Wednesday, June 19, 2024


The Beginning of a Greek Play

Sophocles, Women of Trachis (tr. Ezra Pound):
"No man knows his luck 'til he's dead."
They've been saying that for a long time
but it's not true in my case. Mine's soggy.
Don't have to go to hell to find that out.

I had a worse scare about getting married than any
girl in Pleuron, my father's place in Aetolia.
First came a three-twisted river, Akheloös,
part bullheaded cloud, he looked like,
part like a slicky snake with scales on it
shining, then it would look like a bullheaded man
with water dripping out of his whiskers, black ones.

Bed with that! I ask you!

Λόγος μὲν ἔστ᾿ ἀρχαῖος ἀνθρώπων φανεὶς
ὡς οὐκ ἂν αἰῶν᾿ ἐκμάθοις βροτῶν, πρὶν ἂν
θάνῃ τις, οὔτ᾿ εἰ χρηστὸς οὔτ᾿ εἴ τῳ κακός·
ἐγὼ δὲ τὸν ἐμόν, καὶ πρὶν εἰς Ἅιδου μολεῖν,
ἔξοιδ᾿ ἔχουσα δυστυχῆ τε καὶ βαρύν,        5
ἥτις πατρὸς μὲν ἐν δόμοισιν Οἰνέως
ναίουσ᾿ ἔτ᾿ ἐν Πλευρῶνι νυμφείων ὄτλον
ἄλγιστον ἔσχον, εἴ τις Αἰτωλὶς γυνή.
μνηστὴρ γὰρ ἦν μοι ποταμός, Ἀχελῷον λέγω,
ὅς μ᾿ ἐν τρισὶν μορφαῖσιν ἐξῄτει πατρός,        10
φοιτῶν ἐναργὴς ταῦρος, ἄλλοτ᾿ αἰόλος
δράκων ἑλικτός, ἄλλοτ᾿ ἀνδρείῳ κύτει
βούπρῳρος· ἐκ δὲ δασκίου γενειάδος
κρουνοὶ διερραίνοντο κρηναίου ποτοῦ.
τοιόνδ᾿ ἐγὼ μνηστῆρα προσδεδεγμένη        15
δύστηνος ἀεὶ κατθανεῖν ἐπηυχόμην,
πρὶν τῆσδε κοίτης ἐμπελασθῆναί ποτε.
Some call this "creative translation," e.g. H.A. Mason, "Creative Translation: Ezra Pound's 'Women of Trachis'," Cambridge Quarterly 4.3 (Summer, 1969) 244-272. Others might recall what T.S. Eliot said about Gilbert Murray's translations: "He has erected between Euripides and the reader a barrier more impassable than the Greek language."

If you really want to know what the Greek says, read Jebb's translation, or this one by Hugh Lloyd-Jones:
There is an ancient saying among men, once revealed to them,
that you cannot understand a man’s life before
he is dead, so as to know whether he has a good or bad one.
But I know well, even before going to Hades,
that the one I have is unfortunate and sorrowful.
While I still lived in the house of my father Oeneus, in Pleuron,
I suffered painful affliction in the matter of my wedding, if any Aetolian woman did.
For I had as a wooer a river, I mean Achelous,
who came in three shapes to ask my father for me,
at some times manifest as a bull, at others as a darting,
coiling serpent, and again at others with a man’s trunk
and a bull’s head; and from his shaggy beard
there poured streams of water from his springs.
Expecting such a suitor as that
I was always praying, poor creature, that I might die
before ever coming near his bed.
I may print more excerpts from Pound's version. At least it will give me a stimulus to reread the play in Greek.

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