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Homer, The Odyssey (New York: W. W. Norton, 2018), translated by Emily Wilson.Homer, The Odyssey (New York: W. W. Norton, 2018), translated by Emily Wilson.

A review by Brad Keister, former Deputy Division Director of the Physics Division for the National Science Foundation.

This new translation of an ancient classic is very accessible to a 21st century reader.  It describes the saga of Odysseus, who, at the successful conclusion of the Trojan War, pursues the single goal of coming home to his wife, all the while encountering human and superhuman obstacles.  With the possible exception of Odysseus’ wife Penelope, all the characters, including the gods, are seriously flawed, with Odysseus doing whatever it takes to arrive at home.  The scenes range from the mundane (domestic chores, living off the land) to the magical (views of the underworld, and gods transforming the appearance of themselves or mortals), and are frequently violent in nature.

In this critically acclaimed translation, the classics professor Emily Wilson from the University of Pennsylvania provides an ample introduction that covers the known history of Homer and the document, the variety of perspectives and previous translations, as well as the types of characters covered in the narrative.

One can always ask why such a work is still in a classic canon.  (A side note: Bob Dylan cited this in his Nobel lecture as among three books that were formational to him.)   If for no other reason, it provides us a window into classic Greek culture in which it was told and retold, in a period of transition between the values of fighting and heroism (Achilles) and argumentation (Socrates).  The physical surroundings and the materials of technology were obviously different then, but the moral choices and their consequences are not. Wilson's Odyssey was named by The New York Times as one of its 100 notable books of 2018.

Dan Clendenin:

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