Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Particularly Hard Greek

Alfred W. Pollard, ed., Odes from the Greek Dramatists: Translated into Lyric Metres by English Poets and Scholars (London: David Stott, 1890), p. vii:
To the average school-boy the Chorus of a Greek Tragedy is an object of mingled hatred and derision — of derision, because at any call for action the attitude of the Chorus is generally characterized by helpless indecision — of hatred, because it was its wont to sing particularly hard Greek.
Three of the translations in Pollard's collection are by A.E. Housman — Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 848-860 (pp. 14-15); Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 1211-1248 (pp. 84-87); and Euripides, Alcestis 962-1005 (pp. 109-111). Here is Housman's translation of Sophocles' ode, followed by the Greek:
What man is he that yearneth
    For length unmeasured of days?
Folly mine eye discerneth
    Encompassing all his ways.
For years over-running the measure
    Shall change thee in evil wise:
Grief draweth nigh thee; and pleasure,
    Behold, it is hid from thine eyes.
    This to their wage have they
    Which overlive their day.
And He that looseth from labour
    Doth one with other befriend,
    Whom bride nor bridesmen attend,
Song, nor sound of the tabor,
    Death, that maketh an end.

Thy portion esteem I highest,
    Who wast not ever begot;
Thine next, being born who diest
    And straightway again art not.
With follies light as the feather
    Doth Youth to man befall;
Then evils gather together,
    There wants not one of them all—
    Wrath, envy, discord, strife,
    The sword that seeketh life.
And sealing the sum of trouble
    Doth tottering Age draw nigh,
    Whom friends and kinsfolk fly,
Age, upon whom redouble
    All sorrows under the sky.

This man, as me, even so,
Have the evil days overtaken;
And like as a cape sea-shaken
With tempest at earth's last verges
And shock of all winds that blow,
His head the seas of woe,
The thunders of awful surges
Ruining overflow;
Blown from the fall of even,
    Blown from the dayspring forth,
Blown from the noon in heaven,
    Blown from night and the North.

ὅστις τοῦ πλέονος μέρους
χρῄζει τοῦ μετρίου παρεὶς
ζώειν, σκαιοσύναν φυλάσσων
ἐν ἐμοὶ κατάδηλος ἔσται.
ἐπεὶ πολλὰ μὲν αἱ μακραὶ
ἁμέραι κατέθεντο δὴ
λύπας ἐγγυτέρω, τὰ τέρ-
ποντα δ᾽ οὐκ ἂν ἴδοις ὅπου,
ὅταν τις ἐς πλέον πέσῃ
τοῦ δέοντος· ὁ δ᾽ ἐπίκουρος ἰσοτέλεστος,
Ἄϊδος ὅτε μοῖρ᾽ ἀνυμέναιος
ἄλυρος ἄχορος ἀναπέφηνε,
θάνατος ἐς τελευτάν.

μὴ φῦναι τὸν ἅπαντα νι-
κᾷ λόγον· τὸ δ᾽, ἐπεὶ φανῇ,
βῆναι κεῖθεν ὅθεν περ ἥκει,
πολὺ δεύτερον, ὡς τάχιστα.
ὡς εὖτ᾽ ἂν τὸ νέον παρῇ
κούφας ἀφροσύνας φέρον,
τίς πλαγὰ πολύμοχθος ἔ-
ξω; τίς οὐ καμάτων ἔνι;
φθόνος, στάσεις, ἔρις, μάχαι
καὶ φόνοι· τό τε κατάμεμπτον ἐπιλέλογχε
πύματον ἀκρατὲς ἀπροσόμιλον
γῆρας ἄφιλον, ἵνα πρόπαντα
κακὰ κακῶν ξυνοικεῖ.

ἐν ᾧ τλάμων ὅδ᾽, οὐκ ἐγὼ μόνος,
πάντοθεν βόρειος ὥς τις
ἀκτὰ κυματοπλὴξ χειμερία κλονεῖται,
ὣς καὶ τόνδε κατ᾽ ἄκρας
δειναὶ κυματοαγεῖς
ἆται κλονέουσιν ἀεὶ ξυνοῦσαι,
αἱ μὲν ἀπ᾽ ἀελίου δυσμᾶν,
αἱ δ᾽ ἀνατέλλοντος·
αἱ δ᾽ ἀνὰ μέσσαν ἀκτῖν᾽,
αἱ δ᾽ ἐννυχιᾶν ἀπὸ ῾Ριπᾶν.
Here is Pollard's note on this ode (p. 175):
His son, Polyneices, and his brother-in-law, Creon, torment the closing hours of the life of Oedipus. Theseus, prince of Athens, assures him of protection, and the chorus in sympathy sing of Death as the deliverer from all ills. The ode is perhaps the most beautiful in all Greek tragedy, and becomes the more impressive when we remember the great age which Sophocles had attained when he wrote it. In the works of Thomas Love Peacock there is a choral ode written in reminiscence of this, and he tells us that at one time Shelley was "always repeating" to himself the lines:
Man's happiest lot is not to be:
And when we tread life's thorny steep,
Most blest are they, who, earliest free,
Descend to death's eternal sleep,
though they lack the simplicity of the original.

In line 2 of strophe i., Mr. Housman reads παρὲκς for Dindorf's παρεὶς, and in line 10, δέοντος for θέλοντος. In the antistrophe he reverses the positions of φόνοι and φθόνος, and in the epode writes δ'ἐννυχιᾶν for δὲ νυχιᾶν.
In Archie Burnett, ed. The Letters of A.E. Housman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), there are two letters from Housman to Pollard discussing Odes from the Greek Dramatists. One was written before the book was published (October 28, 1889, pp. 63-64) and one after (October 25, 1890, pp. 66-68). In the latter (on p. 67), Housman wrote, "I wonder whether our translations will seem as bad to the 20th century as those of the 18th century seem to us." To this reader, Housman's translation of Sophocles' ode stands the test of time well.

On p. xliv of Burnett's edition of Housman's letters, Pollard's name is given as "POLLARD A[rthur] W[illiam]." But his first name, like Housman's, was Alfred, not Arthur. See, e.g., P.G. Naiditch, A.E. Housman at University College, London: The Election of 1892 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1988), p. 228, and also the title page of Odes from the Greek Dramatists.

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