The Odyssey
Homer, translated by Emily Wilson
WW Norton & Co
592pp, four black-and-white maps
Hardback, £30

Readers of Minerva will need no introduction to Homer's epic tale of homecoming. Odysseus' exploits on his way back to Ithaca after the Trojan War, with shipwrecks, sirens, the Cyclops and Circe, are familiar to many. The immortal ancient work still attracts new readers, though, and this new version of the Odyssey by Emily Wilson, Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, is a fresh and worthwhile addition to the many existing translations, both for newcomers and veteran readers.

Trying to match Homer's swift pace, Wilson offers a neat, accurate and lively verse translation with exactly the same number of lines in English as the Greek text. Homer's dactylic hexameters are turned into clear iambic pentameters. Although the language is direct and feels refreshingly current without being modish, some of the peculiarities of Homeric descriptions are carefully reflected in the English. The Greek text also contains many frequently repeated epithets, owing to the oral tradition it stems from, but these have been rendered with a little more diversity in English to allow for a more varied read.

As well as a translation of the poem itself, the publication has a good set of notes providing a summary of the content of each of the Odyssey's 24 books with a commentary explaining mythological or geographical references, nuances of Greek words that may be lost in translation, and some of the finer literary points of the poem that have helped secure its place in world culture.

To get more out of the poem, Wilson's introduction sets Homer and his Odyssey in context, with discussion of when it was composed, and where it was written and set. For anyone new to Homer, this is a straightforward and informative orientation into the world of Greek epic, the vocabulary and structure of the Odyssey, its characters and prominent themes. The role and presentation of the gods, female figures and slaves provide food for thought, as does the important concept of xenia (good relations between host and guest) that is prevalent throughout the work. Other overriding topics involve Telemachus' voyage into adulthood, Odysseus' relationship with his enemies, and his choice to return to his wife Penelope in Ithaca; these are all thoroughly discussed using passages from the poem.

The introduction also takes a brief look at the reception of the Odyssey from antiquity to the present. This is a vast topic and includes the poem's translation history – a subject that matters because it can always offer interesting insights. George Chapman's Odyssey (1615), for instance, was the first complete translation in English and its hero is portrayed as 'a proto-Christian and proto-Stoic', while in Alexander Pope's 18th-century translation, Odysseus exemplifies 'proper manners and good government', which were predominant concerns of Pope's time. It is worth pointing out that in the rich, millennia-long tradition of engaging with, re-imagining and translating Homer's epics, this is the first published English translation of the Odyssey by a woman.
Lucia Marchini