I AM reading Dr. Emily Wilson's English translation of the Odyssey. It's the first time a woman has translated Homer's work into English. The fanfare has just begun and rightly so. I'll probably do a podcast about her work, because I love it so much. I've read several translations and used them in researching my work for the Homeric Chronicles, but NONE of them has touched me like Dr. Wilson's.
For example, as everyone already points out, she begins with calling Odysseus a "complicated man." Brilliant, because Odysseus is complicated. He's not straight forward in anything he does. He's tender and loving with Penelope and Telemachus, but he's also a murderer and a man who "skirts" the boundaries of his marriage. He's vengeful, but with good reason. A trouble maker and a charmer. And stubborn. Let's not forget stubborn. Despite all this, we love to love Odysseus.
Her word choices stand out for me, more than any other translation. Reading the scene where Odysseus is deciding when to kill the slave women (and mind you it's not a moral dilemma of IF he should, but a matter of WHEN he will kill them...this is one of the ways he's complicated: his ability to premeditate massive slaughter) builds such powerful imagery. I can see a mother dog guarding her puppies, teeth bared and growling at strangers. It's scrappy, fierce, and dangerous.
Dr. Wilson is equally descriptive with Penelope. I love the passage where Penelope has just been told that the suitors are plotting to kill her son, Telemachus. She's distraught because he left Ithaka without telling her and no one knows for sure where he is. So, she can't protect him. Her mind torments her like a trapped lion...What parent can't relate to that terrifying feeling?
She definitely spanked some magic out of Homer's Greek.
If you enjoy Greek mythology, you're going to love this new translation. I'm using it for all my podcasts on Greek Mythology Retold and for the continued research for the Homeric Chronicles.
(Disclaimer: these are my show notes. I do go off script when I podcast, but here's the basic framework)
Hello fellow myth lovers! I’m so excited to share with you the Greek world of the Homeric Chronicles. If you watched the movie Troy and loved it, or felt like you wanted more...If you’re currently watching the BBC One Troy: Fall of a City (or waiting for it to hit your Netflix playlist), this podcast is for you. You’re a Myrmidon. Basically, if you love Greek mythology in any form you’ve come to the right place. Shall we get started?
When I first began toying with the idea it was...what if you could read about all the mythological stories as one seamless tale? I thought, what if George RR Martin was telling it? It would be EPIC! CRAZY HUGE! Can you imagine the cast of characters? It’d be a celebrity Who’s Who of the ancient myth-historic Greek world. And because I love these stories, I got to thinking...what if I wrote it? No way, I can’t do that. Then, I thought, you have a degree in history, why not try? And the Homeric Chronicles was born.
That left me with the million dollar question: Where to start? How to begin? After piles of research, 25 gray hairs carefully dyed dark brown, and a bazillion cups of coffee later, I realized exactly where I needed to start: with Homer. But not just some retelling that was meant to get you to the “great war” or to take you through the bizarre journeys of Odysseus back to Ithaka...It needed to be MORE. Much more! But, Homer’s work in the Iliad and Odyssey definitely provide the backbone. I wove many other stories that touched on the characters in Homer’s work into the structure of the spine. The major heroes and heroines of Homer’s tales are entwined with so many other characters I had to dig deep, b/c it’s chronological, I had to make some hard choices. The original myth-makers weren’t worried about telling stories that made chronological sense outside of the story they were reciting. But for the Homeric Chronicles to be what I envisioned that’s exactly what I had to do.
I wanted to include the regulars: Achilles, Paris, Hektor, Odysseus, Menelaus, Agamemnon, Helen, Hecuba, Cassandra, Andromache, Leda, Deidamia, Priam, Tyndareus, Peleus, Thetis, and Chiron just to name a few. And include characters like Palamedes, the poor guy who unfortunately pissed off Odysseus, Tantalus the first husband of Clytemnestra, Oenone Paris’s first wife, Peisidike the Methymnaan princess in love with Achilles, well, you get the picture. Now, I was tasked with putting the myths in chronological order, and keeping them all easy to connect with.
It wasn’t until I fell in love with GRRM’s SOIAF that I knew structuring a story of this epic scale was possible. I take you along several characters’ journeys through five major kingdoms. And after the movie Troy ruthlessly cut them out (and I wonder if David Benioff wishes now that he hadn’t), I put the pantheon of gods and goddesses back in there.
On to chronology: The first chronological hiccup involved Helen, Paris and Achilles. Let’s start with Paris, in particular: the Judgment of Paris. Most people familiar with the story assume that Paris gives the judgment of the fairest goddess to Aphrodite and leaves to Sparta not long after. But, it just doesn’t make sense that way, not in the context of the larger EPIC tale. Let me explain:
The golden apple contest that caused the Athena, Aphrodite and Hera to seek Paris as the judge occurred at the wedding feast of Peleus and Thetis. These are Achilles parents. So, Achilles, the greatest fighter of all the Greeks has NOT been born yet. He’s the star of the Iliad. So, the judgment of Paris takes place soon after the wedding feast, before Achilles is conceived and born. Why does this matter? Because, we have to wait at least 15 to 18 years for Achilles to grow up, get trained, and father a son, Neoptolemus, BEFORE Odysseus can discover him on Skyros, dressed like a girl and call our hero into action. This means two things: Paris has to be at least 15-18 years old to be considered MAN enough to judge the goddesses (he’s not an 8 yr old judging 3 of the most powerful females in the story); therefore, Paris is 15-18 years older than Achilles. Most movies and books depict Paris and Achilles about the same age, or as in Troy make Paris much younger than Achilles. It’s all wrong. Paris is definitely Achilles’ elder.
That raises the next logical question: When does Paris meet and woo Helen? Because that is the EVENT that brings the Argives, Achaeans, Danaans to Troy. Paris couldn’t have taken off with Helen any time soon following the judgment because that would mean Paris and Helen would’ve been in Troy for years before Menelaus even tried to get her back...B/C we’d be waiting for Achilles to get born and come of age. Even if you take the whole Paris and Helen get lost in Egypt into consideration that still leaves too many years in between the kidnapping and the attempted rescue. Remember, no matter what, Achilles has to be old enough to lead the Myrmidons and have fathered a child before he goes to Troy, as other prophecies depend on it.
My research took me to Apollodorus (a 2nd century AD compilation of ancient texts) which states in 3.13.8 that Achilles was 9 when he was taken to Skyros, because Odysseus was looking for him due to a prophecy by Agamemnon’s seer, Kalchus. There is some consensus that Achilles left Skyros at about 15. But let’s break this down chronologically and logically.
1. If Odysseus is looking for Achilles when Achilles is 9 and that’s why Thetis hid him as a girl, then he has to be hiding there for years before he’s old enough to get the princess Deidamia pregnant. So, for all these years, what are the Greeks under assembled under Agamemnon’s banner doing in Aulis? Twiddling their thumbs? Sewing sails? Getting sunburns? If the consensus is correct (and we have to make choices to be consistent) at least 6 years (give or take) have to pass until Odysseus finds Achilles.
2. I recall reading that there were TWO calls to war that met at Aulis...the first one which assembled the Greek tribes went to Aulis was a bust b/c they needed Achilles, so everyone went home and waited...then returned...years later? after Achilles was found? This doesn’t make any sense...it would’ve been a monumental feat getting that many ships and men from all across the Greek world assembled just once, but twice? And in all his searching, Odysseus never makes it back to Ithaka to sneak a little love time in with Penelope? I don’t buy it.
3. What makes sense in the human and mytho-historic terms is that Achilles is 9 when he goes to Skyros with Thetis fully aware about Achilles’ dual fate, and that some day he’d have a huge decision to make. When the call to Aulis came, 6 or so years later, that’s when Odysseus and Ajax find him. It gives time for him to grow up, father a son. I do give Achilles a few more years, rounding out his age at 18. Why? Because I used the historic figure, Alexander the Great, as a model. Alexander distinguished himself at Chaeronea at 18, so makes sense that a young man at 18 could indeed be seen to lead an army of warriors (Myrmidons).
Well, Myrmidons, times up for today. Up next time let’s take a deeper look into Helen’s age and how placing her story in chronological sequence was challenging, but not impossible.
What do you think about Paris being 18 years older than Achilles? that Helen couldn’t have been born at the time of the judgment?
How do you think a comprehensive timeline will change up the Greek myths as you know them?
You can find out by reading the Homeric Chronicles
Song of Sacrifice and Rise of Princes
Love to hear your thoughts, answer questions, and connect with my fellow Greek mythology lovers.
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Until next time, let’s take the advice given to Menelaus in the Cypria: “know that the gods made wine the best thing for mortal man to scatter cares.” Drink your wine and be merry Myrmidons.
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