Sunday, October 02, 2005


A Poem by Rolfe Humphries

Rolfe Humphries, The Intellectuals:
Aeternum stagno, dixit, vivatis in isto--

There was Cassandra, whom Apollo loved,
To whom, for promised love, he made a gift,--
Always to prophesy truly:
And for her promise broken, another token--
Never to be believed,

And then there are those men
Who never loved Apollo, nor he them,
Descended from the Lycian ancestors
Who made the water muddy for Latona,
And for their churlishness were turned to frogs
Forever in that marsh.

Co-ax, Co-ax!
Oho, Batrachians,
Isn't it fun to bubble in the puddles?

Always to prophesy falsely;
Always to seem, at least, to be believed.
The Latin motto prefixed to Humphries' poem comes from Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.369, and means "May you live forever, she said, in that swamp of yours."

Cassandra tells her own story to the chorus in Aeschylus' Agamemnon 1203-1212 (tr. Herbert Weir Smyth):
CA. It was the seer Apollo who appointed me to this office.
CH. Can it be that he, a god, was smitten with desire?
CA. Ere now I was ashamed to speak of this.
CH. Aye, in prosperity we all grow over nice.
CA. Oh, but he struggled to win me, breathing ardent love for me.
CH. Came ye in due course to wedlock's rite?
CA. I promised consent to Loxias but broke my word.
CH. Wert thou already possessed by the art inspired of the god?
CA. Already I prophesied to my countrymen all their disasters.
CH. How came it then that thou wert unscathed by Loxias' wrath?
CA. Ever since that fault I could persuade no one of aught.
The second stanza alludes to the Ovidian passage from which Humphries borrowed his motto, Metamorphoses 6.313-381. Too long to quote here, it tells the story of Leto (Latona in Latin), mother of Apollo and Artemis by Zeus. Persecuted by Zeus' consort Hera, Leto wandered here and there. In the course of her wanderings, some farmers in Lycia tried to prevent her from drinking at a spring by muddying the water. She cursed them and turned them into frogs.

In the third stanza, the Batrachians or frog-men (Greek batrachos = frog) croak in the words given by Aristophanes to his chorus in the play Frogs (lines 209 etc.).

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