Emily Wilson: On Gender and Being the First Woman to Translate Homer’s Odyssey into English

Of course being male is the unmarked gender category. Men very often think: I don’t need to think about gender, because I have the right gender. I think it’s the strength in my capacity to read, interpret translate Homer. I’m aware of gender I am thinking about it. The Odyssey is a poem that’s very much interested in gender roles, gender inequality, gender hierarchies. It’s an advantage that I’m not switched off in that part of the reading experience. I am thinking about it critically. I’m sure nobody has ever asked Robert Fagles if his male bias influences his interpretation of The Odyssey.

One of the classic cases that I’ve talked about is where Telemachus insist on hanging the slave women. In most other translations they are not called the “slave women”, they are called the ‘disobedient serving maids’. In the Greek its clear, that they are slaves.

In the Robert Fagles version, he makes Telemachus say: “You sluts, the suitor’s whore” And the Greek doesn’t have any abuse in the language. It says: “I need to hang those who were sleeping with the suitors.” That’s his gender. I don’t think he deliberately decided to do a misogynistic translation of the Odyssey, but of course there is element of that.

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