What should I ask Emily R. Wilson?

I will be doing a Conversation with her, no associated public event.  She is the translator of a splendid and highly readable Homer’s Odyssey, which I named as the very best book of the year for last year.  She is also a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, a classicist, a Seneca scholar, and an all-around very smart person.  Here is her Wikipedia page.

So what should I ask her?


Since so many jobs could be disappearing because of technological advances how can we guarantee decent and worthy unemployments before social order breaks down? Can an unconditional universal basic income be the answer?

( i’m her neighbor, by the way)
Had Shakespeare written the Odyssey or Iliad would he have used iambic pentameter? And why didn’t the Bard address these subjects?
Also, do you believe there really was a Troy, a Trojan War, a Hector, Agamemnon, Achilles , et. Al. See the classics scholar M.L. Finley, who has convincingly written that there never was any such place, event, nor were these real people.

How did growing up in a long line of academics as it says on her wikipedia changer her outlook?

Should courses on Western Civilization be mandatory as part to a basic college and high school education?

More generally, what does she think medium term future holds for Western Civ.

What motivated her to produce a translation of Homer's Odyssey? Will the English language at some point have all the translations of the Odyssey that anyone could want, or will there always be a good reason to produce a new one?

Ask her if it is really that big of a deal that she is the first female translator of the Odyssey? What is really significantly different about her translation, and if there are any significant differences, which ones are attributable to her being female? I only ask this because in every single piece I have read about her translation, a big deal is made about her being the first female translator, but I've never been able to find out why that is significant (even after listening to other interviews with her), aside from the usual sturm und drang about patriarchy blah blah.

Homer was a guy. D'oh! A woman translating his work is


"first female translator of the Odyssey"... to English. For other languages, there has long been published translation by women. But that's a good question. Will allow to see if she agrees with the portraits many reports in the media have made of her work and aims.

Thanks for the clarification. It makes the whole hullabaloo over her being female even more striking. I am looking forward to reading it, but I am just curious about all the hoopla.

Why does Titus Andronicus not qualify as "Senecan farce" or "Senecan comedy"? (That is, I could not take Julie Taymor's film production as seriously as she might have offered it, but I might be overly partisan of Grand-Guignol stagecraft and aesthetics.)

(Have her OUP Seneca ed. along w/Fitch's Loeb series tr. from 2004 but only Fitzgerald's Odyssey tr. to date. Whose tr. of the Iliad is her favorite? [Is she working on one herself?])

What with his abattoir vision, his personal history of espionage, and his depictions of riotous megalomania gone amok, Kit Marlowe looks to be our man of the hour, decade, and century: why are Marlowe productions today not way out in front of anything safe and staid by that fellow from Stratford?

Good points!

FWIW: Marlowe? Can’t provide characters with depth. So truly an heir to the execrable Seneca.

From all her studies from classical thinkers and stories, what are the most relevant philosophical that would apply to the modern age, and what are the least relevant?

Socrates and Christian Martyrs. Apostle: Travel Among the Tombs of the Twelve by Tom Bissell is not an important book, but reading it reminded me just how important martyrdom is in Christianity. Reading the book was like watching the worst of the graphic films that treat violence as entertainment. I suppose Jesus as human sacrifice should prepare one for His disciples' end to be even worse. But martyrs they are. As was Socrates. Why the human fascination with martyrs? In the Christian Bible, martyrs have the advantage of going straight to Heaven, while the rest must wait until the End Time. Is the fascination with martyrdom a natural human response to what otherwise appears to be the pointlessness of life?

Did Rene Falconetti actually wear the plate with spikes in order to understand Joan of Arc the woman not the Saint? Do actors often need to capitulate and who is it per, the director? Was being seen as human and not beautiful how Hedy Lamarr really got the part in Samson and Delihah, or was it why she wanted the part? "Let's say Mercedes McCambridge is the devil," to quote John Haskell. Is that because Orson Welles told her, basically, "You are the devil?"

Which translation of the Iliad does she most recommend?


And, does she have an opinion on the graphic novel “Age of Bronze”? Classicists tend to really like it.

Good question. She has once said she is preparing a translation of the Iliad herself, maybe she doesn't like the others very much

My questions are less about her new translation and more about classics generally.

Classics enrollment has been declining in the U.S. for decades, a decline that has only accelerated in recent years. Academic positions for classicists are drying up. Many programs, re-branded as "classical studies," no longer even require basic Latin literacy, let alone Greek, as a requirement for graduation. Wilson's own UPenn offers just such a program to encourage higher enrollment from among the desultory. Classical literacy among the educated is probably at its lowest point since, I don't know, the 11th century? When people - even the educated - hear the word "classics" today, they think Moby-Dick and Shakespeare.

My questions for Wilson: does she think classics as a discipline of study will continue to exist in 20 years? 50? Does she think classics should be a required component of a liberal arts degree? Does she think the classics "matter"? How would she suggest revitalizing the discipline? How can we "sell" studying the classics in a world where people are encouraged to earn a Bachelor of Arts in "business marketing"?

I ask as someone who studied the classics in college and never regretted it. (Yes, I am gainfully employed.)

Classics will come back. It's not as bad vocationally as it's been made out to be, and people are turning back towards it as a reaction to the "pomoid cluster" elements of the humanities.

How do the Odyssey and Iliad compare with the Indian epics like Mahabharat and Ramayan?

Well you are thinking of comparing the literature classics of western civilization, which is the light that shone through the world rescuing mankind out of Asian despotism, with some of the literature of a typical despotic Asian region. I guess any notions of individualism, freedom and equality are not present in the latter.

This is the pro Zionist position.

The "Odyssey and Iliad" are pro Zionist? That's going to surprise some Greeks.

I should have said this is the protozionist position. Or, protoplasmic Zionist position. It was Dionysus that fooled Priam, was it not? It was Hector that turned to Priam and believed his fate could change.

Answer in two words: "much shorter". If she was a specialist of Sanskrit trying to make a complete translation of the Mahabharata, her life probably wouldn't be enough.

But great question, if she knows the Indian texts well enough.

I assume there are many translations of the Odyssey. What makes one translation better than another? Is it finding a more accurate representation of the original text? Or saying the same thing in a better way? Or filling in gaps that previous authors skipped for lack of understanding? Something else?

What did she bring to the translation?

When I was in high school in 1974, my grandfather expressed disappointment in my curriculum. "Education in this country started going downhill when they stopped requiring Greek in high school," he said. [He had tutored the Georgia Tech football team in 1914-18 and complained that they were too stupid to get the aorist mood.]

Should I dust off my grandfather's Goodwin's Greek Grammar for my grandkids?

Don't worry, I'm sure that a century of NCAA academic eligibility rules have raised the quality of the football team's education as much as its physical performance.

has she read An Odyssey by Daniel Mendelsohn?

Tyler, you've mentioned in the past that you favor the Reck translation of the Iliad. I'm curious about how her thoughts on this specific translation interact with yours.

lectio difficilior -- overrated or underrated?

Given how central violence against women is to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and how thoughtfully you handle that issue in your translation of the Odyssey, what translation(s) of Ovid’s poem would you recommend and why?

Did Joyce's Ulysses influence in any way your translation of the odissey and how?

Seneca was from Spain. What kind of influence did this have on him if any? Can he be considered the first great Spanish intellectual?

Three children puts you outside the norm of Western life and well outside the norm of elite Western life. Could you comment on positives and negatives of life with children? How have they effected your career positively or negatively? Reflect for a bit on why the richest society in all of history is the one least willing to replace itself. Any wisdom from Seneca in this?

Could you please ask her about "home?"

Her translation pulls this word to the foreground more than I remember other translations doing, and that decision made me read the text differently. It also made me realize that "home" is not a concept that I interrogate nearly as much as I should.

(Please also thank her for the work that went into that wonderful book!)

about the value of classics at large: is it better to read blogs (Cowen) or Homer? Probably both, I'm guessing. At what margin are the classics better than other books, and Why?

*How* did she translate it? Word processor only or CAT tools, keyboard or voice recognition, one monitor or two, a bunch of old dictionaries on her desk or a glossary collated by an assistant? Did she do a prose translation and then turn it into poetry, or was her first draft in verse? How long did each part book take? Each verse? I want the nitty-gritty of the Emily Wilson production function.

Further, did she aim for a daily word count?
Do translators get writer's block?

Do you have a favorite translation of Herodotus?

And Thucydides too.

Is the statement that Emily Wilson is the first female translator of the Odyssey the whole truth? Were there really no female translators of even parts of the Odyssey into English before now? If there were, I would be curious to hear their stories.

And how has this gender dynamic played out in the literature of other languages?

Would love to know Tyler and Emily’s favorite translations of some classics (Ex Meditations, Mahabharata, Iliad ....)

Plato's criticism of Homer, and Plato as poet. Maybe push beyond Republic and ask about Lesser Hippias, Ion, etc.

Why do the classical philosophers so frequently quote ancient poets badly – odd or mismatched contexts, significant alteration of quotes as we have received them, etc? Is it just an accident that misquotations frequently prove philosophically interesting? Thinking of Aristotle in particular here.

Is it harder to translate the Odyssey or the Second Amendment into modern english?

Almost every Book of the Odyssey has an important message for man.

The Odyssey is the finest adventure story. The Iliad is the war story par excellence. The rest are derivative.

The typical, post-modern put out from the American Indoctrination System, aka public education, cannot understand the Epic Greek Ethos or the original republican form of government.

Plus, The Odyssey is a comedy (happy ending). Most of what the nitwits call "comedy" is farce. What's happening to America is a tragedy (sad ending).

.."What's happening to America is a tragedy (sad ending)."

I second (amend) that.

No matter what happens to America in the next 50 years (and my best guesses are fairly optimistic - abortionists, with their anti-African-American ratios of destruction, will go the way of the Klan by 2030, 2035 at the latest; while the sort of people of all races who have been raising juvenile delinquents and violent criminals for the last few decades, at government expense much of the time, will be hilariously enticed away from having children by the Chinese robot-sexbot industry, a win/win which the children of the 2040s may or may not understand, as they look around and see that few of their contemporaries have morally turpitudinous parents ////) --- anyway, no matter what happens to the USA in the next 50 years, we will go down in history as the first country to be a place where hundreds of millions, not tens of millions or some smaller number, but where hundreds of millions lived lives of self-respect and contentment.

Parts of England and parts of France did well, too, and there are some Asiatic countries, like little Singapore, where there are lots of people who live the sort of good life almost every American with a job lived in the 1950s. But a thousand years from now all of the countries that were not as good as we Americans used to be at making life easy for each other, complete with beautiful if not large homes in safe neighborhoods, all those countries will be forgotten, and only America will be the name associated with that golden age.

Here is my question for the interviewee:

Does she know what Homer's Odyssey lacks, in the original Greek? The translations (not the translation into Latin with which I am familiar) are all are dishonest by covering up the fact, with deceitful translation, that a very large part of the human experience simply does not exist in the original archaic Greek linguistic artifact we call the Odyssey.

By the way of course she knows what I am referring to.


Is translating a good way to learn Greek? What are the major stumbling blocks for studenty and new learners?

Does she know Nikos Kazantzakis's "The Odyssey: a modern sequel", and if she does, what does she think of it ?

What ideas and sentiments can more easily be expressed in Classical Greek than English due to limitations in the English language? Give an example of our contemporary ideas that would be difficult to communicate in Classical Greek, due to limitations of Classical Greek?

How would she compare the great greek mythological heroes? I recently heard someone rank Hercules as the best because his defining characteristic was "endurance." Would be fun to hear her play overrated/underrated on herculues, jason, achilles, odysseus etc

What does she think of the Seneca's Apocolocyntosis or Neronian literature in general? What about Seneca reflected his times?

Would it be a good idea to translate James Joyce into English?

Coming from a Britisher ( though I guess not Irish)........priceless.

What can readers today in the US learn from reading the Odyssey?

How did the Odyssey work in its own time? How is it different to our reading?

It's a common enough question but I'm still interested in her opinion.

Is it possible to learn how to read Ancient Greek by yourself? Does she recommend any course or book for beginners?

I am interested to know how she prepared and did research for her book “Seneca: A Life”.. what is her writing process like? How does she fact check?

What does she think of the movie 'O brother, where art thou?'?
If they filmed a new movie adaption or better yet TV series who would she like to play Odysseus? And why is it Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson? #sponsored

What does Odysseus think of transhumanism?

Which is the most important hapax legomenon in the Odyssey?

The Odyssey was orally transmitted – could that mean that its vocabulary was actually richer in earlier versions and we have a "regularized" version (more thematic coherence at the expense of variety) suitable for mass bard memorization? Did you or any other translators try memorizing large portions, the way Greek schoolkids used to have to do, and how does memorization influence the way they understand the work?

I’m curious about several things in The Odyssey, but I wonder:

is Nausicaa falling in love with Odysseus? I read in one commentary, by Irene de Jong, that argues that Nausicaa desires Odysseus and has fallen in love with him.

If the princess is in love with Odysseus, what might that mean for the way the poem treats gender, male-female relations, and other things? Also, there is some indirect connection between Nausicaa and Penelope. It is for these two that Athena prettifies Odysseus (in Book 6 and Book 23). And both Nausicaa and Penelope have suitors from their own land trying to court them. What might Homer have been conveying through this similarity?

Her introduction to the Odyssey is very good but there is one paragraph where her discussion jarred me a bit, the one where she discusses the crimes of the suitors, suggesting that their main faults were rudeness, boorishness, immaturity, ingratitude, selfishness, not mentioning that the suitors (she call them boys - but after so many years of courting Penelope, could they still have been boys when they were killed?) made a concerted carefully planned effort to murder Odysseus's son on his way back from his journey to find news of his father. Attempted murder of your host's son seems somewhat worse than boorish. If I were talking with her, I'd ask her whether she paints an overly favorable portrait of the suitors.


2001 A Space Odyssey (as an adaptation)?

Chris Potter album The Sirens?

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