1. “Tell me about a complicated man…”
The other day, a good friend sent me an article about a new translation of The Odyssey. The hook of the story was that this version was by the first female to translate Homer into English, Professor Emily Wilson.
My friend followed the link with an open-ended question:
“What do you think about this?”
The article also highlighted how the work deviated from previous translations. Before I was even done reading the article, my knee-jerk response, which I thought but didn’t say, was “I don’t really like it.”
For years, I had assumed the point of a translation was to serve the original text. The only Odyssey I knew was “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns…” To hear it any differently sounded like a bastardization.
“Tell me about a complicated man,” sounded too different to me, and thus wrong.
I didn’t have a problem with the translator’s gender – it was the characterization that “Wilson chose to use plain, relatively contemporary language,” which my subconscious read as a “modern translation,” a term I always found abrasive, akin to playing down to the audience, or an attempt to make something great more appealing to the modern masses, like Leonardo DiCaprio doing Shakespeare in an Acapulco shirt. For some reason I was reminded of Robert Pinsky’s translation of Dante’s Inferno, which to me was an example of a modern translation that I never really went for, one that deviated too far from the original.
But the hint of Dante made me stop and think more about it. The question went a lot deeper than gender. And I had been down this rabbit hole before...
2. The Dante Problem
|Dante, and Dante, and Dante...|
The opening lines, the ones that resonated so heavily with me, read:
Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
for I had wandered off from the straight path.