Tag Archives: Hey Homer!

“…tell the old story for our modern times…”

Hey, Homer

The Odyssey is a work is one of the oldest works in the history of literature, and has inspired countless other works of art.  It has been sung, performed, discussed, and read by millions and millions of people across the generations, across approximately three millennia.  It has been in print in English since about 1615.

But The Odyssey has never been translated by a woman.

Until now.

Emily Wilson, by Ralph Rosen, via Bustle

Oxford graduate and UPenn professor Emily Wilson (pictured above via Bustle) is the first woman to translate this ancient text into English, and the results are truly astounding.   Not only does she bring a different perspective to the piece, but she highlights people, situations, and themes that no other translator has sought to do.  And that emphasis can change the way we think about a work that has been with us, literally, for ages.

Homer has a story for you…

The Odyssey tells the story of Odysseus, a veteran of the Trojan Wars, who, in attempting to return home to his wife and son, offends the god Poseidon, and ends up being cast adrift.  He and his crew wander to remote islands and caves, have liaisons with gods and fight sea creatures, and, eventually, find their way home to Ithaca.  It is an adventure story.  A story about overcoming odds, and beating the forces of fate.

At the same time, Odysseus’ wife Penelope is forced to fend of a legion of suitors for her hand, tolerating their advances and abuses, and putting up with her whining, generally unhelpful and sulky son, hopeful that her husband will return home.  This story is one of silence, of undoing, and of endurance.  And though many previous translators and scholars have attempted to frame Penelope’s portion of the story has heroic in its own way, the truth of the matter is that this is not a feminist text.  And usually, translators overlook this in order to get back to the doing, the adventuring.  Emily Wilson doesn’t.

Instead, she takes a new, closer look at Penelope, and the world of Odysseus’ home, bringing and understanding to these sections that is normally not present.  She doesn’t try to transform Penelope into a hero/ine.  Instead, she examines her life and her actions through the medium of words.  As she explained in an essay at The Guardian“Female translators often stand at a critical distance when approaching authors who are not only male, but also deeply embedded in a canon that has for many centuries been imagined as belonging to men.” She called translating Homer as a woman an experience of “intimate alienation.”

This kind of focus–the kind that allows us to see Penelope’s life in greater detail–also takes in other people who have been marginalized, not only in literature, but in real life, as well.  Wilson calls the slaves who live and work in Odysseus’ house, “slaves”.  Not ‘maidservants’, which implies they have a choice in the matter, or ‘whores’, as some male translators have done previously (emphasizing that they ‘sold themselves’ to men, rather than that, once again, they have no control over their own situation or bodies).  Instead, as she explained in an interview with The New York Times: 

Young female slaves in a palace would have had little agency to resist the demands of powerful men. Where Fagles wrote “whores” and “the likes of them” — and Lattimore “the creatures” — the original Greek, Wilson explained, is just a feminine definite article meaning “female ones.” To call them “whores” and “creatures” reflects, for Wilson, “a misogynistic agenda”: their translators’ interpretation of how these females would be defined.

Wilson has also attempted, throughout her fascinating and powerful translation, to keep the language active, exciting, and vibrant.   As Vox described in an article about her work:

In its matter-of-fact language, [Wilson’s translation is] worlds different from Fagles’s “Sing to me of the man, Muse,” or Robert Fitzgerald’s 1961 version, “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story / of that man skilled in all ways of contending.” Wilson chose to use plain, relatively contemporary language in part to “invite readers to respond more actively with the text,” she writes in a translator’s note. “Impressive displays of rhetoric and linguistic force are a good way to seem important and invite a particular kind of admiration, but they tend to silence dissent and discourage deeper modes of engagement.”

And, according to all reviews, she succeeds in stellar fashion.  Her understanding of ancient Greek, in the power of language, and in the nuanced meanings of words, syntax, and phrasing, make this work more than just a “first” in literature.  It makes it a really significant event in the history of translations.

We’ve talked here about the significance of translators to literature, the difficulty of the work of translation, and power that the translator has over the piece on which they work.  Emily Wilson realizes all of these elements of her work, and she has been more than responsible in her duties.  We are so eager to delve further into her work, and so very excited for this new era of The Odyssey!


Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilles…

Those of you lovely people who join us here at the Free For All, as well as you lovely people who have come into the Library recently will have heard about our Super Terrific Groundbreaking and Marvelous Marathon Reading of The Iliad.  And we really want you to be involved!  Come by the Library from 2-4pm today to meet with our sensational director, Liz, and try your hand at reading some of Homer’s immortal words.

Hey Homer!
Hey Homer!


In staging this marathon reading of The Iliad, we are joining the ranks of some pretty illustrious institutions and some pretty memorable events.  You have all heard me blather on about the performance of The Iliad at the British Museum and Almeida Theater last summer, which inspired our own production.   But there are a number of other, long-standing marathon readings that have become a sort of literary pilgrimage for many over the years.  Today, I thought it might be fun to think about some of those other readings–perhaps they will give you a suggestion for your next bookish vacation.  Perhaps they will inspire you to come down to The Library today to take part in our Iliad!

Moby Dick at the New Bedford Whaling Museum

nbwh_06mobydick1For the past 20 years, people have gathered in increasing numbers at the New Bedford Whaling Museum to take part in a 25-hour marathon reading of Herman Melville’s transcendent classic.  This year, in honor of the platinum anniversary, the Museum hosted Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea (a book about the ship that inspired Melville to write his own work) to star as Ishmael.  This event is enormous, with lectures, food, singing, and a beautifully inclusive atmosphere where all are truly welcome.  Sections of Moby Dick are reading Japanese, Italian, Danish, Spanish, Hebrew, Russian, French, and even Braille (followed by the English), so that visitors from around the world can take part in this truly momentous event.  You can watch the events from 2014 on the Museum’s Vimeo account, and be sure to check out all the fascinating programs going on around the reading, as well!

Ulysses in Dublin, Ireland…and around the world…

James Joyce celebrations. People dressed as 'Boomsday' characters gather in Dun Laoighaire Co Dublin, during a Guinness World Record attempt to have most people dressed as ÔBloomsdayÕ characters, during an event which celebrates the work of author James Joyce's most celebrated novel 'Ulysses'. Picture date: Sunday June 16, 2013. Photo credit should read: Julien Behal/PA Wire URN:16823543

James Joyce’s classic novel of Leopold Bloom takes place over the course of a single day: June 16, 1904.  As a result, the day has come to be known as “Bloomsday” amongst Joyce aficionados, and marathon readings take place around the globe in celebration of what many consider to be the greatest novel ever written.  From New Orleans to Washington, D.C., from Hungary to Japan, there are any number of opportunities to get into the Bloomsday Festivities.  But there is no Bloomsday like Bloomsday in Dublin.  The first Bloomsday was celebrated in 1954, and just gets bigger (and better) every year.  The celebration lasts for a week, and is as much as celebration of the city as of Joyce himself, with readers following Bloom’s footsteps around the city, reading from Ulysses (often in costume), and reveling in the moveable feast of a party.   For those who aren’t able to make it in time for Bloomsday, you can still following Bloom’s trials, thanks to plaques and statues set around the city of Dublin, marking each significant locale in the novel.

Dante’s Divine Comedy in Florence…and around the world… 

casa-dante-6Though arguably the shortest of these marathons, clocking around 6 hours, the marathon readings of Dante’s Divine Comedy is fast becoming a world-wide sensation.  The original production in Florence (Dante’s hometown) features readers in colored jerseys moving from the outskirts of the city (Hell) to the steps of the Duomo (Heaven).  From Florence, Dante has spread around the world, with marathon readings taking place from Ireland to Illinois–where readings took place in more than fifteen languages.


…What is it about marathon readings?  There are a number of people who are nearly spraining a muscle in the act of eye-rolling over the rise of these productions, calling them nothing more than a production of the social-media internet-savvy age: “The social experience that a marathon reading offers…is as close as anything in real life gets to hanging out online. You’re not sure who you’re with, but you’re all staring at the same thing” says the New Republic.  In part, I think they’re right…these events are a product of an age where we are increasingly encouraged to use language in an effort not to communicate directly.  But what they are missing is the way that stories can bring us together, and unite us, even in our own silence.  We are a story-telling species, and there is a part of our brain that, no matter how much we might rely on texts, updates, headlines, and click-bait, cannot resist hearing a story being told–not by a computer, but by another human voice.  There is something magical about watching a story unfold in person…not on a screen or a monitor…and feeling united with others–often total strangers–in a journey of the imagination.

Don’t believe me?  Well, you’ll just have to turn out for our own production the The Iliad and see for yourself!


Quite seriously, we ran out of words to convey just how excited we are about this summer’s blockbuster program–and we want you to be a part of it, beloved patrons!  

Join in the Oral Tradition of Homer’s The Iliad at the Peabody Institute Library

Hey Homer!
Hey Homer!

The Peabody Institute Library is seeking reader/performers for The Iliad: An Epic Reading Event, a marathon tandem reading of the complete text of The Iliad. The event will take place outdoors in Peabody’s East End Veterans’ Memorial Park on June 18th beginning at 9 a.m. and finishing around 1 a.m. Each reader will be given a section of The Iliad to read (10-20 pages) and will be asked to attend a few short rehearsals at the Peabody Institute Library between April 21 – June 18.

Deeply rooted in the oral tradition, before it was ever transcribed, The Iliad was first a story passed down from generation to generation by bards, or poet storytellers. With this production, the library hopes to capture the spirit of that tradition with the help of the community.

No acting experience is necessary to participate in this event (though actors are welcome); an interest in the Classics, a comfort with reading aloud, and a passion for storytelling are the only requirements.

The Library will be holding interest days on April 16th from 12-4 and April 17th from 2:00-4:30; you may register via the library’s online events calendar or by calling 978-531-0100 ext. 10. Drop-ins are also welcome. Feel free to come with a short story to tell or something brief to read (1-2 minutes of material). If you are unable to attend the interest days but are still interested in participating, or if you have any questions at all, please e-mail director Liz Carlson (elizcarlson@gmail.com).

East End Veterans Memorial Park is located on Walnut Street in Peabody, MA. In the event of rain, the program will be held at the Peabody Institute Library, located at 82 Main Street in Peabody.

“The Iliad: An Epic Reading Event” is generously funded by the M. Theodore Karger Fund; the Peabody Institute Library Foundation; the Friends of the Peabody Institute Libraries; and is supported in part by a grant from the Peabody Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

Homer to the rescue!

Hey there, Homer.

I don’t know about you, Beloved Patrons, but this season can be lovely and happy and frolicksome..but it can also be pretty stressful, too.  For all the “most wonderful time of the year”-ness of it all, for many, there just comes a point where you need a little escape, and some respite from the muchness of it all.

Mercifully, for those of us who need a little moment of reflection, and a bit of an escape, the Almeida Theatre has put the entirety of its marathon reading of Homer’s The Odyssey online.  This is happiness.  In more ways than one.

1206190On Wednesday, one of our favorite guest bloggers discussed the beauty and the joy that can be found in poetry, and encouraged us all to face it without fear.  It also turns out that poetry has added health benefits outside of engaging our sense of wonder.  In the second century BC Greek physician named Soranus used poetry as a supplemental treatment for patients who were exhibiting symptoms of depression.  This was, in fact, one of the earliest known cases of Bibliotherapy, a topic we’ve touched on previously.  Today, doctors are once again prescribing books to patients with mild to moderate depression–naturally, this is no cure, but it has been proved as a helpful addition to professional therapy.  A beautiful article from The Guardian  observes how reading during troublesome times “makes you view the world through new eyes, and in doing so rediscover your own place in it”.

But The Odyssey has some added benefits.  According to several big, intimidating scientific studies like this one,  it has been proven that the rhythm of poetry, particularly hexameter verse, like The Odyssey, can significantly regulate our breathing and our heartbeat. This is the case whether a poem is read, or read to you–our remarkable brains thrive on rhythm, and poetry and music provide some of the best metronomes on earth.

Even more impressive are the benefits of having a book read to you.  Studies have observed how literature can improve blood flow to the brain, and increase the development of new brain cells–but it also improves our mental stamina, and our sense of empathy.  Even more interesting, hearing stories in a group not only improves our empathy with the storyteller (or reader), but with the rest of the group hearing the story.  And if there is one thing that can help during tough times, it’s knowing that you aren’t alone.

Also, when you watch the Odyssey, you get an unparalleled visual escape…you can see the London Eye and the Thames, walk down some bustling High Streets, join Bertie Carvel in a cab, and enjoy Ian McKellan wearing a lovely scarf.  To make things even better, the lovely people at the Almeida put the full list of their tweets from the day online, which are some of the funniest bits of literary analysis I have ever read:

And then, there’s the private saga of the squirrel who kept wandering into the control room…because squirrels love Homer.

So might I recommend a dose of reading–and been read to–this weekend to calm your Sunday?  I hope it brings you a little peace, a little comfort, and a little adventure today–and for as long as the lovely people at the Almeida keep these videos online.


Homer has a question for you...
Homer has a question for you…

Question: What are you doing right now?

Answer: Checking this blog in order to get the link to the Almeida’s day-long reading of The Odyssey!







Good!  Then here it is: http://www.almeida.co.uk/the-odyssey

Also, for people who do The Twitter Thing, you can follow along with Odysseus and his water-logged crew: @almeidaodyssey,  and #Odyssey

Fair winds, and fair sailing, beloved patrons!  We’ll check in again once the journey is over and share our impressions!



“By hook or by crook this peril too shall be something that we remember”


I hope you remember back in August, when we covered the live reading of The Iliad that took place between the British Library and the Almeida Theatre in London.  It was, as I said at the time, by far and away the greatest-super-colossal-fantastic days I can remember, and proof positive that people telling people stories is still one of the most powerful forces in the world.

Indeed, because the event was live-streamed and covered by Twitter, the reading became a worldwide phenomenon–I even understand some of you lovely patrons were able to watch parts of it!  For those who missed it, here is the link to all 16 hours of readings.  As mentioned, one of the most memorable moments was when and Marco Brondon read his passage out loud on the bus from the British Museum to the Almeida Theatre in order to ensure that the marathon would not flag.


Well, thanks to the enormous acclaim and overwhelming success of The Iliad, and no doubt because of my near-hysterical promotion of it to anyone who will listen, the good people at the Almeida are upping the proverbial ante….

Oh, hello Homer.

That’s right, beloved patrons.  In honor of the end of The Greek Season, the Almeida is planning a marathon reading of The Odyssey, another epic poem attributed to the poet/poets known as Homer, and the second oldest extant piece of literature in the ‘Western’ canon.

Now, at 12,110 lines, The Odyssey is noticeably shorter than The Iliad (which is 15,693 lines, for those of you who need to know these things), which should, logistically speaking, make this piece somewhat easier to manage, right?

Scoff, scoff.  The good people at the Almeida are never ones to take the easy route–a statement as factual as it is now literal.  Because this performance is going to be an actual Odyssey, performed at five as-yet-undisclosed locations throughout the city of London.  Listeners in the City will have the opportunity to listen to readers for up to 90 minutes at a single site, and there apparently are plans to read on public transport, and even the Thames.

When will all this wonderfulness take place?  November 12, 2015, 9am BT (4AM EST).

How will it look?  What will happen?  Who knows?  But I know that I’ll be watching on the Almeida’s live stream site and via Twitter (#Odyssey & ).  And I hope you will be, too!

For those of you would like to get into the spirit of things beforehand, here are some ideas to get in you in the mood for a day of high-stakes adventures, startling adventures, and sweet homecomings.  And a Cyclops or two.  It’s just no fun otherwise.

2599829The OdysseyPerhaps a bit of an obvious first choice, but there is no better way to get into the Odyssey than by traveling along with Odysseus and his beleaguered crew who suffer the wrath of Poseidon in their desperate attempt to return home.  It stands to reason that, since the Almeida used Robert Fagles’ translation of The Iliad, it’s a pretty fair bet they’ll be using his translation of The Odyssey as well.  Truth be told, it’s a very accessible translation that sounds simply wonderful when performed aloud–but don’t take my word for it.  Check it out for yourself!


2033697The Odyssey: Against all odds, this 3.5 hour adaptation of Homer’s epic (co-produced by the Hallmark Channel, who would have thought?) is actually quite good, overall.  With excellent performances, and special effects that are pretty impressive for turn-of-the-century television broadcast, this is a highly entertaining way to get introduced to Odysseus’ tale for those who don’t have the 12+ hours it is estimated to take to get through the print version.


3150458Torn from Troy: Patrick Bowman’s YA spin on The Odyssey stars Alexi, a fifteen-year-old Trojan boy who is made Odyssey’s slave following the conclusion of the Trojan War.  The trilogy of Alexei’s journey may parallel the events of The Odyssey, but this is by no means a simple re-telling.  As an outsider, and a conquered slave, Alexei’s view of Odysseus, and his analysis of his actions, are very different from Homer’s narrative, and Alexei’s personal story adds a very human dimension to this sweeping adventure story.  These books are a fun read no matter what your age, especially because they allow so many most characters in the story to come forward and tell their own stories and journeys.


2313233The Penelopiad: And for those of you who are a little tired of all the men unable to find their way home and seemingly unconcerned about their lack of punctuality, Margaret Atwood presents a cycle of stories about Odyssey’s wife Penelope, who appears here as a much more complicated figure than any of us ever expected.  Inspired by the “hanging of the maids” reference in the original text of The Odyssey, Atwood set out to reimagine Penelope’s world, her birth and childhood, as well as the events that took place after her marriage and during the timespan of The Odyssey.  The result is a woman who is strong and enigmatic, proud and secretive and, overall, utterly compelling, as is everything that Margaret Atwood writes.

Be sure to check back for more news regarding this performance, and see you on Thursday for the live-streaming of The Odyssey!

The Iliad: An Update

Hi Homer!

Remember that time I told you about the 16-hour marathon reading of The Iliad that I attended in London?  For those of you who haven’t been forced to listen to me go on incessantly about how this was perhaps the coolest thing I have ever witnessed, you might want to consider yourselves lucky…..but for those of you who might have liked to have been there, I am happy to inform you that The Almeida Theatre is a great institution.

They have put the entire marathon reading online for your viewing pleasure!  Yay!



In case you don’t have 16 hours to devote right now to seeing the entire presentation, you can also read the Introduction that was delivered by Professor Simon Goldhill of the University of Cambridge, and watch this five-minute trailer that gives an overview of the whole day, as well as some insight and reactions by those involved in the production (you can, apparently, also see my Big Giant Head around 3:16).

The full set of readings will be available online until September 21, 2016, so enjoy!  And to the Almeida, should you ever read this, thank you, not only for the event, which was unforgettable, but for letting me share it!