Emily Wilson: TOP TEN BOOKS

Wilson, Emily © Ralph Rosen

Emily Wilson photographed by Ralph Rosen

British classicist Emily Wilson has described Homer’s “The Odyssey” as a work with particular resonance today. “It’s about identity, home and belonging, and whether we can find a place of belonging only by excluding or slaughtering or enabling the death or subjugation of other people,” she said in an interview with The Uncommon Muse. “It’s about migration, diaspora, travel and war identity.” A professor of Classics at the University of Pennsylvania, Wilson is the first woman to have translated this epic Greek poem into English, and will be launching a marathon, relay-style reading of “The Odyssey” in Narrowsburg (home of One Grand Books) this Saturday and Sunday.  Details at deepwaterfestival.com. For this list,  she chose ten books that “resonate in different ways with “The Odyssey.””

Below are Emily Wilson’s favorite books, available to purchase individually or as a set.


The Penelopiad

Margaret Atwood
I love Margaret Atwood's sequence, “The Penelopiad,” which shows us a side of Penelope that is always veiled in Homer. Atwood's Penelope struggles with the knowledge that she herself colluded with the deaths of the slave women, hanged by her son Telemachus. The theme of women's collusion with the abuse of women is an important theme, essential in our age of intersectional feminism and #MeToo.
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The Lost Books of the Odyssey

Zachary Mason
It is a thought-provoking, playful but deep sequence of Borgesian rewrites of the plot of “The Odyssey,” which draws out the Homeric poem's own interest in fiction, lies, forking paths and stories within stories.
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Paradise Lost

John Milton
Milton's great epic recasts Odysseus as Satan—the warrior who, in the wake of a great battle, struggles to regain his home and place of power. But it also reimagines Odysseus and Penelope as Adam and Eve: the human couple whose "wandering steps" may finally take them to a new kind of home.
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Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were all constantly responding to, or writing back against, the Homeric poems. The Athenian tragedy that is maybe most deeply engaged with rewriting and recreating “The Odyssey,” is Euripides' “Helen”, a provocative, brainy, funny play about the myth that Helen never went to Troy in the first place—the same myth that is central to HD's brilliant sequence “Helen in Egypt.” I translated the Euripides “Helen,” for a collection of Greek tragedy translations, “The Greek Plays.”
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The Scapegoat

Daphne du Maurier
“The Scapegoat,” is a wonderfully memorable novel about two men who trade identities, and about the preservation or creation of identity: what it means to be yourself in a home that might not originally belong to you.
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Madeline Miller
Miller’s new novel “Circe,” is in the best tradition of ancient-historical fiction—a worthy heir to Mary Renault. It's a fabulous novelistic response to “The Odyssey,” and a timely book about power, abuse, parenting and home.
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William Shakespeare
I was tempted to include the complete works of Shakespeare, but I'll instead cite a great play that echos with “The Odyssey.” “Coriolanus,” is Shakespeare's most sustained depiction of a war veteran, which presents a brutal and heart-breaking portrait of ultra-masculinity and how it can break a man. There’s also “The Tempest,” about islands, magic, the sea, power, exile and colonialism, whose rich, vivid descriptions of nature were very much in my mind when I was working on my translation of “The Odyssey.”
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War Music

Christopher Logue
“War Music,” a collection of Logue’s poetic "account" of the “Iliad,” has some real goosebump moments. Logue didn't know Greek and unlike Homer, he's not really interested in people or feelings; but he is brilliant at evoking colors, movement, and the awe-inspiring apparition of the divine.
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The Shield of Achilles

W. H. Auden
“The Shield of Achilles,” is a great introduction to a wonderful poet, and the title poem is one of the most powerful modern responses to Homer in English.
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Alice Oswald
Alice Oswald's extraordinary poetry sequence “Memorial,” takes the deaths and similes of the “Iliad” as the core of a deeply moving evocation of war, loss, and the poet's struggle to find the words for what it's like to die.
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