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Photo from Ralph Rosen

Classical Studies professor Emily Wilson is the first woman to translate the entirety of the ancient Greek text the "Odyssey" into English.

The original text, dated back to the eighth century BC, is by the ancient Greek poet Homer and describes the journey of Odysseus, a warrior and king of Ithaca, from the Trojan War back to his home. Wilson’s translation, published in early November, has received widespread acclaim for giving Homer’s epic a contemporary voice without sacrificing its depth of folklore. The Washington Post called her work “fresh, unpretentious, and thrilling.” The New York Times ran a feature on her, writing that her translation has given the text "a radically contemporary voice."

In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Wilson said she wrote her translation in a loose iambic pentameter because she wanted to preserve the text’s rhythmic and “musical” nature. The New York Times applauded her use of the meter, claiming it sounded like “a natural mode for its speaker.”

While writing the translation, Wilson told the Philadelphia Inquirer that she grew particularly interested in the character Penelope, who must wait for her husband Odysseus to return.

“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,” Wilson said.

According to Penn’s Wolf Humanities Center, Wilson’s translation process involved careful consideration of how Homer’s work “represents and configures both sex and gender.” She gave these issues particular attention when shaping the central characters in the "Odyssey," who mostly aligned with traditional gender roles. 

“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.

Wilson, who is the chair of Penn's Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory, has also written three books, the most recent being "The Greatest Empire: A Life of Seneca," a biography of a Roman philosopher from the fourth century BC. 

Wilson's translation of the "Odyssey," published by W.W. Norton & Company, is available at major bookstores and online, though at press time it was out of stock on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s website.

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