Monday, May 20, 2013



Alcman, fragment 58 (tr. C.M. Bowra):
The peaks and the gullies of the mountains are asleep, the headlands and the torrents, the forest and all four-footed creatures that the black earth nourishes, the wild beasts of the mountains and the race of bees and the monsters in the depth of the dark-blue sea, and the tribe of the long-winged birds are asleep.

εὕδουσιν δ' ὀρέων
    κορυφαί τε καὶ φάραγγες,
    πρώονές τε καὶ χαράδραι
ὕλά θ' ἑρπέτά θ' ὅσσα
    τρέφει μέλαινα γαῖα,
θῆρές τ' ὀρεσκῷοι
    καὶ γένος μελισσᾶν
καὶ κνώδαλ' ἐν βένθεσσι πορφυρέας ἁλός,
εὕδουσιν δ' οἰωνῶν
    φῦλα τανυπτερύγων.
Text and translation are as printed in C.M. Bowra, Greek Lyric Poetry (1961; rpt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 70-71. Bowra adopts the text of R. Pfeiffer, "Vom Schlaf der Erde und der Tiere (Alkman, fr. 58 D.)," Hermes 87 (1959) 1–6 (at 4). Bowra's comments on the fragment (p. 71):
We do not know what the context of this was, but there is not the slightest need to assume that it is the first known example of a famous poetical theme in which the sleep of nature is contrasted with the busy doings of men and which makes its first appearance in the opening scene of Euripides' Iphigenia in Aulis and has a long and distinguished history thenceforward.2 Alcman presents a natural scene, and it is entirely satisfying in itself. It may of course be a prelude to some nocturnal rite, and it would be perfectly appropriate as such, but we cannot say that it is.

The notion that nature sleeps is as old as Homer who uses it in a restricted form for the north wind, ὄφρ᾽ εὕδῃσι μένος Βορέαο,3 and it reappears in Simonides' εὑδέτω δὲ πόντος.4 But Alcman goes much farther than either of these and his conception is different. While Homer and Simonides speak of the slumber of wild elements like wind and sea, Alcman is concerned with the whole of nature, animate and inanimate, fierce and friendly. Though here Alcman relies on Homer for his language more than he usually does,5 the effect is not in the least Homeric. Even the conventional epithets come to life, and play their part in the whole picture.

2 A rich collection of passages may be found in A.S. Pease, Vergil: Aeneid IV, pp. 434 ff.
3 Il. 5.524.
4 Fr. 13.18 D.
5 Page, Alc. Parth, p. 161.
Another translation of this fragment, by E.R. Eddison in A Fish Dinner in Memison (New York: Dutton, 1941), p. 339 (hat tip: Phil Edgren):
Sleep folds mountain and precipic'd ridge and steep abysm;
Wave-worn headland and deep chasm;
Creeping creatures as many as dark earth doth harbour;
Beasts too that live in the hills, and all the bee-folk;
And monsters in gulfs of the purple ocean;
Sleep folds all: folds
The tribes of the wide-wing'd birds.

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