back by popular demand: a very short case study. In book 9, after the gang have blinded the Cyclops Polyphemus and snuck out, clinging to the bellies of the shepherd's rams, Odysseus and crew are rowing away at top speed. But O. can't resist taunting his blind victim. The men try to restrain him: they say, σχέτλιε, τίπτ’ ἐθέλεις έρεθιζέμεν ἄγριον ἄνδρα; (9. 494). Notice here that the Cyclops is explicitly defined as a human being, a man: aner/ andra, same word used of Odysseus himself in line 1 of the poem.
Jan 20, 2018 18 tweets 3 min read
Case study: Book 23, the moment when Penelope tells the slave woman to pull out the bed from the bedroom so the guest, Odysseus, can sleep. She hasn't yet acknowledged him as husband. It's a test, because O. built the bed from an olive tree that grows all through the house. The bed = the marriage. O. insists that it's his ("my" bed, not "ours"). But P's trick is an infuriating reminder that another man might be able to cut the trunk and move the bed, that she could sleep with someone else, and that the marriage might not be permanent.
Jan 8, 2018 7 tweets 1 min read
Translation issue of the day: metaphor; how and when to keep it. I'm thinking about this a lot with Sophocles right now, but here's a Homeric example. Book 22.41, Odysseus tells the suitors that they're done for:

νῦν ὑμῖν καὶ πᾶσιν ὀλέθρου πείρατ᾽ ἐφῆπται.

πεῖραρ: "end/limit/ boundary", "instrument", "rope/ tackle": the tying up of the the suitors' story, & death as the end of their rope. Plus it alliterates.
Jan 6, 2018 57 tweets 7 min read
Sorry about how messy that Dawn thread turned out, because of my mismanagement of the twitter genre. I am pasting it in here and going to try to make it a continuous line, in case anybody wants to read through all. I won't paste other people's comments, just mine & quotations. For people who want a quick, tweet-length sense of a few different English stylistic modes used for Homer: here's the first two lines of book 5.
Ἠὼς δ᾽ ἐκ λεχέων παρ᾽ ἀγαυοῦ Τιθωνοῖο ὤρνυθ᾽,
ἵν᾽ ἀθανάτοισι φόως φέροι ἠδὲ βροτοῖσιν...