The Iliad and The Odyssey Homer book on concrete outside

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Man gets roasted for complaining about Emily Wilson’s translation of ‘The Iliad’

This amateur critic got dunked on for mansplaining a supposedly 'woke' new translation of 'The Iliad.'


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

Posted on Aug 29, 2023

Classicist Emily Wilson is the first woman to publish an English translation of Homer’s Odyssey, earning widespread acclaim for her 2017 interpretation. Next month she’ll follow this up with a new translation of The Iliad, attracting similarly positive buzz.

But one reader remains unimpressed. An X user named Max Meyer posted a thread this week criticizing Wilson’s translation, labeling it “Woke Homer.” This quickly attracted a lot of mockery from others on the app – not least because Meyer freely admits his lack of expertise, making this a textbook example of mansplaining.

“Disclaimer: I took a year of classical Greek at Stanford,” he wrote. “I was an average student, definitely not as good as the experts here, including Wilson herself. I couldn’t translate it myself.”

Other comments described this thread as, “the kind of guy who thinks they could score a point against Serena Williams” and an “extended study in misogyny and the boundless confidence mediocre white men often have in their own opinions.”

Meyer’s critique focuses on Wilson’s supposedly “woke” attitude. He accuses her of rejecting “the ancient manly virtues” and insulting Odysseus by describing him as “a complicated man.” He also compares her Odyssey translation unfavorably to several older versions by male classicists.

It’s a familiar type of rant, connecting right-wing pop culture criticism (ie. complaints about wokeness and female artists) with nostalgia for ancient Greece and Rome. It’s reminiscent of “Western traditionalists” who conflate Greco-Roman art and history with modern conservative talking points about race and gender. In the past, Meyer has also complained about Stanford hiring a classicist who specializes in Black history.

In addition to inspiring a bunch of jokes about mansplaining, this thread highlights a common misunderstanding about translation. While it’s certainly possible to write a bad translation, there’s no truly “accurate” way to translate a work of literature. Especially when we’re discussing a 2800-year-old epic poem that was originally composed in a collection of long-dead dialects.

19th and 20th century classicists translated Homer based on their own educational background and social mores. Emily Wilson – a highly qualified expert – is doing the same thing now. She brings a different perspective compared to a man in the 1950s, and her translations are both popular and critically acclaimed among modern readers. In that context, complaints about “wokeness” just don’t come across as mature criticism.

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*First Published: Aug 29, 2023, 11:58 am CDT