Does the translator have a thoughtful, comprehensive vision? Does she have the skill to sustain it? Does she chart a coherent course between often mutually exclusive virtues such as literalism, musicality, clarity, beauty and readability? And, most importantly, does she tell the story well? In the case of Emily Wilson’s smart and exciting new Odyssey, the answer to all those questions is a resounding yes … Wilson’s language is fresh, unpretentious and lean. Though there are plenty of finely wrought moments, she isn’t looking to gild the poetic lily but rather to emphasize the emotional arc of the story, engaging readers first and foremost with the plight and character of Odysseus. Relying on this forward motion, she is able to create real suspense where other translations make the reader glaze over … It is rare to find a translation that is at once so effortlessly easy to read and so rigorously considered. Her Odyssey is a performance well-deserving of applause.
Emily Wilson’s crisp and musical version is a cultural landmark. Armed with a sharp, scholarly rigour, she has produced a translation that exposes centuries of masculinist readings of the poem … Wilson has set out her stall: clarity and cleanness are her watchwords; her epic voice is not one of grandeur or pomposity. This represents an important decision, since the actual language of Homer, drawing as it did on an old, oral tradition of bardic poetry, used a hodgepodge of dialects and vocabulary that was archaic even by the time the poem was written down … Wilson enjoys and attends to the poem’s ensemble cast, some of them intriguing women who can do great damage to men when they open their mouths...A woman’s voice: how beautiful to hear it.
The words are short, mostly monosyllables. Almost none have French or Latin roots. None is independently striking; their force comes from their juxtaposition with one another — pat pat pat, like raindrops on a metal roof … The general plainness of the language makes longer or unusual words stand out. Wilson doesn’t shy from colloquialisms: ‘fighting solo,’ ‘pep talk,’ ‘on day eighteen.’ And there are some daring choices … To read a translation is like looking at a photo of a sculpture: It shows the thing, but not from every angle. Like every translator, Wilson brings out some features more clearly than others. But altogether it’s as good an Odyssey as one could hope for.