Wednesday, August 15, 2012


An Ancient Drinking Song

Theognis 757-768 (my translation):
May Zeus, dwelling in the sky, over this city hold
forever his right hand for its safety,
and also the other deathless happy gods; besides, may Apollo
make straight our tongues and minds;    760
and may the lyre and flute again utter a holy song;
and after making libations to the gods,
let us drink, speaking graceful words to one another,
without any fear of the war of the Medes.
Thus it is better to be: with a cheerful heart,    765
apart from cares, to spend time merrily,
enjoying ourselves; and to keep far away evil dooms,
accursed old age and death's end.
Greek text from M.L. West, ed., Iambi et Elegi Graeci ante Alexandrum Cantati (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971; rpt. 1998), I, 210:
Ζεὺς μὲν τῆσδε πόληος ὑπειρέχοι αἰθέρι ναίων
  αἰεὶ δεξιτέρην χεῖρ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἀπημοσύνῃ,
ἄλλοι τ᾽ ἀθάνατοι μάκαρες θεοί· αὐτὰρ Ἀπόλλων
  ὀρθώσαι γλῶσσαν καὶ νόον ἡμέτερον·    760
φόρμιγξ δ᾽ αὖ φθέγγοιθ᾽ ἱερὸν μέλος ἠδὲ καὶ αὐλός·
  ἡμεῖς δὲ σπονδὰς θεοῖσιν ἀρεσσάμενοι
πίνωμεν, χαρίεντα μετ᾽ ἀλλήλοισι λέγοντες,
  μηδὲν τὸν Μήδων δειδιότες πόλεμον.
ὧδ᾽ εἶναι ἄμεινον, ἐύφρονα θυμὸν ἔχοντας    765
  νόσφι μεριμνάων εὐφροσύνως διάγειν
τερπομένους· τηλοῦ δὲ κακὰς ἀπὸ κῆρας ἀμῦναι,
  γῆράς τ᾽ οὐλόμενον καὶ θανάτοιο τέλος.
West splits this in two (757-764, 765-768), but others think it is a single poem.

Here are some notes to myself on this drinking song, all based on information previously discovered and collected by others.

On prayers for protection of the city in drinking songs (Theognis 757-760), see two skolia (Poetae Melici Graeci 884 and 885 Page, my translations):

Poetae Melici Graeci 884:
Pallas Tritogeneia, lady Athena,
keep this city and citizens upright,
apart from pains and factions
and untimely deaths, you and your father.

Παλλὰς Τριτογένει', ἄνασσ' Ἀθάνα,
ὄρθου τήνδε πόλιν τε καὶ πολίτας,
ἄτερ ἀλγέων καὶ στάσεων
καὶ θανάτων ἀώρων, σύ τε καὶ πατήρ.
Poetae Melici Graeci 885:
I sing of wealth's mother, Olympian
Demeter, in the seasons when garlands are worn,
and you, child of Zeus, Persephone;
hail, and guard well this city.

Πλούτου μητέρ', Ὀλυμπίαν ἀείδω
Δήμητρα στεφανηφόροις ἐν ὥραις,
σέ τε, παῖ Διός Φερσεφόνη·
χαίρετον, εὖ δὲ τάνδ' ἀμφέπετον πόλιν.
Because I don't have access to D.L. Page, ed., Poetae Melici Graeci (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), I've taken the Greek texts of these skolia from Herbert Weir Smyth, ed., Greek Melic Poets (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1900), p. 148.

On indifference to wars and rumors of wars in sympotic contexts (Theognis 764), see Horace, Odes 1.26.1-6 and 2.11.1-4 (tr. Niall Rudd).

Horace, Odes 1.26.1-6:
As a friend of the Muses, I shall fling gloom and fear to the turbulent winds to carry them into the Cretan sea; I am singularly indifferent about what king of a frozen region under the Bear is causing alarm, what it is that's frightening Tiridates.

Musis amicus tristitiam et metus
tradam protervis in mare Creticum
    portare ventis, quis sub Arcto
        rex gelidae metuatur orae,
quid Tiridaten terreat, unice
Horace, Odes 2.11.1-4:
Hirpinian Quinctius, leave off asking what the war-mongering Cantabrian is plotting and the Scythian, who is separated from us by the barrier of the Adriatic...

Quid bellicosus Cantaber et Scythes,
Hirpine Quincti, cogitet Hadria
    divisus obiecto, remittas

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