Emily Wilson’s new translation of the Odyssey appears in our Summer issue. Here, she remembers performing in a child’s production of the Odyssey as a girl in Oxford, England.
When I was a shy, awkward eight-year-old living in Oxford, England, I was moved to a new school. The transition was hard at first. I left behind a beloved best friend and traveled to a world where many things had to be learned all over again, starting with the daily routines (here we had to sit cross-legged on the rug for attendance, not upright on plastic chairs) and handwriting (my scratchy, illegible scrawl was no longer acceptable). I felt lost, as if in a foreign island or out at sea in a storm—although in fact, the school was only three blocks from my house.
But there were good things in this strange new world. It was a Church of England school, and the teachers made us sing cheerful songs about “sharing and caring.” We learned to make pot holders, quiche Lorraine, and lumpy ashtrays out of clay—talents that are still more or less the pinnacle of my domestic abilities. I made a new friend, a girl with an adorable freckly smile.
By far the most exciting thing that happened that year was the school play: an ambitious adaptation of the Odyssey, enacted by us children. I had some dark moments when my younger sister, she of the gorgeous blonde ringlets, was cast as Helen of Troy. But I had no good reason to be jealous. Helen was a nonspeaking role, and my beautiful sister spent her single brief dramatic appearance being tugged across the stage by the sweaty little boy playing Paris. I was Athena, the most kick-ass goddess of them all. Though Odysseus is the hero (acted by our class troublemaker, a clever, rowdy British Pakistani boy on whom I had a secret crush), I was vastly more powerful, and I got to tell him exactly what to do. Read More