Misogyny in The Odyssey – Has it always been there?



Sophie Young

Since 1615, there have been roughly 60 English translations of the ‘Odyssey,’ but only one of these translators is female – Emily Wilson.

Emily Wilson’s translation of the ‘Odyssey,’ has far less misogynistic terminology than other translations of the story, while still staying true to the original story.

The lack of misogynistic terms to describe female characters in Wilson’s translation, such as the derogatory words; ‘sl-t,’ ‘wh-res,’ and ‘creatures,’ makes us wonder whether or not those terms existed in the original story of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ at all – or if they were simply interpreted as such by male translators with preexisting bias. In her translation, Wilson chose the word ‘girls’ instead, as the term used in the original text is ‘female ones,’ and contextually has no derogatory intent.

Another significant interpretation by Wilson is the first line. The first line of the ‘Odyssey’ has been heavily contested since it contains the Greek word ‘polytropos,’ an ambiguous word which is difficult to translate, roughly meaning ‘many-turned,’ or ‘turns many.’[1]

Previous translators interpreted ‘polytropos,’ as; ‘cunning,’ ‘clever,’ ‘skilled in all ways of contending,’ ‘adventurous,’ ‘many a way/wound with his wisdom,’ and ‘ingenious,’ to name a few. However, Wilson aimed to be as direct and true to the text as possible, instead interpreting polytropos as ‘complicated.’ This interpretation shows Wilson’s understands and accepts Odysseus’ complicated and conflicted nature, instead of playing up the unfailing heroism and flawless mythology of Odysseus.

So, where does sexism derive from in the ‘Odyssey’? Is it the creator, or the translator? Did its creator intend the misogynistic connotations or is it an issue of translation? Is Odysseus an infallible genius, or a complicated man? Wilson would argue the majority of the misogyny in the story is due to the bias of male translators, while her predecessors might disagree. It is important to note both can coexist, and to prize the ‘Odyssey’ as a feminist piece of literature would be short sighted, seeing as its women are treated and judged based on their appearance. However, there are elements of misogyny in the poem  which Wilson proves were not there before. As the first woman to have ever translated the poe, Wilson is redefining a classic and changing both public and academic perceptions of misogyny in the ‘Odyssey.’


[1] Mason, Wyatt. November 2 2017. “The First Woman to Translate the ‘Odyssey’ Into English. The New York Times Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/02/magazine/the-first-woman-to-translate-the-odyssey-into-english.html