Polytropos: Your Turn to Serve


Reading a very interesting article about Emily Wilson, the first female translator of Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad.  My first thought was that this was not possible.  None? No female classicists to tackle it ever?  Apparently not.

Wilson’s first book “Mocked With Death,” grew from her dissertation. She explores the concept of mortality in classical traditions.  “Wilson’s study is also frequently touching. It is about the broadest of human inheritances: our constant awareness of all that we will lose, are losing, have lost.”  Deep.

I particularly love how she has radically reinterpreted the idea of polytropos.

“The prefix poly,” Wilson said, laughing, “means ‘many’ or ‘multiple.’ Tropos means ‘turn.’ ‘Many’ or ‘multiple’ could suggest that he’s much turned, as if he is the one who has been put in the situation of having been to Troy, and back, and all around, gods and goddesses and monsters turning him off the straight course that, ideally, he’d like to be on. Or, it could be that he’s this untrustworthy kind of guy who is always going to get out of any situation by turning it to his advantage. It could be that he’s the turner.”

And here is the opening as she translates it:

Tell me about a complicated man.
Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost
when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy,
and where he went, and who he met, the pain
he suffered in the storms at sea, and how
he worked to save his life and bring his men
back home. He failed to keep them safe; poor fools,
they ate the Sun God’s cattle, and the god
kept them from home. Now goddess, child of Zeus,
tell the old story for our modern times.
Find the beginning.


This article is, in the end, about treating the idea of ‘translating’ with more respect.

What a translation is doing — and what it should do — has been a source of vigorous debate since there were texts to translate. “I’m not a believer,” Wilson told me, “but I find that there is a sort of religious practice that goes along with translation. I’m trying to serve something.”

So often I have tried to get this simple idea across in my own work with multimodal texts.  I am trying to serve and honor what someone else has shared. 

And I think that translation is often the best way to understand what a person intended.  Even if that understanding is ‘off’, the translation still holds.  This makes for a much broader view toward creative work.  Translation is creation and, if such, it is not derivative at all. Find the beginning and relate and translate the tale.

What’s Going Down Here?

One of the best ways to share with and honor the work of your friends is to take time, slow down, and make the effort to read one of their posts or videos or poems or images or songs.  I use the word “read’ very broadly.  I view all of these media as text.  They are all machines in their own way, but without cogs or visible energy sources.  In fact they are the only perpetual motion machines ever invented.  Text engines.  All of them.

But you have to prime their pumps sometimes when they have wound down a bit and are going very slowly.  That is what I am trying to do with Simon Ensor’s recent post.  His poemposts haven’t run down by any means. If anything they are too tightly wound and move too quickly. What I think they need is a slow release of the clockwork inside to let the energy into the world in a different way.

That is what I have done here.  I have attempted a close reading through a kind of Babel Fish–Lumen 5.  Because you have to ‘translate’ the words from one medium into another, you get a feel for the tension of the springs in the post.  At least I do.  Close reading by translating.  Any deep understanding of any text has to involve this idea of translating, an apt metaphor considering Simon makes his living by teaching English to French students.

Here is the original post.   By all means read it.  Get your own initial feel for it, a sense of touch for its heft and texture and tone.

Now take a look at my translation into Lumen 5.  See if it doesn’t expand the world of his post through the intertwingling of music, image, video, text and typography.


Webarchiving: Try It

I was pawing through my morning news feeds and came across this post about Rhizome, the creator of Webrecorder. They were blogging the announcement of a national forum on ethics and webarchiving.

I took it as an ideal time to revisit Webrecorder.

Webrecorder is a way to archive any digital object on the net.

Here is a use case–archiving tweets from the CIA:


Here is the archive from the Rhizome post announcing the webarchiving ethics forum:


My thought here for my students is that we begin to extend what it means to have a bibliography.  Webrecorder allows students to share more completely what research resources they have collected online.  We could re-imagine what a review of the literature might mean.  We could begin to take back the net by gathering and archiving.

Somehow the Internet Archive will have to be involved in this nascent project.  Just thinking out loud here. A bit inchoate, but it’s my kind of inchoate.