Emily Wilson (classicist)

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Emily Wilson
Wilson in 2022
Emily Rose Caroline Wilson

1971 (age 52–53)
Oxford, United Kingdom
Occupation(s)Professor, author, translator
Parent(s)Katherine Duncan-Jones
A. N. Wilson
RelativesElsie Duncan-Jones (grandmother)
Bee Wilson (sister)
Academic background
EducationBalliol College, Oxford
Corpus Christi College, Oxford
Alma materYale University
Academic work
InstitutionsUniversity of Pennsylvania
Notable worksMocked with Death
The Death of Socrates
Seneca. Six Tragedies (English translation)
The Greatest Empire
Odyssey (English translation)
Iliad (English translation)

Emily Rose Caroline Wilson (born 1971) is a British American classicist, author, translator, and Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.[1] In 2018, she became the first woman to publish an English translation of Homer's Odyssey.[2][3] Her translation of the Iliad was released in September 2023.

She is also the author of several books, including Mocked with Death: Tragic Overliving from Sophocles to Milton (2004), The Death of Socrates: Hero, Villain, Chatterbox, Saint (2007), and The Greatest Empire: A Life of Seneca (2014).

Early life and education[edit]

Wilson was born in 1971 in Oxford, England.[3] Her parents are Katherine Duncan-Jones,[4] who was a scholar of Elizabethan literature, and A. N. Wilson, an English writer.[3][5]

Her maternal uncle was a scholar of Roman history at the University of Cambridge, and her maternal grandmother, Elsie Duncan-Jones, was a scholar at the University of Birmingham,[4] as was her maternal grandfather.[3] Her younger sister is Bee Wilson, who became a food writer.[5]

Wilson graduated from Balliol College, Oxford in 1994 with a B.A. in literae humaniores, classical literature, and philosophy. She completed an MPhil in English Renaissance literature at Corpus Christi College, Oxford in 1996, and a Ph.D. in classical and comparative literature at Yale University in 2001.[1][5]

She received the 2003 Charles Bernheimer Prize from the American Comparative Literature Association for her dissertation Why Do I Overlive?: Greek, Latin and English Tragic Survival.[6][7]


Wilson has taught in the Classical Studies department at the University of Pennsylvania since 2002.[1][8] She developed her first book, Mocked with Death: Tragic Overliving from Sophocles to Milton (2004), from her Ph.D. dissertation, and dedicated it to her grandmother Elsie Duncan-Jones.[3] According to Wyatt Mason, the book "looks at the way mortality was imagined, in the tragic tradition, by Milton, Shakespeare, Seneca, Sophocles and Euripides."[3] In a Renaissance Quarterly review, Margaret J. Arnold writes, "The exposition challenges Aristotelian ideas of tragic structure, catharsis, and conventional heroism."[9]

In 2006, Wilson received a Rome Prize fellowship from the American Academy in Rome for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies.[10][11] Her next book, The Death of Socrates: Hero, Villain, Chatterbox, Saint (2007), was described by Carolyne Larrington as "a sprightly and illuminating account of the events surrounding Socrates' execution by means of a self-administered drink of hemlock; the probable historical reasons for his trial and judgment; and the ways in which later ages – from Socrates’ immediate successors among the Greeks, through the Romans, Christian apologists, Renaissance thinkers, Enlightenment sages and anxious moderns – have understood the death of Socrates."[12]

Wilson's next books focused on Rome's tragic playwright Seneca. In 2010, she translated Seneca's tragedies, with an introduction and notes, in Six Tragedies of Seneca. In 2014, she published The Greatest Empire: A Life of Seneca, which is also published with the alternate title Seneca: A Life.[13] In a review of Seneca: A Life for Literary Review, Tim Whitmarsh writes, "This clever and learned book is not just a study of a protean and conflicted individual. It is also intended as a lesson for our own time. Seneca, Wilson argues, was 'Rome's most perceptive analyst of consumerism and luxury'."[14]

Wilson became internationally known for her translation of The Odyssey in 2018, with media attention on her becoming the first woman to publish a translation of the work into English.[2] A 2019 interview with Robert Wood published in the Los Angeles Review of Books includes discussion by Wilson about the media attention she received as the first woman known to translate the entire Odyssey into English.[15] Wilson comments, "The stylistic and hermeneutic choices I make as a translator aren't predetermined by my gender identity. Other female translators of Homer – such as Caroline Alexander in English, Rosa Onesti in Italian, and Anne Dacier in French – have made extremely different choices from mine."[15] Wilson's Odyssey was named by The New York Times as one of its 100 notable books of 2018[16] and was shortlisted for the 2018 National Translation Award.[17]

In 2019, Wilson was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship for her work bringing classical literature to new audiences,[18] and she was appointed the College for Women Class of 1963 Term Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania.[19]

In January 2020, Wilson joined the Booker Prize judging panel, alongside Margaret Busby (chair), Lee Child, Sameer Rahim and Lemn Sissay.[20] In 2020, she was also awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to support her work translating Homer's Iliad.[8]

In September 2023, an English translation by Wilson of Homer's Iliad was published by W. W. Norton & Company.[2] Wilson includes an introduction, as well as maps, family trees, a glossary, and text notes.[2][21] She had developed the book over the previous six years.[22]

Odyssey translation[edit]

A review of Wilson's translation of the Odyssey by Madeline Miller for The Washington Post notes that Wilson "prioritizes Homer's speed and narrative drive, seeking to capture what she calls the "nimble gallop" of his verse. She writes in iambic pentameter, impressively limiting herself to the same number of lines as Homer’s original".[23] In a review for London Review of Books, Colin Burrow discusses "the challenging task of translating the poem into the same number of iambic pentameter lines as there are hexameters in the original," writing, "In order to achieve that level of compression she has to rely heavily on monosyllables, and to make sharp and sometimes simplifying decisions about which of Homer’s implications to make explicit."[24]

In a review for NPR, Annalisa Quinn writes, "Wilson's project is basically a progressive one: to scrape away all the centuries of verbal and ideological buildup – the Christianizing (Homer predates Christianity), the nostalgia, the added sexism (the epics are sexist enough as they are), and the Victorian euphemisms – to reveal something fresh and clean."[25] In Wilson's translation, enslaved characters are often referred to as "slaves" instead of as "maids" or "servants", with translator notes explaining the word choices; while discussing older translations of the Odyssey with Anna North at Vox, Wilson commented, "It sort of stuns me ... how much work seems to go into making slavery invisible."[26]

Madeline Miller also writes about Wilson's word choices, including the use of the word slave, and states, "Perhaps more controversial will be her translation of the famous first line, which Wilson gives as 'Tell me about a complicated man.'"[23] Referring to the opening lines of Wilson's translation, Wyatt Mason writes, "When I first read these lines early this summer in The Paris Review, which published an excerpt, I was floored," and as to the use of the word complicated in the first line, "the brilliance of Wilson's choice is, in part, its seeming straightforwardness."[3]

Iliad translation[edit]

In a review of Wilson's Iliad for The Washington Post, Naoíse Mac Sweeney writes, "Wilson avoids the two traps that most translations of The Iliad fall into when navigating the inevitable gaps between ancient Greek and English – an unwarranted glorification of violence on the one hand and tedium on the other. This allows Wilson to more effectively bring out the real themes of the poem: the human relationships that bind us into communities, made bittersweet by mortality and loss."[2] In The Yale Review, Emily Greenwood writes, "As Simone Weil observed in her perceptive 1941 essay "L’Iliade ou le poème de la force," eventually everyone pays, spiritually if not materially: the glory and the futility are intertwined. Wilson reproduces this tragic structure impeccably, sometimes precisely by knowing when to work beyond and between Homer’s lines."[27]

According to Charlotte Higgins, "Reading the Iliad in the midst of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which I have reported on, brought the poem home to me in new and disturbing ways."[28] Higgins also says Wilson's iambic pentameter translation "runs as swift as a bloody river, teems with the clattering sounds of war, bursts with the warriors' hunger for battle, and almost every line pulses with endless, terrible loss and mourning: death after death after death."[28] In a review for the New Statesman, Rowan Williams writes, "The decision to use unrhymed iambic pentameter for the translation is a highly successful one; it is a kind of default rhythm for so much English poetry, especially for long narrative poems, a metre that unobtrusively maps on to ordinary speech patterns and holds our attention just enough to keep us in the circle during the less vivid passages."[29]

Kirkus Reviews observes the "shortness of Wilson's lines" as compared to other translators, which "abetted by her unfussy diction and lyricism, are easy on the reader's eye and seem to help the mind grasp the breadth of Homer’s canvas at any given moment while still marveling at details."[21] According to Natalie Haynes in a review for The New York Times, "Wilson's translation of Homeric Greek is always buoyant and expressive. There are occasional slips in register that seem a little out of place ... But Wilson wants this version to be read aloud, and it would certainly be fun to perform."[22]

Personal life[edit]

Wilson resides in Pennsylvania near the University of Pennsylvania campus and has three daughters.[5] She was previously married to Marco Roth.[30]

Wilson became a citizen of the United States in 2022.[5]

Selected work[edit]


  • Wilson, Emily R. (2004). Mocked with Death: Tragic Overliving from Sophocles to Milton. Baltimore (Md.): Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801879647.[31]
  • Wilson, Emily R. (2007). The Death of Socrates: Hero, Villain, Chatterbox, Saint. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674026834.[32]
  • Wilson, Emily R. (2014). The Greatest Empire: A Life of Seneca. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199926640.[33]




  1. ^ a b c Emily R. Wilson, University of Pennsylvania.
  2. ^ a b c d e Sweeney, Naoíse Mac (21 September 2023). "Review: The new Iliad translation is a genuine page-turner". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 22 September 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Mason, Wyatt (2 November 2017). "The First Woman to Translate the 'Odyssey' Into English". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 5 November 2017. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  4. ^ a b Reisz, Matthew (26 July 2012). "The family business". Times Higher Education (THE). Archived from the original on 17 March 2016. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d e Thurman, Judith (11 September 2023). "How Emily Wilson Made Homer Modern". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 11 September 2023.
  6. ^ Wilson, Emily (2001). Why do I overlive? : Greek, Latin and English tragic survival.
  7. ^ "Charles Bernheimer Prize | American Comparative Literature Association". www.acla.org. American Comparative Literature Association. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  8. ^ a b "Professor Emily Wilson named 2020 Guggenheim Fellow". Penn Today. 10 April 2020. Retrieved 24 September 2023.
  9. ^ Arnold, Margaret J. (Winter 2005). "Mocked with Death: Tragic Overliving from Sophocles to Milton". Renaissance Quarterly. 58 (4): 1445–1446. ProQuest 222405188
  10. ^ "Emily Wilson | Penn Arts & Sciences Endowed Professors". web.sas.upenn.edu. University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 24 September 2023.
  11. ^ "American Academy of Rome; Fellows – Affiliated Fellows – Residents 1990–2010". Archived from the original on 27 December 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  12. ^ Larrington, Carolyne (17 October 2007). "The hemlock and the chatterbox". Times Literary Supplement. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011.
  13. ^ "Emily Wilson". www.english.upenn.edu. University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  14. ^ Whitmarsh, Tim (March 2015). "Nero to Zero". Literary Review. Archived from the original on 19 March 2015.
  15. ^ a b Wood, Robert (2 April 2019). "Emily Wilson on Porous Boundaries and the World of Homer". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 24 September 2023.
  16. ^ Aarts, Esther (19 November 2018). "100 Notable Books of 2018". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
  17. ^ "Emily Wilson's Odyssey translation is short listed for the national translation award". Comparative Literature & Literary Theory. 16 July 2018. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
  18. ^ Dwyer, Colin (25 September 2019). "MacArthur 'Genius' Grant Winners Attest to 'Power of Individual Creativity'". NPR.
  19. ^ "Emily Wilson: College for Women Class of 1963 Term Professor". University of Pennsylvania Almanac. 66 (17). 17 December 2019.
  20. ^ Chandler, Mark (7 January 2020). "Child, Busby and Sissay join 2020 Booker Prize judging panel". The Bookseller. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  21. ^ a b "The Iliad". Kirkus Reviews. 1 August 2023. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  22. ^ a b Haynes, Natalie (23 September 2023). "Warriors Who Seek Immortal Fame and Find It, in Epic Poetry". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  23. ^ a b Miller, Madeline (16 November 2017). "The first English translation of The Odyssey by a woman was worth the wait". The Washington Post. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  24. ^ Burrow, Colin (26 April 2018). "Light through the Fog". London Review of Books. 40 (8). ISSN 0260-9592. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  25. ^ Quinn, Annalisa (2 December 2017). "Emily Wilson's 'Odyssey' Scrapes The Barnacles Off Homer's Hull". NPR. Retrieved 24 September 2023.
  26. ^ North, Anna (20 November 2017). "Historically, men translated the Odyssey. Here's what happened when a woman took the job". Vox.
  27. ^ Greenwood, Emily (18 September 2023). "How Emily Wilson Reimagined Homer". The Yale Review. Retrieved 22 September 2023.
  28. ^ a b Higgins, Charlotte (9 September 2023). "'The Iliad may be ancient – but it's not far away': Emily Wilson on Homer's blood-soaked epic". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 September 2023.
  29. ^ Williams, Rowan (6 September 2023). "Homer's history of violence". New Statesman. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  30. ^ Yang, Wesley (20 December 2004). "'Highbrow Fight Club'". The New York Observer. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  31. ^ Additional reviews of Mocked with Death
  32. ^ Additional reviews of The Death of Socrates
  33. ^ Reviews of The Greatest Empire: A Life of Seneca
  34. ^ Additional reviews of Seneca: A Life
  35. ^ Reviews of Seneca. Six Tragedies.
  36. ^ Additional reviews and analysis of the Odyssey (translation)

External links[edit]