Tag Archives: The New York Times Magaine

Misogyny, Translated

Thomas Degeorge, Slaughter of the Suitors by Odysseus and Telemachus (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In the last 400 years, about 60 English translators — all men — have tackled Homer’s Odyssey. This fact has lost its transparency now that Emily Wilson, a classicist at the University of Pennsylvania, released her own version, a radically contemporary take on the most canonical text in the Western tradition. At The New York Times Magazine, Wyatt Mason recently profiled Wilson and explored her approach to the Odyssey. The effect of some of her choices is startling — like seeing an old canvas for the first time after the removal of centuries of grime. Case in point: the way she’s addressed a short but deeply troubling scene, the slaughter of the women slaves at Odysseus’ palace.

In the episode that Wilson calls “one of the most horrible and haunting of the whole poem,” Odysseus returns home to find that his palace has been overrun by suitors for his wife’s hand. Though she has resisted them, the women in her palace have not. Odysseus, after slaying the suitors, tells his son, Telemachus, to kill the women. It is an interesting injunction from Odysseus, who himself, during his 10 years of wandering, was serially unfaithful. In Robert Fagles’s much-praised translation of the poem, Telemachus says, before he executes the palace women on his father’s command: “No clean death for the likes of them, by god!/Not from me — they showered abuse on my head, my mother’s too!/You sluts — the suitors’ whores!”

But Wilson, in her introduction, reminds us that these palace women — “maidservants” has often been put forward as a “correct” translation of the Greek δμωαι, dmoai, which Wilson calls “an entirely misleading and also not at all literal translation,” the root of the Greek meaning “to overpower, to tame, to subdue” — weren’t free. Rather, they were slaves, and if women, only barely. 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. Here is how Wilson renders their undoing:

"I refuse to grant these girls
a clean death, since they poured down shame on me
and Mother, when they lay beside the suitors.” 
At that, he wound a piece of sailor’s rope
round the rotunda and round the mighty pillar, 
stretched up so high no foot could touch the ground. 
As doves or thrushes spread their wings to fly 
home to their nests, but someone sets a trap — 
they crash into a net, a bitter bedtime; 
just so the girls, their heads all in a row,
were strung up with the noose around their necks
to make their death an agony. They gasped,
feet twitching for a while, but not for long.

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‘Everyone is Guilty All the Time’

Shelby County district attorney Amy Weirich discusses the dismissal of disciplinary charges against her during a news conference on Monday, March 20, 2017 in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

Noura Jackson spent nine years in prison after being convicted of murdering her mother, despite a complete lack of physical proof — and other evidence that could have been used to support her claim of innocence was withheld by prosecutor Amy Weirich. This isn’t the first time Weirich has been found to have withheld evidence. And according to other lawyers who spoke with Emily Bazelon, whose impressively deep dive into the case appears in The New York Times Magazine, the convict-or-else attitude that drives prosecutorial misconduct is alive and well in Weirich’s office.

Weirich is now the district attorney, overseeing all prosecutions in Shelby County, Tennessee.

When Amy Weirich learned to try cases in Shelby County in the 1990s, her office had a tradition called the Hammer Award: a commendation with a picture of a hammer, which supervisors or section chiefs typically taped on the office door of trial prosecutors who won big convictions or long sentences. When Weirich became the district attorney six years ago, she continued the Hammer Awards. I spoke to several former Shelby County prosecutors who told me that the reward structure fostered a win-at-all-costs mind-set, fueled by the belief that ‘‘everyone is guilty all the time,’’ as one put it. ‘‘The measure of your worth came down to the number of cases you tried and the outcomes,’’ another said. (They asked me not to use their names because they still work as lawyers in Memphis.) One year, the second former prosecutor told me, he dismissed the charges in multiple murder cases. ‘‘The evidence just didn’t support a conviction,’’ he said. ‘‘‘But no, I didn’t get credit from leadership. In fact, it hurt me. Doing your prosecutorial duty in that office is not considered helpful.’’ Weirich disagrees, saying ‘‘Every assistant is told to do the right thing every day for the right reasons.’’

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