The Odyssey

Small Words, Big Changes: Translations of The Odyssey (Book 11) by Lombardo, Rees, and Cook College

The English language contains more words than any one person could ever hope to know, and they all have slightly different meanings. Detest, dislike, and hate are all similar, but one would never want to use the wrong one. By comparing three different translations of the prophecy given by Tiresias to Odysseus in the Underworld in Homer’s Odyssey, one see that small word changes can make a significant difference in how a passage is read and then interpreted. Stanley Lombardo’s translation of the passage tends to be calm and simple. Albert Cook’s version of Odysseus was a little more aggressive and active. Ennis Rees translated it somewhere in between the two with some added details. There are three distinct parts of the prophecy that I will be comparing: the Island of Thrinacia, the trouble at Odysseus’s home, and Odysseus’s death.

It’s easy to see their distinct styles in the passage where Tiresias is telling Odysseus about the sheep on Thrinacia. The three translations provide different senses of human agency and what prophecies mean when they involve the gods. In one of the most recent translations of the play, Lombardo translates Tiresias’s speech about Thrinacia as an inconvenience that could foretell doom for Odysseus and...

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