1. Exquisite Tweets from @EmilyRCWilson

    PreoccupationsCollected by Preoccupations

    One of the most fascinating and heart-rending characters in the Odyssey is Penelope & Odysseus' only son, Telemachus, who has grown up bullied by his mother's suitors, fatherless, aimless, without positive male mentors until Athena helpfully shows up in the guise of Mentor.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    How immature is T, at the start of the poem, and what does maturity mean for Homer? Does Telemachus ever grow up? Those are open interpretative questions. Translators & interpreters can veer one way or another.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    We see T. twice shut up Penelope. You can read this (M. Beard), as "misogyny". &/or, as a heart-breaking, relatable sketch of how a child who misses one parent turns angrily on the other. I see that all the time in my own home with my own kids. I get it. I feel for them.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    Telemachus is vulnerable, fatherless, humiliated by the suitors. From his shame comes (I'd argue) his aggression against women & slaves. You don't need to have read any psychology to feel how it makes human sense.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    Growing up might mean marriage. But Telemachus isn't there yet. Helen in Book 4 magically recognizes him because he is, to her, just like himself as a baby... Later, she gives him a dress for the bride he doesn't yet have; it's the kind of gift that is almost a snub. Poor T.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    Growing up can also mean, for a Homeric warrior, coming into a capacity to fight and kill other men. Telemachus does grow up in that sense; by Book 24, he's able to fight and kill alongside his father and grandfather. It's a kind of success.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    Growing up might also mean a capacity to speak in public. In Odyssey 2, T gives a speech complaining about his treatment by the suitors, & the neighbors' failure to help him. Then he bursts into tears.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    It's long been recognized that this speech is muddled, veering from one topic to another . A commentator in antiquity, Heraclides Ponticus, called the speech "disorganized", anoikonometon. Scholars note it's "surely meant to reflect T's youth & inexperience" (West).

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    A couple of readers of my translation, apparently not knowing the standard ancient & modern analyses, complained that my version of T's speech sound "disjointed" (=anoikonometon?), and that this is "apparently to make T. sound whiny and immature".

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    I wanted to make T. sound like a person, with very specific emotions. Many other translations create a kind of stiffness that seems, to my subjective ear, far more distant from human feeling than the Greek. I was a silent, desperately shy, weepy teenager. I've been there.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    Here are the lines where T. says that he cannot fight the suitors, due to being weak; but if only he could. It's heart-breaking, futile and unconvincing expression of bravado that he can't maintain for two lines before backtracking, into awareness of his own weakness.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    ἡμεῖς δ᾿ οὔ νύ τι τοῖοι ἀμυνέμεν· ἦ καὶ ἔπειτα
    λευγαλέοι τ᾿ ἐσόμεσθα καὶ οὐ δεδαηκότες ἀλκήν.
    ἦ τ᾿ ἂν ἀμυναίμην, εἴ μοι δύναμίς γε παρείη.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    Loeb (prose): "We ourselves in no way have the strength for it: in the event we would only prove how feeble we are and how ignorant of battle. Yet truly I would defend myself, if I had but the power. " It's hard to imagine that an actual human being in distress could say this.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    Fagles:
    We ourselves?
    We're hardly the ones to fight them off. All we'd do
    is parade our wretched weakness. A boy inept in battle.
    Oh I'd swing to attack if I had the power in me.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    Fagles retains the use of plural for singular (much weirder in Eng. than in Gk), which has the odd effect of making T. sound like the Queen. There's a nice vigor to Fagles' characteristically expansive additions to the Greek ("in battle", "swing to attack")

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    Lombardo:
    We can't defend ourselves. If it came to a fight
    we would only show how pathetic we are.
    Not that I wouldn't defend myself
    if I had the power.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    Lombardo's Telemachus also has that royal plural, and actually calls himself "pathetic", which seems to me to go too far towards self-sabotage.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    To me, the central pathos is T. doesn't quite know that he's pathetic, & almost isn't. The speech echoes the great speech of Achilles against Agamemnon in Iliad 1: Telemachus is almost inhabiting the role of the angry, hard-done-by warrior -- but not quite pulling it off.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    Wilson:
    I cannot fight against them;
    I would be useless. I have had no training.
    But if I had the power, I would do it!

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    In terms of mood and emotion, I hoped to convey what to me the Gk conveys: a heart-breaking portrait of a not-quite-adult, striving desperately for a voice & for agency, fantasizing about power and unable fully to grasp it. I've been there.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    I don't think one of these ways of portraying the character is right and the others wrong. Mine is a justifiable reading, not the only option -- just as there are many ways to play Hamlet.

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson

    Acknowledgments: I stole the Hamlet comparison from the brilliant @MillerMadeline washingtonpost.com/entertainment/…
    "Telemachus-as-misogynist" interpretation is @wmarybeard, "Women and Power".
    The analysis of my "disjointed" version of the Telemachus speech was from @johnbyronkuhner

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    EmilyRCWilson

    Emily Wilson