Saturday, April 21, 2012

A One-Way Road

Anacreon, fragment 395, tr. Richmond Lattimore:
I have gone gray at the temples,
yes, my head is white, there’s nothing
of the grace of youth that’s left me,
and my teeth are like an old man’s.
Life is lovely. But the lifetime
that remains for me is little.
For this cause I mourn. The terrors
of the Dark Pit never leave me.
For the house of Death is deep down
underneath; the downward journey
to be feared; for once I go there
I know well there’s no returning.

πολιοὶ μὲν ἡμὶν ἤδη
κρόταφοι κάρη τε λευκόν,
χαρίεσσα δ' οὐκέτ' ἥβη
πάρα, γηραλέοι δ' ὀδόντες.
γλυκεροῦ δ' οὐκέτι πολλὸς
βιότου χρόνος λέλειπται·
διὰ ταῦτ' ἀνασταλύζω
θαμὰ Τάρταρον δεδοικώς·
Ἀίδεω γάρ ἐστι δεινὸς
μυχός, ἀργαλῆ δ' ἐς αὐτὸν
κάτοδος· καὶ γὰρ ἑτοῖμον
καταβάντι μὴ ἀναβῆναι.
On the road to the underworld as a one-way road, see M.L. West, The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth (1997; rpt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 154-155.

Update: Eric Thomson writes to say he prefers M.L. West's translation of Anacreon, and I agree:
My temples are grey
    my hair is white,
        youth's beauty past;

my teeth rot away;
    life's sweet delight;
        not long now can last.

So I often lament,
    afraid of Hell:
        it's a dreadful tip,
with a grim descent,
    as you know full well
        it's a one-way trip.