Emily Wilson’s The Iliad Book Launch  

A Photo of Emily Wilson and the cover of her Iliad Translation.

Emily Wilson’s The Iliad Book Launch  

By Riley Glickman


Following the success of her translation of The Odyssey, Penn’s favorite translator and resident celebrity classicist is back! Tuesday, September 26 marked the launch of Emily Wilson’s new book, a translation of The Iliad. The Free Library of Philadelphia in Center City hosted the book launch with a discussion, followed by a book signing for those who attended. The moderator of the talk was Penn’s very own Professor Murgnahan. Through Professor Murgnahan’s carefully guided questions, the packed auditorium spent an hour listening intently.

Rather than diving straight into the discussion, Emily Wilson started with a reading from her translation. She approached the podium, raised her hands, and gave a dramatic performance of the opening lines of the epic, first in the original Greek and then her English. She invoked the muses and recalled the “cataclysmic wrath” that the story is about.

The conversation section started with a discussion of that phrase: cataclysmic wrath. Fans of Wilson’s Odyssey will know that one of the traits that characterized the translation was her use of simpler words, which is evident in the opening lines. Where Fagles describes Odysseus as “a man of twists and turns,” Wilson starts with “a complicated man.” Whereas the men who translated before her chose to draw out their English and embellish, Wilson kept it simple and stayed truer to the original language and meter. So, it seems out of place to start with “cataclysmic wrath.” Wilson provided her take on the issue, saying that she does, in fact, enjoy big words, and for this line, nothing else seemed to fit well. No other words would convey what is so clear in the Greek, for it is the wrath of Achilles that brings about the death and destruction of many Greeks. Or if there are words in English that mean similar things, they do not fully express the magnitude; “deadly anger” does not hold the same gravitas. Wilson also spoke about how she chose not to constrict herself to the original line count, something that she adhered to with the Odyssey. This then allowed her to use a larger range of big words since she could spill one thought into the next line.

After the first section of the conversation, Wilson read two other excerpts. The first was of a battle scene, and the other was of Andromache, the wife of Hector, waiting for her husband to return, not knowing that he has already died. Wilson chose these two moments because she felt that they characterized the rest of the Iliad. There is bloodshed, and there are those human moments in between. She paid extra attention to the use of metaphor and similes when talking about the battle scene, which seemingly takes you out of it. This is a moment when Homer does not just describe the sights and sounds of men fighting but also pauses from the bloodshed and equates it all to other mundane things.

The Iliad is so gory that Wilson had difficulty picking the right words. She felt that there were only so many times where one could write about the screaming men and the sounds of war before they started to become repetitive and lose importance to the reader.

 She chose the scene of Andromache since it is a perfect example of the moments where Homer focuses on human interactions and emotions. Andromache talks about how she is worried for her husband Hector, but the reader knows that Hector is already dead. Homer plays with the audience further since the ancient Greeks would have already known that Andromache would soon be enslaved and her infant son Astyanax thrown off the walls and killed during the sack of Troy.

With these images, Emily Wilson finished her talk and opened the floor to questions. The talk concluded after a quick Q&A. Wilson stayed afterward and signed the books of those lucky few who got there in time before the event ran out of books 🙁

Learn more or get a copy of Emily Wilson’s Translation of The Iliad here.


Riley Glickman is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Classical Studies.