Object 2: The Emily Wilson translation of the Odyssey
June 2, 2021
This is the Emily Wilson translation of the Odyssey, the first copy of the Odyssey translated by a woman. The task of a translator is to interpret the words of a text in an unbiased way, however in almost fifty different transtations of the Odyssey translated by men, there appears sexist language which is not present in the original text. Wilson’s copy is among the first to discard the sexist language used to describe female characters brought to the Odyssey not by the author/s, but the translators. This proves that personal prejudice and bias is a challenge reissued by the dissemination and/or communication of knowledge.
This specific copy of the Odyssey is especially interesting for the exhibition because it shows that the act of communicating knowledge brings human biases and prejudices, which affect knowledge. The men who translated the text before Wilson used explicity derogatory and sexist language to describe the female slaves, referring to them as ‘whores,’ or ‘creatures,’ both terms which have negative misogynistic connotations. Wilson chose the word ‘girls,’ instead, as the term used in the original text is ‘female ones,’ and contextually has no derogatory intent. This is a clear example of how prejudice affects judgement and knowledge, and how knowledge of a work of literature can be skewed due to prejudiced intent, which in turn leads to miscommunication of knowledge.
This text enriches the exhibition because it demonstrates how personal biases impact the communication of knowledge, since translation is impossible without interpretation. As a translator, it is impossible to be completely objective when translating a word with many meanings. For example, this text contains the word ‘polytropos,’ an ambiguously translated word roughly meaning ‘many-turned,’ or ‘turns many.’1 While Wilson’s predessecors interpreted ‘polytropos,’ as ‘cunning,’ ‘ingenious,’ or ‘crafty,’ to name a few, Wilson aimed to be as direct and true to the text as possible, instead interpreting polytropos as ‘complicated.’ This is evidence of how personal choices significantly influence the meaning of a text, and the lack of an objective truth leads to biases and prejudices affecting the communication of knowledge.