“Each generation must translate for itself”: Few works better illustrate T. S. Eliot’s observation than Homer’s Odyssey. Since the epic was first translated into English by George Chapman in the early seventeenth century, it has been cast into our language some 60 times—with every version colored by the sensibility, vernacular, and values of its time. Each generation, in a word, gets the Odyssey it deserves.
Inevitably, each generation also gets the Odysseus it deserves. The ancient Greek hero is so complex and multifaceted that even a single interpreter can see him multiple ways. Sophocles portrayed Odysseus in one work as an exemplar of restraint and toleration while in another as slippery to the point of slimy. Two millennia later, Dante was similarly torn, consigning Odysseus to an innermost circle of hell for the sin of lying even while praising his virtues of wonder and curiosity.
Inevitably, perhaps, twenty-first-century
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