Weekly Roundup of Archaeology and History November 6-10

Here are some posts I enjoyed this week:

book cover image The Odyssey, Emily Wilson translationIt’s a rare human being who isn’t charmed when reading the Odyssey, so a new–maybe even radically new–translation into English is a cause to celebrate. Translation flavors the reader’s understanding in so many subversive, unnoticed ways. One has to be so very cautious. I know the Fagles’ Iliad drives me nuts because his choices about Achilles make him a monster of violence–which is not the big picture of Achilles, only at a few key moments when his humanity is driven from him. He puts into Homer what is not there. So I offer you one paragraph of an excellent Guardian discussion of Emily Wilson’s Odyssey to show how much translation matters and how thoroughly a translator can inform your read, “Translations inevitably bring with them the perspectives and biases of their creators, and Wilson proffers a version that scrapes away the barnacle layers of centuries of masculine readings of the poem. Here is one example. In book four of the poem Telemachus, Odysseus’s son, goes off in search of news of his long-absent father. He reaches Sparta, where he meets Helen, restored to her marital home after the Trojan war. Remembering the start of the conflict, she says: “The Achaeans came to Troy on account of dog-eyed me, contemplating ferocious war.” But what is the force of this curious word kunopis, “dog-eyed”? A standard lexicon translates it as “lost to all decency, shameless”. George Chapman, tackling the passage in the 17th century, referred to “impudency”. At the turn of the 20th century, Samuel Butler offered “my most shameless self”. (He had earlier argued that the true author of the Odyssey was a woman, on account of the poem’s sympathetic female characters and its inability to describe boats accurately.) In the 1990s, Robert Fagles chose to use the phrase “shameless whore that I am”. And Wilson? She takes the line like this: “They made my face the cause that hounded them.”
How’s that for a different Helen’s self-view? And another example of why I don’t like Fagles’ translations, no matter how lovely the maps and general presentation of his editions. Thank you, Emily Wilson (and Caroline Alexander, whose recent translation of the Iliad is equally a breath of fresh, accurate air). Here’s to women reworking our view of civilization. Let’s be sure to dump the white, male, Euro-centric out of it all. Do click through and read the whole post. Short and smart. Click here for The Guardian “The Guardian view on translation: an interpretative and creative act”

A tiny exquisite piece of artwork from the Mycenaean world. This seal stone found in the intact “Griffin grave” near Pylos Greece depicts three warriors. One overcoming another with his sword, a great figure 8 shield pressed between them, another dramatically slain beneath. The anatomy and fluidity are so unusual and extraordinary for any period of human history, much less the Early Bronze Age. The victorious warrior wears a codpiece sort of thing, the other two plaid kilts (not to be confused with Celts or anyone else from the British Isles), so the implication may be the two dying men are on the same side. The detail is so miniature it is hard to understand how this artwork came to be in a world before magnification etc. But here it is. Dated to around 1450 BCE. And perhaps, ever so lightly perhaps, echoing one of those long ago tales that centuries later made it into Homer’s telling of the Trojan War. The bardic traditions are layered one onto another for a long time before even a date for a possible Trojan War. So I offer this one for a moment of marvelous contemplation, but you’ll have to click through because I don’t have copyright to the photo. Click here for the New York Times “A Grecian Artifact Evokes Tales From the ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’”

photo image of Palace of Ebla, photo by Gianfranco Gazzetti / GAR Wikimedia

Palace of Ebla, photo by Gianfranco Gazzetti / GAR Wikimedia

An ancient pharmaceutical “kitchen” at the palace of Ebla? The plant residues from known medicinals such as Euphorbia, 8 hearths and many pots indicate that this is the only distinctive site of medicinal production in the ancient Near East thus far discovered. It is intriguingly near the Court of Audience. Perhaps mind-altering beverages were used at court? Very enjoyable post on the ASOR blog. Click here for the ASOR blog’s “An Affair of Herbal Medicine? The ‘Special’ Kitchen in the Royal Palace of Ebla”

Some dog detective-fiction humor. Everyone needs a laugh at this point, me more than most. Thanks to Janet Rudolph. Click here for Mystery Fanfare Cartoon of the day: Dog Noir 


Weekly Roundup of Archaeology and History November 6-10 — 5 Comments

  1. I actually bought Emily Wilson’s translation. Never especially liked this book of the two, but I liked the way she phrased the translations quoted. Hoping her translation will change my mind about the book.

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