“…the primary source for serious hypertext” – Robert Coover, The New York Times Book Review

The Loom and the Weaver

Dene Grigar and Mindi Corwin

Translation is not merely the process of literal transference from one language to another. Instead, translation proceeds through close reading and through 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.

Storyspace assisted us in exploring the structures that bind together Homer's Odyssey

Our search for a way to unite the disparate activities required for translating Homeric texts gave us an appreciation for Storyspace as a means of sorting, compiling, and analyzing information.[1] 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 the heroic Penelope.

Using the Computer

Storyspace and Perseus assisted us in study and writing. Because we can download entire texts from Perseus into Storyspace writing spaces, we can readily examine different organizations of and linkages within the text. Although the powerful text search capabilities of Perseus locate information quickly, Storyspace allows for multiple ways of categorizing, structuring, and restructuring information. Building relationships between writing spaces within a document makes shuttling between ideas easier, so work in Storyspace bypasses the tedious process of weeding through long texts line by line or sifting through multiple layers of screens. 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. 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.

This aesthetic quality abounds in Storyspace...

Obviously, any writing environment that allows the author to shape ideas visually entails an aesthetic component. This aesthetic quality abounds in Storyspace expressly because writers can construct and display texts so that the text unfolds along multiple paths. This flexible maneuverability, likewise, yields multiple ways of viewing information. Patterns emerge that might have otherwise remained hidden. Seeing the text this way underscores Storyspace's value as a tool that highlights the dynamism, interactivity, open-endedness, and malleability of a text,[2] particularly one rooted in the oral tradition.[3] Because hypertext allows translators and scholars to examine formal structures, it provides an excellent medium for translating the formulaic language that suffuses the Odyssey.

Recovering Penelope

The first leg of our journey began with the hypothesis that Penelope was a Homeric hero--like her husband Odysseus.[4] Our goal was to demonstrate this heroism using the language of the text. We began our search for evidence 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 with an electronic search of these words using Perseus.[5]

the visual quality of these connections helped to structure and clarify our thinking...

Next, we placed each book of the Odyssey (taking the full text from Perseus) into a 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 very 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 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. Generally translated as "cunning intelligence,"[6] 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 Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachos. Working with Storyspace, we were able to link each passage in which kerdea appears, as well as explore other forms of this word.

Next, we examined the usage of this word in various translations [7] by inputting and linking passages in which kerdea occurs. For example, in 2.88 Antinoos complains to Telemachos about Penelope's craftiness. When we compared the translations of his words (alla phile meter, he toi peri kerdea oiden), we discovered significant discrepancies in the rendering of peri kerdea. 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[8] 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.

Mandelbaum: 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.

When viewing these passages we perceived a wide range of interpretation regarding gender specific language. Rieu's "schemer," Butler's "artful woman," Mandelbaum's "supreme deceiver," and Lawrence's "far-fetched artful mistress" intimate a feminine stereotype that portrays women as manipulative and deceptive, whereas Lattimore's "greatly resourceful" and Fitzgerald's "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.

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"--truly one of the most exciting contests of wit found in the story.[9] Because it has been said that "Western literature begins with Homer," [10] it becomes very important to play carefully with the poet's words since the translators' treatment of characters influences the way in which we read not only this text, but other texts as well.[11]

The Translator's Web

Edward Seidensticker reminds us that although we should not slavishly strive for an exact rendering of the original when we are translating a text (even if this were indeed possible), the "style and manner in a translation should be of the same character with that of the original."[12] 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 large loom upon which we can see more clearly the intricate patterns of the poet's design.


1. These activities are required for translating any texts; however, translators working with the Odyssey or the Iliad must pay particularly close attention to formulaic language and epithets. Looking at Milman Parry's work in these areas, those of us able to take advantage of Perseus and Storyspace can only imagine the amount of time and energy he must have spent in organization of his data.

2. George Landow, Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1992) 52, 59, 73.

3. Jay David Bolter, Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing (New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991) 58-9. He writes: "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."

4. W.B. Stanford, The Ulysses Theme: The Study of the Adaptability of a Traditional Hero (Dallas: Spring Publications, 1963) 7. Specifically, Stanford argues that at the core of Odysseus's heroic nature is cunning intelligence. In our study of the Odyssey we found that Homer uses descriptions of cunning intelligence for both Odysseus and Penelope. Thus, we surmised that Penelope can be viewed as a heroic figure.

5. We did our first work with the Odyssey and Storyspace by entering the text into our hypertext document. Later we traveled to UT Austin's Classics Department to use Perseus. It took less than three hours to locate all of the words and phrases we needed by using Perseus, whereas the manual search for this took over two months of intensive exploration. From Perseus we also acquired an electronic copy of the text, which saved us from entering further text.

6. 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 can be found in Hanna Roisman's work. See "Penelope's Indignation" Transactions of the American Philological Association 117 (1987) 59-68.

7. 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) and Robert Fitzgerald's (1961) translations. In order to compare Lattimore and Fitzgerald to other contemporary translators, we chose 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 to Samuel Butler's translation (1900), based on his supposition that Homer was female. Because much Homeric scholarship is based upon 19th century scholarship, we selected several translations from this period that we felt expressed commonly held readings of the story, including Butcher and Lang's (1905), A.T. Murray's (1919), and George Herbert Palmer's (1884). 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 eleven translations of the Odyssey.

8. Rouse's rendering, "clever piece," is especially notable since he flavors Antinoos's words with contempt for Penelope, particularly her sexual nature. As we see from any of these translations, it is not unusual for a translator to imbue the text with his or her interpretation. Rouse takes this a step further.

9. Odyssey, 19.181-204.

10. Jasper Griffin, The Odyssey (New York: Cambridge UP, 1987) 1.

11. Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983) 22. Terry Eagleton points out that "literature . . . is an ideology . . . and has the most intimate relations to questions of social power." Thus, pronouncing Penelope patient, weak, or manipulative advances the stereotypical view of women's behavior. This becomes particularly problematic if the author did not describe the character's conduct in that way.

12. Edward Seidensticker, "On Trying to Translate Japanese," The Craft of Translation, ed. John Biguenet and Rainer Schulte (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989) 143.