Saturday, July 23, 2016


Praise of Athens

Euripides, Medea 824-845 (tr David Kovacs):
From ancient times the sons of Erechtheus have been favored; they are children of the blessed gods sprung from a holy land never pillaged by the enemy. They feed on wisdom most glorious, always stepping gracefully through the bright air, where once, it is said, the nine Pierian Muses gave birth to fair-haired Harmonia.

Men celebrate in song how Aphrodite, filling her pail at the streams of the fair-flowing Cephisus, blew down upon the land temperate and sweet breezes. And ever dressing her hair with a fragrant chaplet of roses she sends the Loves to sit at Wisdom's side, joint workers in every kind of excellence.

Ἐρεχθεΐδαι τὸ παλαιὸν ὄλβιοι
καὶ θεῶν παῖδες μακάρων, ἱερᾶς        825
χώρας ἀπορθήτου τ᾿ ἄπο, φερβόμενοι
κλεινοτάταν σοφίαν, αἰεὶ διὰ λαμπροτάτου
βαίνοντες ἁβρῶς αἰθέρος, ἔνθα ποθ᾿ ἁγνὰς        830
ἐννέα Πιερίδας Μούσας λέγουσι
ξανθὰν Ἁρμονίαν φυτεῦσαι·

τοῦ καλλινάου τ᾿ ἐπὶ Κηφισοῦ ῥοαῖς        835
τὰν Κύπριν κλῄζουσιν ἀφυσσαμέναν
χώρας καταπνεῦσαι μετρίους ἀνέμων
ἀέρας ἡδυπνόους· αἰεὶ δ᾿ ἐπιβαλλομέναν        840
χαίταισιν εὐώδη ῥοδέων πλόκον ἀνθέων
τᾷ Σοφίᾳ παρέδρους πέμπειν Ἔρωτας,
παντοίας ἀρετᾶς ξυνεργούς. 845
In my copy of Euripides, Cyclops. Alcestis. Medea. Edited and translated by David Kovacs (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 373, καλλινάου is not translated ("filling her pail at the streams of the Cephisus") but this omission is repaired in the digital Loeb Classical Library version ("the fair-flowing Cephisus").

Euripides, Medea. The Text Edited with Introduction and Commentary by Denys L. Page (1938; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971) is of course excellent throughout, but the commentary on these lines (pp. 131-134) is especially illuminating, e.g. (summing up at 134):
The structure of these two stanzas is remarkably artistic, not only in language (αἰεὶ διὰ λαμπροτάτου corresponds to αἰεὶ δ᾿ ἐπιβαλλομέναν), but also in thought. As we have seen, Erechtheus leads easily, through the two versions of his origin, to the thought of the land as inviolate and of the people as divinely born: Attic wit and Attic climate are naturally connected: Harmonia suggested the transition to her mother Aphrodite: Kephisos, like Erechtheus, was an ancestor of the Athenian people: the Harmony of the Nine Muses provoked the conception of Excellence as the harmony of the passions and the understanding.
C.M. Bowra's translation of these lines, from his The Greek Experience (Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1957), p. 187:
From old the sons of Erechtheus know felicity;
The children of blessed gods,
Born from a land holy and undespoiled,
They pasture on glorious Wisdom,
Ever walking gracefully through the brightest of skies,
Where once, men tell, the Holy Nine,
The Pierian Muses,
Created golden-haired Harmony.

On the fair-flowing waters of Cephisus
They say that Aphrodite fills her pitcher
And breathes over the land
The sweet gentle air of winds,
And ever she crowns her hair
With a fragrant wreath of roses;
She sends her Loves to be throned at Wisdom's side,
And with her to work all manner of excellence.

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