Monday, October 11, 2004


Housman's Fragment of a Greek Tragedy

A.E. Housman (1859-1936), well-known for his elegant, wistful poetry, was also a classical scholar of international renown. His parody "Fragment of a Greek Tragedy" is amusing to those who have tried to slog through the Greek of the ancient Athenian tragedians, as well as to those who have read Greek tragedy in translation. It starts out thus:
O suitably-attired-in-leather-boots
Head of a traveller, wherefore seeking whom
Whence by what way how purposed art thou come
To this well-nightingaled vicinity?
My object in inquiring is to know.
But if you happen to be deaf and dumb
And do not understand a word I say,
Then wave your hand, to signify as much.
David M. Johnson gives the full text with some useful notes. I would like to see a full-blown scholarly commentary on Housman's spoof, replete with parallel passages from Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. I also wish someone would translate Housman's English into ancient Greek verse. David Kovacs, who is so adept at detecting lacunae in Euripides and filling them, would be a good man for the job.

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