Computers & Texts No. 16/17
Table of Contents
Winter 1998

The Loom and the Weaver

Hypertext and Homer's Odyssey

Dene Grigar
Texas Woman's University
Mindi Corwin
Richland College

The authors discuss the results of using Storyspace to weave connected paths through the Greek text of Homer's Odyssey and to examine the interpretation of Penelope through the eyes of various translations.

On the other hand, the electronic medium can permit us to play creatively with formal structures in our writing without abandoning the richness of natural language. (J. David Bolter, Writing Space, 19)

The Translator's Web

Contrary to what many believe, translation is not merely the process of literal transference from one language to another. Instead, translation proceeds through close reading and thoughtful tracing of the threads of association and allusion the author has woven throughout the text. While translating sections of Homer's Odyssey, we became interested in finding new ways to explore and represent the connections of significant words and phrases and to access and compare multiple translations of these sections.

Our search for a way to unite the disparate activities required for translating Homeric texts gave us an appreciation for a hypertext authoring program, called Storyspace, as a means of sorting, compiling, and analyzing information. In fact, it enabled us to recapture associative links that had previously been overlooked and to examine the ways in which particular words functioned in formulae and epithets. Storyspace assisted us in exploring the structures that bind together Homer's Odyssey , guided our scholarship surrounding Penelope's heroism, and led us to translate the story based upon this vision of her.

As translators and scholars Storyspace assists us in various ways. Because we can download entire texts from Perseus into various writing spaces in Storyspace, we can readily examine different organizations of and linkages within the text. Although Pandora's word search capability locates information quickly, Storyspace allows for extraordinary retrieval of information. It also offers multiple ways of categorizing, structuring, and restructuring information. Furthermore, because of its ability to make intertextual links, Storyspace facilitates the process of accessing and connecting those passages of the text we would like to compare. The way we construct a Storyspace document and build relationships between writing spaces within that document makes shuttling between ideas in a long text easier. Thus, Storyspace by-passes the tedious process of weeding through long texts line by line or sifting through multiple layers of screens.

Any writing environment that allows the creator of a text to shape ideas visually entails an aesthetic component. However, this aesthetic quality abounds in Storyspace expressly because writers can construct and display texts in such a way that the text unfolds along multiple paths. This flexible manoeuverability, likewise, yields multiple ways of viewing information. In light of this, patterns emerge that may have otherwise remained hidden.

This rendition of the text underscores Storyspace's value as a tool that highlights the dynamism, interactiveness, open-endedness, and malleability of a text (Landow 1992, 52, 59, 73), particularly one rooted in the oral tradition. In talking about the connections between oral poetry and hypertext writing programs, Jay David Bolter says that 'Homer's repetitive formulaic poetry is a forerunner of topographic writing in the electronic writing space. . . . Like oral poetry and storytelling, electronic writing is highly associative writing, in which the pattern of associations among verbal elements is as much a part of the text as the elements themselves' (Bolter 1991, 58-9). Thus, because hypertext allows translators and scholars to examine formal structures, it provides an excellent medium for translating the formulaic language that suffuses the Odyssey. In order to trace the parallels between hypertext and translation, we must first describe the process that led to this recognition.

Recovering Penelope

The first leg of our journey began with the hypothesis that Penelope was a Homeric hero not unlike her husband Odysseus, an idea that came to us after having read W. B. Stanford's The Ulysses Theme: The Study of the Adaptability of a Traditional Hero. Specifically, Stanford argues that at the core of Odysseus's heroic nature is cunning intelligence (Stanford 1963, 7). In our study of the Odyssey we found that Homer uses descriptions of cunning intelligence for both Odysseus and Penelope. Our goal was to demonstrate this heroism using the language of the text, which, of course, required us to search the Odyssey for evidence. We began by compiling a list of descriptors and epithets referring to all of Homer's characters. Once we had completed this manual search, we checked our findings through an electronic search of these words using Perseus and Pandora. It is interesting to note that it took less than three hours to locate all of the words and phrases we needed by using Perseus and Pandora, whereas the manual search for this took over two months of intensive exploration. From Perseus we were also able to acquire an electronic copy of the text, which ultimately saved us from needlessly inputting information.

Using an electronic copy of Homer's story, we placed each book of the Odyssey into its separate Storyspace writing space. Then, using Storyspace's link tool, we connected noteworthy descriptors and epithets found in each book. Because we could create and follow any number of threads connecting these ideas, Storyspace became a multi-linear storage and retrieval environment, one that allowed us a more fluid organization of data. Moreover, the visual quality of these connections helped to structure and clarify our thinking by giving us a visual representation of the interconnective threads we were tracing through the labyrinth of our research. In fact, when we completed the linking process, our Storyspace web reminded us of the weaving generally associated with both Homer and Penelope in the Odyssey.

We focused on words that posed particular problems for translators and led to inconsistencies in the text. One word, kerdea, stood out from the rest and proved to be exceptionally problematic for translators to render effectively. Generally translated as 'cunning intelligence', the meaning of kerdea is predicated on the characteristics of the fox; its meaning encompasses notions of shrewdness, advantage, and profit. It occurs seven times in pivotal scenes of the story and is used in conjunction with only Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachos. We came to realize that most scholars focused on kerdea solely through its connection to metis. Thus, they failed to see how Homer links Odysseus to Penelope through the use of this word. An exception to this approach can be found in Hanna Roisman's article, 'Penelope's Indignation' (1987). Working with Storyspace, then, we were able to link each passage in which kerdea appears, as well as explore other forms of this word in order to identify other places in the text that Penelope's actions or character may be interpreted differently.

Next, we examined the usage of this word in various translations by inputting and linking passages in which kerdea occurs. We should mention at this juncture that the translations we reviewed were carefully selected, based on several criteria. First, we wanted examples of translations that are well-received and used extensively in teaching the Odyssey. Therefore, we chose Richmond Lattimore's (1965), Robert Fitzgerald's (1961) and Robert Fagles' (1996) translations. In order to compare Lattimore, Fitzgerald, and Fagles to other contemporary translators, we chose to look at the work of Albert Cook (1967) and Allen Mandelbaum (1990). We also wanted an example of a controversial translation, one that would deviate from established renderings of the story. Here, we would have selected Alexander Pope's version but found it too difficult to locate the passages we needed and, of course, most scholars consider Pope's Odyssey to be a completely original work. Therefore, we turned instead to Samuel Butler's translation (1900), based on his supposition that Homer had been a female. Because much of Homeric scholarship is based upon 19th century scholarship, we selected several translations from this period, including Butcher and Lang's (1905), A.T. Murray's (1919), and George Herbert Palmer's (1884) all of which we felt expressed commonly held readings of the story. Lastly, we wanted examples of translators working during the mid-20th century in order to detect differences in approach to the text from that period. Here, we studied the translations of T.E. Lawrence (1932), W.H. Rouse (1937), and E.V. Rieu (1946). In all, we compared twelve translations of the Odyssey.

In II.88, for example, Antinoos complains to Telemachos about Penelope's craftiness. When we compared the translations of his words [a)lla\ fi/lh mh/thr, h(/ toi pe/ri ke/rdea oi(\den], we discovered significant discrepancies in the rendering of 'pe/ri ke/rdea'. Peri, used adverbially here, means 'beyond all' or 'exceedingly,' and kerdea implies cunning intelligence that gods and mortals of both genders may possess. The Homeric poet demonstrates that Penelope is cunning beyond all others, male or female, yet some translators exhibit a gender bias not present in Homer's use of the word:

Rieu: It is your own mother, that incomparable schemer, who is the culprit.
Butler: It is your mother's fault, not ours, for she is a very artful woman.
Fitzgerald: [I]t is your own dear, incomparably cunning mother.
Rouse: Your own mother is at fault. You cannot find fault with us for paying court to your mother. She is a clever piece indeed!
Butcher & Lang: Behold the fault is not in the Achaean wooers, but in thine own mother, for she is the craftiest of women.
Palmer: [Y]our mother is to blame, whose craft exceeds all women's.
Mandlebaum: But be sure, if anyone's to blame, it's not the suitors but that supreme deceiver - your dear mother.
Cook: No, it is your dear mother, who knows advantage well.
Lattimore: But it is your own dear mother, and she is greatly resourceful.
Murray: [I]t is not the Achaean wooers who are anywise at fault, but thine own mother, for she is crafty above all women.
Lawrence: [I]t is not the suitors who are guilty, among the Achaeans, but your respected mother, that far-fetched artful mistress.
Fagles: [I]t's your own dear mother, the matchless queen of cunning.

When viewing these passages we perceived a wide range of interpretations regarding gender-specific language. Rieu's 'schemer,' Butler's 'artful woman,' Mandlebaum's 'supreme deceiver,' Lawrence's 'far-fetched artful mistress,' and Rouse's 'clever piece' intimate a feminine stereotype that portrays women as manipulative and deceptive and in the case of Rouse, sexually charged, whereas Lattimore's 'greatly resourceful' and Fitzgerald's and Fagles' 'cunning' seem to capture an intelligence connected with wiliness, a quality not necessarily gender-specific. Furthermore, many of these translators seem to compare Penelope's kerdea to that of other women, a comparison that does not exist in the language of the poet. In fact, in examining all of the passages containing this word, we saw that frequently translators inject comparisons based on gender that are not present in the Greek text. And in many of the cases, it is not unusual for a translator to imbue the text with his interpretation of what the nature of a woman's character is or what a woman is capable of achieving.

As a result, when translators compare Penelope's kerdea exclusively to other women's, the tension in the story is weakened and the character of Penelope is de-emphasized. This realization led us to suspect that Penelope has been misrepresented in translation. For not only does she surpass women in cunning, she also surpasses the shrewdness of her male suitors and eventually outwits even Odysseus.

Working with Storyspace assisted us in formulating our conclusions since we were able to quickly and easily navigate our voluminous material by making associations between characters. By setting up both Odysseus and Penelope as paragons of kerdea, we also saw that Homer creates tension and prepares us for the final confrontation between them, 'the trick of the bed' found in XXIII.181-204, truly one of the most exciting contests of wit found in the story.

Because it has been said that 'Western literature begins with Homer' (Griffin 1987,1), it becomes very important to play carefully with the poet's words since the translators's treatment of characters influences the way in which we read not only this text, but other texts as well. If, in fact, 'literature. . . is an ideology. . . and has the most intimate relations to questions of social power' as Terry Eagleton observes (1983,22), then falsely rendering Penelope as patient, weak, or manipulative can be viewed as formulating stereotypical behaviour rather than translating it.

Edward Seidensticker reminds us that although we should not slavishly strive for an exact rendering of the original when we are translating a text (if this were indeed possible), the 'style and manner in a translation should be of the same character with that of the original' (1989, 143). Thus, translation requires a precarious balance between a creative act and a critical activity. Because translation guides intellectual exploration, the role that electronic technology plays in this exploration can be enormous, particularly in light of the many unique features of Storyspace that open up new possibilities for investigation. Hypertext allows us to view electronic technology as a rather large loom upon which we can see more clearly the intricate patterns of the poet's design.


Primary Sources
Homer, The Odyssey. Trans. S. H. Butcher and Andrew Lang. 1905. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1949.

_____, The Odyssey. Trans. Samuel Butler. 1900. New York: Walter J. Black, 1944.

_____, The Odyssey. Trans. Albert Cook. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1967.

_____, The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: The Penguin Group, 1996.

_____, The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. 1961. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1963.

_____, The Odyssey. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. 1965. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991.

_____, The Odyssey. Trans. T. E. Lawrence. 1932. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Classics, 1993.

_____, The Odyssey. Trans. Allen Mandelbaum. New York: Bantam Books, 1990.

_____, The Odyssey. Trans. A. T. Murray 2 vols, 1919. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.

_____, The Odyssey. Trans. George Herbert Palmer. 1884. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1921.

_____, The Odyssey. Trans. Alexander Pope. 1726. New York: The Heritage Press, 1942.

_____, The Odyssey. Trans. Ennis Rees. New York: The Modern Library, 1960.

_____, The Odyssey. Trans. E. V. Rieu. 1946. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1962.

_____, The Odyssey. Trans. W. H. Rouse. New York: Mentor, 1937.

Secondary Sources
Bolter, Jay David (1991). Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Eagleton, Terry (1983). Literary Theory: An Introduction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Griffin, Jasper (1987). The Odyssey. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Landow, George (1992). Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Roisman, Hanna (1987). 'Penelope's Indignation' Transactions of the American Philological Association 117: 59-68.

Seidensticker, Edward (1989). 'On Trying to Translate Japanese.' The Craft of Translation. Ed. John Biguenet and Rainer Schulte. University of Chicago Press.

Stanford, W.B (1963). The Ulysses Theme: The Study of the Adaptability of a Traditional Hero. Dallas: Spring Publications, 7.

Winkler, John (1990). The Constraints of Desire. New York: Routledge.

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Computers & Texts 16/17 (1998). Not to be republished in any form without the author's permission.

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