Thursday, November 24, 2005



Psalms 55.6-8:
Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.
Mendelssohn's setting of this passage ("Oh for the wings of a dove") in his oratorio Elijah is exquisite.

Parallels from Euripides can be found in W.S. Barrett's commentary on Hippolytus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964).

Hippolytus 732-741 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
O to be nestling 'neath some pathless cavern, there by god's creating hand to grow into a bird amid the wingèd tribes! Away would I soar to Adria's wave-beat shore and to the waters of Eridanus; where a father's hapless daughters in their grief for Phaethon distil into the glooming flood the amber brilliance of their tears.

And to the apple-bearing strand of those minstrels in the west I then would come, where ocean's lord no more to sailors grants a passage o'er the deep dark main, finding there the heaven's holy bound, upheld by Atlas, where water from ambrosial founts wells up beside the couch of Zeus within his halls, and holy earth, the bounteous mother, causes joy to spring in heavenly breasts.
Andromache 861-862 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
Would I could speed away from Phthia's land on bird's dark pinion!
Ion 796-797 (tr. Robert Potter):
O, through the liquid air that I could fly, far from the land of Greece, ev'n to the stars fix'd in the western sky!
Helen 1478-1494 (tr. E.P. Coleridge), superficially similar, expresses a desire not to escape, but to bring the news of Menelaus' good fortune to Sparta:
Oh! for wings to cleave the air in the track of Libyan cranes, whose serried ranks leave far behind the wintry storm at the shrill summons of some veteran leader, who raises his exultant cry as he wings his way o'er plains that know no rain and yet bear fruitful increase. Ye feathered birds with necks outstretched, comrades of the racing clouds, on! on! till ye reach the Pleiads in their central station and Orion, lord of the night; and as ye settle on Eurotas' banks proclaim the glad tidings that Menelaus has sacked the city of Dardanus, and will soon be home.
Sometimes a choice is presented, either flight into the sky or escape beneath the ground.

Hippolytus 1290-1293 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
Why dost thou not for very shame hide beneath the dark places of the earth, or change thy human life and soar on wings to escape this tribulation?
Ion 1238-1243 (tr. Robert Potter):
What flight shall save me from this death, borne on swift pinions through the air, sunk to the darksome cave beneath, or mounted on the rapid car?
Medea 1296-1298 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
For she must hide beneath the earth or soar on wings towards heaven's vault, if she would avoid the vengeance of the royal house.
Heracles 1157-1158 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
Where can I find release from my sorrow? Shall I take wings or plunge beneath the earth?
Hecuba 1099-1105 (tr. E.P. Coleridge):
Whither can I turn or go? Shall I take wings and soar aloft to the mansions of the sky, where Orion and Sirius dart from their eyes a flash as of fire, or shall I, in my misery, plunge to Hades' murky flood?
Men cannot fly, but they can hide in the depths of the earth. The ancient life of Euripides says that he used to seek solitude in a cave facing the sea on Salamis.

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