Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Alcman, Fragment 26

The Telegraph's obituary of M.L. West mentions his love of puns. Puns depend on the multiple, ambiguous meanings of words, and I wonder if West ever reflected on the fact that his own first name, Martin, is also a word meaning "kingfisher" in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. Eric Thomson, who pointed this out to me, remarked that "As a scholar West was a kingfisher, as fearless, darting and brilliant." The adjectives are borrowed from words in Alcman, fragment 26, describing a kingfisher (fearless ~ νηδεὲϲ ἦτορ ἔχων, darting ~ ποτήται, brilliant ~ ἁλιπόρφυροϲ). West translated the fragment in his Greek Lyric Poetry (1993; rpt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 34, as follows:
My legs can support me no longer, young ladies
    with voices of honey and song divine!
Ah, would that I could be a kingfisher, flying
sea-blue, fearless, amid you halcyons
    down to rest on the foaming brine!
Here is the Greek, from Malcolm Davies, ed., Poetarum Melicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, Vol. I (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 76:
οὔ μ᾿ ἔτι, παρϲενικαὶ μελιγάρυεϲ ἱαρόφωνοι,
γυῖα φέρην δύναται· βάλε δὴ βάλε κηρύλοϲ εἴην,
ὅϲ τ᾿ ἐπὶ κύματοϲ ἄνθοϲ ἅμ᾿ ἀλκυόνεϲϲι ποτήται
νηδεὲϲ ἦτορ ἔχων, ἁλιπόρφυροϲ ἱαρὸϲ ὄρνιϲ.
I've stitched together Davies' text, apparatus, and notes on this fragment (pp. 76-78) into a single image below, omitting page numbers and headings:

For commentary on the fragment see Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Melic Poets (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1900), pp. 190-191, and David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric Poetry (1982; rpt. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2003), pp. 217-218. A few notes to aid my own comprehension:

2 φέρην = φέρειν.

2 βάλε, see Liddell-Scott-Jones s.v.: "O that! would God! c. opt., Alcm.26, Call.Hec.26.2; cf. ἄβαλε."

2 δὴ, see J.D. Denniston, Greek Particles, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), p. 218 ("in wishes"), and Guy L. Cooper, III, Greek Syntax, Vol. 4: Early Greek Poetic and Herodotean Syntax (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002), pp. 2950 ("may also be attached directly to ... optative forms which express ardent wishes") and 2955.

3 ποτήται, "flies to and fro," from ποτάομαι, frequentative of πέτομαι.

4 νηδεὲϲ (Boissonade's conjecture): νηδεής is not to be found in Liddell-Scott-Jones. The adjective would be equivalent to ἀδεής, meaning fearless.

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