Fresh version of one of the world’s oldest epic poems, a foundational text of Western literature.
Sing to me, O muse, of the—well, in the very opening line, the phrase Wilson (Classical Studies, Univ. of Pennsylvania) chooses is the rather bland “complicated man,” the adjective missing out on the deviousness implied in the Greek polytropos, which Robert Fagles translated as “of twists and turns.” Wilson has a few favorite words that the Greek doesn’t strictly support, one of them being “monstrous,” meaning something particularly heinous, and to have Telemachus “showing initiative” seems a little report-card–ish and entirely modern. Still, rose-fingered Dawn is there in all her glory, casting her brilliant light over the wine-dark sea, and Wilson has a lively understanding of the essential violence that underlies the complicated Odysseus’ great ruse to slaughter the suitors who for 10 years have been eating him out of palace and home and pitching woo to the lovely, blameless Penelope; son Telemachus shows that initiative, indeed, by stringing up a bevy of servant girls, “their heads all in a row / …strung up with the noose around their necks / to make their death an agony.” In an interesting aside in her admirably comprehensive introduction, which extends nearly 80 pages, Wilson observes that the hanging “allows young Telemachus to avoid being too close to these girls’ abused, sexualized bodies,” and while her reading sometimes tends to be overly psychologized, she also notes that the violence of Odysseus, by which those suitors “fell like flies,” mirrors that of some of the other ungracious hosts he encountered along his long voyage home to Ithaca.
More faithful to the original but less astonishing than Christopher Logue’s work and lacking some of the music of Fagles’ recent translations of Homer; still, a readable and worthy effort.