Monday, June 30, 2014


Garbled Greek

William Frank Thompson, letter to Iris Murdoch (April 21, 1944), as printed in Peter J. Conradi, ed., Iris Murdoch: A Writer At War. Letters & Diaries 1939-1945 (2010; rpt. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 161-163 (at 162), quoting what looks like Greek:
αμματων δ'εν αχηνιασ
ερρει παο Αφροδιτα
The editor doesn't translate this gibberish. Misled by the previous sentence in the letter, which mentions Hippolytus, the editor implies (footnote 71 on p. 162) that the words come from Euripides' Hippolytus. Actually, the words come from Aeschylus, Agamemnon 418-419, and should read:
ὀμμάτων δ' ἐν ἀχηνίαις
ἔρρει πᾶσ' Ἀφροδίτα.
On these lines see Deborah Steiner, "Eyeless in Argos; a reading of Agamemnon 416-19," Journal of Hellenic Studies 115 (1995) 175-182, who translates "and in the absence of eyes, gone is all Aphrodite."

I'd wager that the garbled Greek is due to the editor or typesetter, not to the letter writer. Frank Thompson (1920-1944) and Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) both knew Greek well. Murdoch attended Eduard Fraenkel's seminar on Aeschylus' Agamemnon and wrote a poem about it dedicated to the memory of Thompson, entitled "Agamemnon Class 1939." The poem begins:
Do you remember Professor
Eduard Fraenkel's endless
Class on the Agamemnon?
Between line eighty three and line a thousand
It seemed to us our innocence
Was lost, our youth laid waste,
In that pellucid unforgiving air,
The aftermath experienced before,
Focused by dread into a lurid flicker,
A most uncanny composite of sun and rain.
Did we expect the war? What did we fear?
First love's incinerating crippling flame,
Or that it would appear
In public that we could not name
The aorist of some familiar verb....
The same Greek quotation, from the same letter, suffers even worse disfigurement in E.P. Thompson (1924-1993), Beyond the Frontier: The Politics of a Failed Mission, Bulgaria 1944 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 76:
αμματωυ δ'ευ αχηυιαιυ
ερρει παο 'Αφροδιτα
E.P. Thompson and Frank Thompson were brothers. Frank Thompson died in the failed mission in Bulgaria.

Hat tip: Eric Thomson, who is responsible for most of this post.

Related post: Mangled Greek.


<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?