MacArthur 'genius' from Philly gets big bucks for bringing classical lit to life

Mike Dougherty
September 26, 2019 - 7:16 am
Emily Wilson is a classicist and Greek translator and teaches classical studies and literary theory at Penn.

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation — used with permission


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A new crop of 'geniuses' are getting big grants from the MacArthur Foundation. A University of Pennsylvania professor is one of 26 people being recognized for their exceptional creativity and accomplishments.

Emily Wilson, 47, is a classicist and Greek translator. She teaches classical studies and literary theory at Penn and will get a grant worth $625,000 over the next five years to continue her work. She told the MacArthur Foundation that the recognition, nicknamed a 'genius grant,' came as a shock.

"It's an enormous honor," she said. "I'm incredibly grateful and still kind of flabbergasted that this would have happened to me."

Wilson is known for bringing ancient text to life with modern translations, including Homer's epic "The Odyssey."

"It's been striking to me, in the case of 'The Odyssey' in particular, just to realize, for instance, how the vast majority of English translations include a lot of words like 'servants' for characters who are very clearly in the original represented as slaves."

Wilson says she loves how ancient societies are very alien and distant yet still very much connected to our world today.