Home History - Language - Culture Homer’s Brazen Vandalizers: How Female Academics Are Ruining the Classics

Homer’s Brazen Vandalizers: How Female Academics Are Ruining the Classics

11

EDITOR’S NOTE (Nick Stamatakis): I was not surprised that “political correctness” and the “culture wars” of our time have entered the world of the Classics.  But it is extremely painful for my generation, who graduated high school in Greece at a time when Homer was read (to a certain extent) in the original and many colossal literary figures (Should I just mention Kazantzakis?) spent many precious years in translating it to modern Greek, to read and watch this…  But it is worthy to read (if you can contain your disgust) side by side the classic/standard translation into English and the “newer” version by Emily Wilson… Good luck…  

============================

SOURCE: www.im1776.com

Homer’s Brazen Vandalizers: How Female Academics Are Ruining the Classics

By Abdullah Youssef

The Homeric epics are foundational to the Western canon as the beginning of the story that marked the rise of Western civilization. Both the Iliad and Odyssey present an alien sensibility to many values of the modern world yet the lessons they imparted were considered central to any well-educated young man of a century ago, who would have studied them in Greek. However those studying and translating such works today are not the class of academics we once had, as the recent treatments of these epics shows.

Take the Iliad. The standard translation used for teaching the epic in English is Richmond Lattimore’s from 1951. He is praised by many, including other classical translators like Robert Fitzgerald (1998) as capturing both the rhythm and spirit of Homer’s original Greek. Though the style takes a while to get used to, one is immediately enraptured by it. Even in sections where you have difficulty grasping the logistics of the events you can still see the images Homer was conjuring. The four-horsed chariots riding outside Troy’s walls, the shining bronze of helmets and corselets penetrated by sharp spears – and how the light went out from the eyes of each of these superhuman warriors, both Trojan and Greek, as they fell to the ground breathing their last.

Compare to the recent 2017 translation of the Odyssey by Emily Wilson:

Tell me about a complicated man.
Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost
when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy,
and where he went, and who he met, the pain
he suffered in the storms at sea, and how
he worked to save his life and bring his men
back home. He failed to keep them safe; poor fools,
they ate the Sun God’s cattle, and the god
kept them from home. Now goddess, child of Zeus,
Tell the old story for our modern times.
Find the beginning.

This is Lattimore’s translation of those same verses:

Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel.
Many were they whose cities he saw, whose minds he learned of,
many the pains he suffered in his spirit on the wide sea,
struggling for his own life and the homecoming of his companions,
Even so he could not save his companions, hard though
he strove to; they were destroyed by their own wild recklessness,
fools, who devoured the oxen of Helios, the Sun God,
and he took away the day of their homecoming. From some point
Here, goddess, daughter of Zeus, speak, and begin our story.

The difference in style and the crushing of ambition is extraordinary. The Greek word that Wilson translates as “complicated” is polútropos, literally “turning many ways,” or “one who is turned much.” There are multiple meanings here in the context of Odysseus and the beginning of his journey. One supplies a portrait of the character of Odysseus – wily, skilled and adaptable, both warrior and adventurer. In Robert Fitzgerald’s translation, he goes with “skilled in many ways of contending.” This is what Lattimore partially went with in his translation, but there is still more to be accounted for. The other meaning foreshadows what is to come in his journey: how he is spun, wrecked, and struck every which way before he makes it back to Ithaca.

Odysseus is an archetype, the original “Renaissance Man” avant la lettre, gifted with wisdom, courage, vigor, and the lasting endurance of man through hell (in his case, literally). To the ancient Greeks, every hero (and to them, nearly all heroes had divine blood) had to possess these qualities to some degree. But Wilson chooses “complicated,” as if Odysseus was some ex-boyfriend, and not a foundational character by which countless heroes in the Western canon are inspired.

Emily Wilson, “The First Woman to Translate the ‘Odyssey’ Into English” (The New York Times) 

This kind of thing is indicative of a broader trend among the current class of academics studying Western classics today. It’s common today across academia and the media for such meaning in Homer’s epics to be called “fascist revisionism.” Many headlines of articles written predominantly by women have appeared since 2016 describing the phenomenon of “dangerous, young, right-wing men” having a renewed interest in classical literature, and how it is up to “classicists” (i.e. women like Emily Wilson) to fight back by, ironically, committing revisionism of their own.

A good example of this is the recent conception taken up by many in academia and progressive intellectual media that the Iliad is a criticism or lamentation of war. In 2010 the chief culture writer of The Guardian Charlotte Higgins, penned an article titled “The Iliad and what it can still tell us about war,” where she draws an allegory between the Iraq War and this interpretation of the Iliad: that warriors like Achilles actually thought that the whole war was pointless and not worth fighting, and kings like Agamemnon and Menelaus are comparable to the global military-industrial war machine.

That could not be further from the truth. Diomedes’ glory, Achilles’ sacrifice, the nobility of Hector, and the incredible feats of strength and courage performed for a decade on the beaches of Troy were not seen by Homer as pointless, but glorious. What was impressive to Homer was the fact these men had fought so hard for so long, and the spectrum of human emotion expresses in this struggle. A heroic death is not portrayed as a pointless event, but to demonstrate that falling in battle and beauty are one. As Yukio Mishima described in Sun and Steel, true beauty can only be participated in through the body, in risking its loss and the dissolution of being:

“Why should a man be associated with beauty only through a heroic, violent death? In ordinary life, society maintains a careful surveillance to ensure that men shall have no part in beauty; physical beauty in the male, when considered as an “object” in itself without any intermediate agent, is despised, and the profession of the male actor—which involves constantly being “seen”—is far from being accorded true respect. A strict rule is imposed where men are concerned. It is this: a man must under normal circumstances never permit his own objectivization; he can only be objectified through the supreme action—which is, I suppose, the moment of death, the moment when, even without being seen, the fiction of being seen and the beauty of the object are permitted.”

How can today’s academics be expected to understand such things? Classicists once saw themselves as embarked upon a quest for understanding and moral cultivation. Today, they see their task as social activism, and making sure the classics fit current ideological priorities. This program has been operating in the classics for a while. When Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey was published in 2017, a major media campaign was launched to push it to the forefront as the new “glass ceiling” that had broken in literature.

The same writer who seven years earlier had argued that the Iliad was actually about the pointlessness of war, now wants to convince you that translators like Wilson, by virtue of being a woman, has something “new” and “innovative” to offer when it comes to understanding them. No doubt she does, which is indeed why we ought to retain and preserve their original meaning, in our quest for the kind of greatness it once inspired.

Abdullah Yousef is an artist and novelist living in the US.

 

11 COMMENTS

  1. Where Lattimore serves up a fine reeking stew of a book, redolent of the sea,
    Wilson offers a strained cold liquor, purified of texture and taste.

  2. Not wholly related but I also have a problem with the English versions of our Divine Liturgy being used and the chants. As an example, Thee thy thou thine have been replaced by the watered down your or yours. Not only are they excising the whole of the language of accuracy beauty and strength which is the Greek language, they are neutering the English as well. Who decided this?

  3. You can’t neuter a language few understand. Liturgy is meant to be understood. The purpose of worship is not to preserve a language.

    • You are misrepresenting my comment. I clearly stated the English is being neutered and I gave an example.
      I didn’t anywhere say that “the purpose of worship is not to preserve a language”. There are enough lies going around without yours.
      I did say that Greek is the language of accuracy and beauty and strength and that the language is being excised from the liturgy and that is a fact.

      • To some degree Liturgical English is impoverished. Nevertheless, keeping much of the “archaic” language does two things. It is more accurate in forms of address and number, “thou” being singular and familiar. As well, the old words give us a link with our spiritual history, which of course is exactly what modernists wish to eliminate. Those who insist that we a need modern translation forget that in fity years, a 2022 translation will be “out of date”. We need a balance between traditional phrasing and eliminating words that have changed meaning. “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me”, comes to mind. “Allow little chidren, and do not forbid them, to come to me” is modern but echoes the older version.

        • Thank you for your insight into the language issue. I agree and we must strive to keep the language of the church correct and reverent.

          • When we talk about language, we should never forget the past struggles this church and community had regarding this issue. This issue undermined the leadership of AB Iakovos in a very big way!… And it also undermined the incorporation of the younger generations into the Church. English is a means of communication, and as such, it is necessary for communicating the message of Christ. We cannot expect the youth to have the grasp of Greek – including biblical Greek – those of us born in Greece many decades ago have. But we can expect them to appreciate the beauty of it certain parts of the service. And we can expect them to appreciate the byzantine music to an extent – there are many successful experiments of chanting in English (but in byzantine style in recent times) – along with other variations… We have to be reasonable and avoid issuing “edicts” as the Emperors or Sultans did…

    • We Greeks are blessed ,because have the Word of Jesus in our language in Greek. Therefore we should preserve it ,study it, understand it and teach it to our children ,friends and relatives so that the true meaning of the Word of Jesus remains. Let us not be so lazy as to fail to exert the little effort needed to understand the original Greek language of the New Testament. In you tube there is The Divine Liturgy in Greek with english subtitles and once you learn it then you no longer need the english subtitle!

  4. If you go to a book store, you will find many English translations of the New Testament, but none can be compared to the original Greek ,which has the words as spoken by Jesus himself that can be used in our daily lives enriching our language!

    • It is widely known that Jesus spoke mostly in Aramaic… he probably had enough knowledge of Greek and certainly knew Hebrew… Greek became the language of the New Testament later…

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here