The Atlantic

The Odyssey and the Other

What the epic can teach about encounters with strangers abroad and at home
Source: Hanna Barczyk

Who could have guessed that the time would be so ripe for an Odyssey that shrinks the vast distance between the ancient text and contemporary sensibilities? During the age when The Odyssey took form, near the end of the eighth century b.c., the Greeks were voyaging into the world once again after a period of dark decline. They were setting up colonies and resuming the trade that had been interrupted by whatever cataclysmic forces—invasions, rebellions, pestilence, natural disasters—brought down the Bronze Age civilizations of Minoa and Mycenae. Yet the spirit of the second Homeric epic is wary. Unlike The Iliad, which sings of the glorious feats of godlike warriors in a legendary heroic age, The Odyssey tells of a weary man’s fight for survival in the face of threatening Others who can never share his view of the world or take his interests to heart. This besieged sense of a realm seething with social hostilities and deep divisions, in which the very possibility of dialogue seems out of reach, may well strike a chord.

In her powerful new translation, Emily Wilson, a classicist at the University of Pennsylvania, has chosen immediacy and naturalism over majestic formality. She preserves the musicality of Homer’s poetry, opting for’s archaic Greek meter of dactylic hexameter). Wilson’s transformation of such a familiar and foundational work is similarly astonishing. I was struck with wonder at how eerily of our time it is, this tale that emerged nearly 3,000 years ago.

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