Wilson's Odyssey - again

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Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by jeidsath » Wed Jul 17, 2019 2:32 pm

[Thread split]
jeidsath wrote:
Wed Jul 17, 2019 12:27 pm
seneca2008 wrote:
Wed Jul 17, 2019 10:21 am
The Murray/Dimock Loeb has "There rang in my ears a cry as of maidens..." and Wilson has "I heard the sound of female voices." Green has "An outcry of women—young girls—just echoed round about me:" and Rieu “There’s a shrill echo in my ears, as though some girls were shrieking – Nymphs”.
Of these, Wilson's error is surprising to me, given her chick thing. Thank you again for pointing it out.
seneca2008 wrote:
Wed Jul 17, 2019 2:02 pm
jeidsath wrote:Of these, Wilson's error is surprising to me, given her chick thing. Thank you again for pointing it out.
I don't regard it as an error and I don't like your language.
Wilson calls attention to her gender in every interview, and specifically says that this is why we should read her translation, because she pays special attention to things that male translators miss. (Being careful not to point out that her whole handmaiden/slave hypothesis is not original, but was set forth by other, rather male-gendered, individuals.) And here she makes a basic mistake in the very thing that she tells us that she is good at.

EDIT: I do apologize for my language. I was clearly grasping for "chick shtick."
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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Wed Jul 17, 2019 2:59 pm

I think we should always be a bit skeptical when someone uses an ad hominem to state that her work is better than someone else's. If her gender qualifies her to see things that male translators may have missed, does it also mean that she is missing things that her male counterparts are better qualified to see based on their gender? She is the first woman to publish a translation of the Odyssey. That doesn't mean that it's good. De meritis ipsis, please.
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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by seneca2008 » Wed Jul 17, 2019 5:37 pm

jeidsath wrote:Wilson calls attention to her gender in every interview, and specifically says that this is why we should read her translation, because she pays special attention to things that male translators miss.
This is simply untrue. I have heard her complain that this is all journalists want to talk to her about. Its not her fault if the questions she is asked are about her gender in relation to her role as translator.
Barry Hofstetter wrote:I think we should always be a bit skeptical when someone uses an ad hominem
I agree and so perhaps now the ad hominem attacks on Wilson can cease too.

She is not of course the first woman to publish a translation of the Odyssey, that was Anne Dacier (née Lefèbvre) who translated The Odyssey into French prose in 1716, as Wilson endlessly has to point out. Yes she is the first woman to translate into English.

These errors speak volumes.

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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by seanjonesbw » Wed Jul 17, 2019 7:06 pm

jeidsath wrote:
Wed Jul 17, 2019 2:32 pm
Wilson calls attention to her gender in every interview, and specifically says that this is why we should read her translation,
Do you have a link or a quote for this? I've only ever seen her express the following view (in response to questioning - she really doesn't seem to bring it up voluntarily as far as I can see):
Words Without Borders Interview wrote:Alta L. Price: As a female translator, do you feel you bring a new or different perspective to these texts? If so, how?

Emily Wilson: Female, no, not necessarily. Women are all different. Many women are not feminists. Many women are not interested in gender. Many women are misogynistic in various ways. Also, many women don’t choose to write in iambic pentameter. I’d be hard pressed to identify a feature of my translation that is entirely predetermined by my gender identity. Caroline Alexander was the first woman to publish a translation of Homer in English, with her Iliad translation (shout out to her!); and her perspective, or at least her translation style, is entirely different from mine. I’ve looked at a few Homer translations by women into other languages (French and Italian), and I can’t see any particular ways that their approach is like mine—certainly no more like mine than any random assortment of translations by men. So I think we should be really reluctant to generalize about what it means to be a “female translator.” I’d say that I, like all translators, make choices, and those choices are informed by my experiences as a human being as well as a scholar. But this is true of male translators as well as female ones, and men almost never, in my experience, get asked the question. My perspective is, I think, much more consciously formed by other features of my identity: my identity as a student/reader/lover of metrical poetry in English of many periods; my identity as an immigrant; my identity as a scholar interested in narrative perspectives and ethics as well as language. I worry that talking about the different perspective of female or feminist translators can reinforce a kind of ghettoizing of women’s work and women’s writing.
Link to the piece

What she has said elsewhere is something that I think is very true - every translator (and human being) has unconscious biases which inform the way they understand the meaning of a text, both at its surface level and deeper understanding of character, motivation, tone, register. Feminist critics have repeatedly pointed out how men (#notallmen) have certain biases which influence the way they write and translate female characters - examples abound in translations of the Odyssey. Postcolonial critics have done the same work exploring the 'othering' biases that can affect writing and translation across cultures. No one is bias free (including Wilson!) and a good translator engages with these biases when producing their translation.

As the quote above suggests, Wilson doesn't see it as her job to make every female character into some kind of badass feminist Wonder Woman and every man a sleazy old lech - she just wants to translate what she feels is there in the text in the way she chooses. I think her translation is wonderful, not because of the small-scale decisions like the slave/handmaiden thing (I think Seneca is working on another thread about that) or canapés or polutropos, but because on every page it rings with the experience of the English poetry that I love, because it's loose then tight to the Greek, because the tone is only haughty when it needs to be. Every translation is a new voice, and hers is one I like to listen to - she's not forcing anyone to read her translation and she hasn't been appointed "Homer Translator In-Chief".

Incidentally, I do think it's important that there's an English translation of the Odyssey by a woman, even if Wilson plays this down.
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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by seanjonesbw » Wed Jul 17, 2019 7:11 pm

To take her "basic mistake" in its broader context:

The princess threw the ball towards a slave girl,
who missed the catch. It fell down in an eddy;
the girls all started screaming, very loudly.
Odysseus woke up, and thought things over.

"What is this country I have come to now?
Are all the people wild and violent,
or good, hospitable, and god-fearing?
I heard the sound of female voices. Is it
nymphs, who frequent the craggy mountaintops,
and river streams and meadows lush with grass?
Or could this noise I hear be human voices?
I have to try to find out who they are."

The contrast between "screaming, very loudly" and "female voices. / Is it nymphs" is (for me) comic. The sound of the girls is described inelegantly with the comma adding stress to the "very loudly", yet Odysseus has a kind of "are these the voices of angels?" response to this horrible, disjointed noise by describing it as "female voices" and then comparing it to the ethereal nymphs. I think this is a funny way to deal with Odysseus' grogginess that draws on a modern cultural trope of people waking up and mistaking their experience for something much grander than it actually is - this is my reading at least.
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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by jeidsath » Wed Jul 17, 2019 11:04 pm

seneca2008 wrote:
Wed Jul 17, 2019 5:37 pm
This is simply untrue. I have heard her complain that this is all journalists want to talk to her about. Its not her fault if the questions she is asked are about her gender in relation to her role as translator.
I'm willing to accept this. (Sean asks which article, and the biggest offender is the NYT interview, but there are several others in the same vein.) Her introduction is preoccupied with a certain sort of gender politics, but beyond the following (which is simply weak sauce), she doesn't make the statements about female translator power that I accused her of:
The gendered metaphor of the “faithful” translation, whose worth is always secondary to that of a male-authored original, acquires a particular edge in the context of a translation by a woman of The Odyssey, a poem that is deeply invested in female fidelity and male dominance.
She mentions that she has worked hard to avoid importing "contemporary sexism" into the poem. This is a good thing, of course, and she does not say that she is able to do this because she is a woman, whatever the NYT may say. The example she gives however, leaves something to be desired:
Many contemporary translators render Helen’s “dog-face” as if it were equivalent to “shameless Helen” (or “Helen the bitch”). I have kept the metaphor (“hounded”), and have also made sure that my Helen, like that of the original, refrains from blaming herself for what men have done in her name.
Sean's "ethereal nymphs" sound Victorian to me. These are nature goddesses, and nature used to be a scary place. Here are Hesiod's nymphs:

πάσας δέξατο Γαῖα· περιπλομένων δ’ ἐνιαυτῶν
γείνατ’ Ἐρινῦς τε κρατερὰς μεγάλους τε Γίγαντας,
τεύχεσι λαμπομένους, δολίχ’ ἔγχεα χερσὶν ἔχοντας,
Νύμφας θ’ ἃς Μελίας καλέουσ’ ἐπ’ ἀπείρονα γαῖαν.
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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by seanjonesbw » Thu Jul 18, 2019 9:39 am

jeidsath wrote:
Wed Jul 17, 2019 11:04 pm
Sean's "ethereal nymphs" sound Victorian to me. These are nature goddesses, and nature used to be a scary place. Here are Hesiod's nymphs:

πάσας δέξατο Γαῖα· περιπλομένων δ’ ἐνιαυτῶν
γείνατ’ Ἐρινῦς τε κρατερὰς μεγάλους τε Γίγαντας,
τεύχεσι λαμπομένους, δολίχ’ ἔγχεα χερσὶν ἔχοντας,
Νύμφας θ’ ἃς Μελίας καλέουσ’ ἐπ’ ἀπείρονα γαῖαν.
I can't see how the Hesiod supports the idea of nymphs as scary? Maybe there's some broader context here I'm not getting. Nature can, of course, still be a scary place (I walk my dog in a pitch black wood on winter evenings and feel it), but I would treat the Greeks' general attitude to nature and nymphs as one of cautious reverence rather than fear alone. Cross-cultural comparisons can be dangerous, but there are some similarities with Shinto it seems to me.

My 'ethereal' was referring to these specific nymphs in the context Wilson gives them of "craggy mountaintops,
and river streams and meadows lush with grass" - as I say, part of the reason I like Wilson's translation is that there are echoes of English poetry throughout. This passage is very Victorian (and earlier), you're right - she references Tennyson's Oenone
Oenone wrote: There lies a vale in Ida, lovelier
Than all the valleys of Ionian hills.
The swimming vapour slopes athwart the glen,
Puts forth an arm, and creeps from pine to pine,
And loiters, slowly drawn. On either hand
The lawns and meadow-ledges midway down
Hang rich in flowers, and far below them roars
The long brook falling thro' the clov'n ravine
In cataract after cataract to the sea.
Behind the valley topmost Gargarus
Stands up and takes the morning: but in front
The gorges, opening wide apart, reveal
Troas and Ilion's column'd citadel,
The crown of Troas.
or his Lotos-eaters
Here are cool mosses deep,
And thro' the moss the ivies creep,
And in the stream the long-leaved flowers weep,
And from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep
or William Morris's 'Nymph’s Song to Hylas', or Milton's Severn nymph, or Spenser's Prothalamion, or a hundred other poems. She's not quoting so they're all here and all part of her embroidering of English poetry onto the Greek, and I don't think there's anything to suggest it's unjustified in terms of the Greek itself. In terms of the narrative, Odysseus imagining a Victorian nymphal idyll contrasts comically with the reality of the girls' harsh screams.
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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by jeidsath » Thu Jul 18, 2019 10:10 am

I'm afraid I'm can't really engage with you on the literary merits of various English translations. I don't think that they tend to have much literary merit in general. Pope's Rape of the Lock is better than any of his Homer. And thank god that A. E. Housman wrote A Shropshire Lad instead of trying to translate Euripides. In fact, Housman put his criticism of Greek in translation better than I ever could with his Fragment of a Greek Tragedy.
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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by seneca2008 » Thu Jul 18, 2019 10:40 am

jeidsath wrote:I'm afraid I'm can't really engage with you on the literary merits of various English translations. I don't think that they tend to have much literary merit in general.
Your second sentence contradicts your first!

Sean was asking you to engage with other poetry which informs his reception of Wilson's translation, he wasn't asking you to express a literary opinion on "various English translations". He eloquently makes the point that our reception of classical texts is inextricably linked with other later texts.
jeidsath wrote:he mentions that she has worked hard to avoid importing "contemporary sexism" into the poem. This is a good thing, of course, and she does not say that she is able to do this because she is a woman, whatever the NYT may say. The example she gives however, leaves something to be desired:
Many contemporary translators render Helen’s “dog-face” as if it were equivalent to “shameless Helen” (or “Helen the bitch”). I have kept the metaphor (“hounded”), and have also made sure that my Helen, like that of the original, refrains from blaming herself for what men have done in her name.
What exactly is left to be desired here? A curious Freudian expression.

My impression after reading again the posts on the various threads on the board about Wilson's translation is of almost unremitting hostility, sadly not as a result of reading her translation, but on what she is alleged to have said and what she seems to represent for her male readers here.

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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by seanjonesbw » Thu Jul 18, 2019 12:31 pm

jeidsath wrote:
Thu Jul 18, 2019 10:10 am
I'm afraid I'm can't really engage with you on the literary merits of various English translations. I don't think that they tend to have much literary merit in general. Pope's Rape of the Lock is better than any of his Homer. And thank god that A. E. Housman wrote A Shropshire Lad instead of trying to translate Euripides. In fact, Housman put his criticism of Greek in translation better than I ever could with his Fragment of a Greek Tragedy.
Joel you've managed to cram in a lot of discussion points for such a short post. If you don't enjoy English translations in general then I'm not sure why you've created a whole thread about Wilson's Odyssey.

It's by the by really, but I think Housman has written a loving parody of Aeschylus rather than a criticism of Greek translation.
seneca2008 wrote:
Thu Jul 18, 2019 10:40 am
What exactly is left to be desired here? A curious Freudian expression.
Easy tiger.
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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by seneca2008 » Thu Jul 18, 2019 12:33 pm

seanjonesbw wrote:seneca2008 wrote: ↑Thu Jul 18, 2019 10:40 am
What exactly is left to be desired here? A curious Freudian expression.
Easy tiger.
Point taken! :D

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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by jeidsath » Thu Jul 18, 2019 1:26 pm

Better to make several points in few words than no point in many. This thread was a topic split, because Seneca deserved a reply, but it wasn't right to muddy the other thread.

One of the things that makes Textkit work is a dedication to the Greek and Latin languages. Translations are a subject of commentary, but what we are here to engage with is the original language, which we try understand correctly and fluently.

In furtherance of this, I sometimes try to provide a bit of low level resistance to the people, usually on the Koine board, who come to Textkit armed with half a dozen translations, and who want to LARP as wise and learned online, but who are actually engaging only with transliterations and other sorts of crams. This is especially endemic in the biblical Greek world, unfortunately. I would hate to see that sort of thing come to other forums on Textkit beyond Koine.

Wilson or Pope can write Homer-inspired poetry, and use "voice" for αυτη, if we accept that it's not really translation. But seeing certain people, who really are capable of better if they'll put forth the effort, not notice that the Greek says something different, because apparently they are reading in English rather than Greek, means that you guys get to see me do my Socrates' fly impression for a few posts to make them feel sorry for using crams and LARPing at Greek in a reading thread.
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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by jeidsath » Thu Jul 18, 2019 2:49 pm

seneca2008 wrote:
Thu Jul 18, 2019 10:40 am
jeidsath wrote:he mentions that she has worked hard to avoid importing "contemporary sexism" into the poem. This is a good thing, of course, and she does not say that she is able to do this because she is a woman, whatever the NYT may say. The example she gives however, leaves something to be desired:
Many contemporary translators render Helen’s “dog-face” as if it were equivalent to “shameless Helen” (or “Helen the bitch”). I have kept the metaphor (“hounded”), and have also made sure that my Helen, like that of the original, refrains from blaming herself for what men have done in her name.
What exactly is left to be desired here? A curious Freudian expression.
On a board dedicated to reading Greek, we might look at what other contexts κυνωπης is used in, and see what the word means elsewhere, and whether Od 4.145 is more likely an example of the poet's rather frequent use of standard appellations for metrical utility rather than plot or character coherence. And we might decide that "contemporary sexism" is actually a very wrong explanation of how that line is translated elsewhere.
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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by seanjonesbw » Thu Jul 18, 2019 6:43 pm

I understand your annoyance at people who make claims about meaning in the GNT without reading it, but I think your idea of "correctly" understanding the Greek is very restrictive. Based on your last post I suppose you mean 'defensible' readings at the sentence level - you gather together your evidence based on trusted sources (LSJ, Smyth, commentaries etc.) and your own analysis of similar instances or a word, phrase or construction to make a case for your reading of the text. Sharing these readings is the bread and butter of the 'Learning Greek' board, and people often reach some kind of consensus. It's obviously a good strategy for building your own understanding of a Greek text, holding in your head the richly-textured ambiguity in the text alongside your own conclusions as you read.

But this is surely just the stepladder that gets you to the appreciation of the wider text, the interaction of the set of possible and probable meanings with the context - how it sits within the narrative, which character is saying it or which character it is talking about, whether it is formulaic, how it interacts with the metre and the music of the phrase. These all work together to refine the way you experience the text in a highly individual way and are dependent on much finer shades of ambiguity.

The translator has to pin this butterfly down. Decisions have to be taken, compromises have to be made. You could stick to the word order of the Greek and make something unreadable. You could stick to 'dactylic hexameter' (some have) and make a novelty piece. You could sacrifice what you believe a word means in its context for what the LSJ says. Do you attempt to replicate the experience of dialect words in Homer by writing them in Scots? Do you translate κυνώπης (a scantily-attested word, even if it is prominent) as dog-eyed, shameless, or something else that you feel matches the context?

Pope and Wilson make different sacrifices. Pope decides that his fidelity lies with the 'moment' - he splits the text into chunks of a few lines and renders his personal experience of that chunk into sprawling Augustan verse. This doesn't mean it's not a translation, it's just that his microscope is set to a lower magnification and he likes the sound of his own voice. Wilson stays much closer to the text (even numbers of lines in each book), but frequently sacrifices words to stay faithful to her experience of clarity in Homer and, as I've said, brings her experience of English poetry to bear on the text. If anyone feels 'conned' by either approach, they can read other translations and be conned in a different way. Or they can take a few years off work and learn Greek.

Why read an English translation when you can read the Greek? To see the text through someone else's eyes, to hear the music in their head - you'd be as well asking why we bother talking to our friends about books we've read and films we've seen, rather than just basking in our own glorious experience.
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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by seneca2008 » Fri Jul 19, 2019 10:43 am

One of the things that makes Textkit work is a dedication to the Greek and Latin languages. Translations are a subject of commentary, but what we are here to engage with is the original language, which we try understand correctly and fluently.

In furtherance of this, I sometimes try to provide a bit of low level resistance to the people, usually on the Koine board, who come to Textkit armed with half a dozen translations, and who want to LARP as wise and learned online, but who are actually engaging only with transliterations and other sorts of crams. This is especially endemic in the biblical Greek world, unfortunately. I would hate to see that sort of thing come to other forums on Textkit beyond Koine.
I find this a very curious and narrow view. I also feel insulted by the implication that my comments are to be considered in the same light as those you describe on the Koine board.

As anyone who has studied classics at university will attest, reading a classical text involves as a first step what might be regarded as "technical understanding" of the language. The more difficult part is the understanding of the context both historical and in relation to literary theory both ancient and modern. This latter study presupposes a technical grasp of the grammar and syntax, it is not a substitute for it. I can tell you from my experience of both undergraduate and post graduate work in classics that anyone who tried to base arguments on translations alone would soon be found out. The views I express on these boards are pretty run of the mill in British classics departments.

I have learned a lot on Sean's Homer thread for which I am grateful. It has been a wide ranging discussion and has established a model which I think we should emulate elsewhere. I do hope that our literary discussion does not deter people from asking basic questions about the text as they did when we first started this project. Sean made provision for this in a separate thread but it seems to have been missed.

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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by seneca2008 » Fri Jul 19, 2019 10:56 am

Wilson or Pope can write Homer-inspired poetry, and use "voice" for αυτη, if we accept that it's not really translation. But seeing certain people, who really are capable of better if they'll put forth the effort, not notice that the Greek says something different, because apparently they are reading in English rather than Greek, means that you guys get to see me do my Socrates' fly impression for a few posts to make them feel sorry for using crams and LARPing at Greek in a reading thread.
I really don't think you have grasped what a translation is. I think you should ponder what Sean has written with which I mostly agree.

I don't really understand the second sentence. If you are telling us that you are posting to score points I think that's a shame and smacks of bullying. If someone makes a mistake in reading the Greek we have an obligation to try to help not to make people feel small.

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Re: Wilson's Odyssey - again

Post by seanjonesbw » Fri Jul 19, 2019 1:49 pm

seneca2008 wrote:
Fri Jul 19, 2019 10:43 am
I do hope that our literary discussion does not deter people from asking basic questions about the text as they did when we first started this project. Sean made provision for this in a separate thread but it seems to have been missed.
I'm glad someone noticed!

This is a digression from the discussion of Wilson and translation so I'll keep it very brief, but I'd had the same thought and have been wondering whether there's a way to have both of these strands in the same thread - there was quite a bit of talking across each other in the first week which is why I started a parallel thread for questions but I now think that was probably a mistake. Maybe I can try and rework it.

I agree with Seneca's comments about reading and understanding - I'd add that the good translator's job begins only after substantial work (years, full notebooks, hair loss) has been done on the second, "more difficult part".

An aside about being 'qualified' to translate Homer, but I hope an interesting one that lightens the mood - here are T.E. Lawrence's thoughts on why he was the right man for the job:
T.E. Lawrence wrote:Yet actually, I'm in as strong a position vis-à-vis Homer as most of his translators. For years we were digging up a city of roughly the Odysseus period. I have handled the weapons, armour, utensils of those times, explored their houses, planned their cities. I have hunted wild boars and watched wild lions, sailed the Aegean (and sailed ships), bent bows, lived with pastoral people, woven textiles, built boats and killed many men. So I have odd knowledges that qualify me to understand the Odyssey, and odd experiences that interpret it to me.
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