The Odyssey is an epic poem of epic proportion. Written around 700BC (although scholars are not entirely sure of its origin), the poem was originally written in Homeric Greek, a form of the Greek language used by Homer in The Odyssey as well as the other famous works attributed to him, The Iliad and The Homeric Hymns.
The Odyssey follows epic hero Odysseus on his tumultuous ten year journey home from the Trojan War as a result of Poseidon’s curse for blinding his son, Polyphemus. On his travels, he is enraptured by Calypso and Circe and fights off Scylla and Charybdis before finally returning to his wife Penelope and son, Telemachus in Ithaca.
The epic poem is one of the oldest literary works and one of the world’s most enduring narratives that has been translated and revisioned many times. It was first translated into English in 1615 and has been translated upwards of 60 times into English alone. Its influence deeply permeates the literary canon and is referenced in many other literary works such as Dante’s 14th century epic Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) and heavily influenced James Joyce’s Ulysses. As a result, contemporary writers have retold the epic tale from feminist perspectives, most notably Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad (2000) and more recently Madeline Miller’s Circe (2018), thus re-contextualising the women in The Odyssey that have not been seen or heard before. These feminist re-workings characterise the wily Odysseus as arrogant and unlikeable, ultimately putting the likes of Penelope and Circe at the top of the pecking order for a change. Emily Wilson also sparked interest within the female dominion in 2017 becoming the first woman to translate The Odyssey into English; The Guardian have called Wilson’s translation ‘a cultural landmark…exposing centuries of masculinist readings’. Her translation is a mean literary feat as she injects a feminist spin on a tale that has been ultimately rooted in androcentrism. The Odyssey remains a literary classic yet its re-workings and translations never cease to be innovative and provocative, a testament to its versatility and popularity.
Homer’s Odyssey remains a hugely significant piece of literature and is my favourite foreign language book. An engrossing narrative that feels almost fantastical thus enjoyable but its literary magnitude is hard to ignore.
Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey is available to purchase through W.W Norton and Company, Madeline Miller’s Circe is available via Bloomsbury Publishing and Atwood’s The Penelopiad via Canongate Canons.