Two wedding song fragments of Sappho (heavily emended); Vesper and Lucifer; the eroticism of morning
Vesper, bringing all that shining dawn has scattered
you bring the sheep and goat, you bring the mother’s child;
far away you bring the child from mother, baneful star.
Ἔϲπερε πάντα φέρων ὄϲα φαίνολιϲ ἐϲκέδαϲ’ Αὔωϲ,
οἶν ϲὺ φέρηιϲ τε καὶ αἶγα, φέρηιϲ ἄπυ μάτερι παῖδα,
<τῆλέ γε παῖδα φέρηις ἀπὺ μάτερος, ὤλιος ἄστηρ.>
– Maidenhood, maidenhood, where have you gone and left me?
– Not again, by any means, to you, at any time, shall I return from anywhere,
not again shall I return.
παρθενία, παρθενία, ποῖ με λίποιϲ’ ἀποίχηι;
οὐκέτι <πωϲ> πρὸϲ ϲέ <ποτ’> ἤξω <ποθέν,> οὐκέτ’ ἤξω.
The relation of Vesper or Hesperos, the Evening Star, to the goddess Aphrodite (Venus), a tacit presence in most of Sappho’s preserved poetry, is an interesting topic. The association of the goddess with the planet Venus is not attested in Greek sources before the fourth century B.C., but in Symbolae Osloenses 86 (2012) we speculated on possible relics in Greek art and literature of the mythological notion of Hesperos and Phosphoros (Lucifer), the Evening and Morning Star, serving as the goddess’s twin charioteers. This might relate them genetically to the winged Aśvin twins of Vedic mythology, who are the charioteers of Sūryasa, Daughter (or wife?) of the Sun. Textual parallels between Sappho 1, the “Hymn” to Aphrodite, describing a chariot voyage of the goddess, and RigVeda 1.118, could support such a relation. As has been suggested, Castor and Pollux, the twin riders of light, brothers of the divine Helen, might constitute another mythological hypostasis derived from the same cosmological foundation: the two opposite aspects of the planet Venus, custodians of the erotically charged light of evening and dawn.
Not only evening but also morning is a time of heightened eroticism, as in RigVeda 1.134.3:
Wake up abundance
Like a lover a sleeping girl,
Make both worlds visible, make the dawns light up
– and in an hommage to Sappho by Posidippus of Pella addressed to Doricha the courtesan, lover of Sappho’s brother Charaxus (Gow-Page, Hellenistic Epigrams vv. 3143–45; Ath. 13.596c):
…the fragrant gown, which you wrapped around your beloved Charaxus as you, your skin adjacent to his, took hold of the ivy cups of daybreak.
What exactly is here meant by “the ivy cups of daybreak” (ὀρθρινὰ κιϲϲύβια) is uncertain. Gow-Page’s assertion that it refers to “a symposium prolonged past midnight” seems doubtful; for instance one might have expected the imperfect tense of the verb ἄπτομαι (“grasp”, “take hold”), denoting continued or repeated action. The wrapping of a gown around two naked bodies is also awkward in combination with holding cups and drinking, and the procedure is a literary topic associated with coitus in Archil. fr. 196a West (Archilochus molesting a girl) and Hieronymus of Rhodes fr. 35 Wehrli (Sophocles debauching a boy = test. 75 Radt, Ath. 13.604e).
The Lord of the Rings, Book V, Chapter two
To that Stone the Company came and halted in the dead of night. Then Elrohir gave to Aragorn a silver horn, and he blew upon it and it seemed to those that stood near that they heard a sound of answering horns, as if it was an echo in deep caves far away. No other sound they heard, and yet they were aware of a great host gathered all about the hill on which they stood; and a chill wind like the breath of ghosts came down from the mountains. But Aragorn dismounted, and standing by the Stone he cried in a great voice:
‘Oathbreakers, why have ye come?’
And a voice was heard out of the night that answered him, as if from far away:
‘To fulfil our oath and have peace.’
Then Aragorn said: ‘The hour is come at last. Now I go to Pelargir upon Anduin, and ye shall come after me. And when all this land is clean of the servants of Sauron, I will hold the oath fulfilled, and ye shall have peace and depart for ever. For I am Elessar, Isildur’s heir of Gondor.’ And with that he bade Halbarad unfurl the great standard which he had brought; and behold! it was black, and if there was any device upon it, it was hidden in the darkness. Then there was silence, and not a whisper nor a sigh was heard again all the long night. The Company camped beside the Stone, but they slept little, because of the dread of the Shadows that hedged them round.
But when the dawn came, cold and pale, Aragorn rose at once, and he led the Company forth upon the journey of greatest haste and weariness that any among them had known, save he alone, and only his will held them to go on.
No other mortal Men could have endured it, none but the Dúnedain of the North, and with them Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas of the Elves.
They passed Tarlang’s Neck and came into Lamedon; and the Shadow Host pressed behind and fear went on before them, until they came to Calembel upon Ciril, and the sun went down like blood behind Pinnath Gelin away in the West behind them. The township and the fords of Ciril they found deserted, for many men had gone away to war, and all that were left fled to the hills at the rumour of the coming of the King of the Dead. But the next day there came no dawn, and the Grey Company passed on into the darkness of the Storm of Mordor and were lost to mortal sight; but the Dead followed them.
Two books have been published in English containing writings by Swedish author Vilhelm Ekelund, both in excellent redaction and translation by Lennart Bruce:
Agenda (Berkeley, CA: Cloud Marauder, 1976), a selection that “starts with the diary entries in the ‘AGENDA’ [Ekelund’s posthumously published diary for the years 1913–14 (Agenda, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1966)], and continues with a selection of his work throughout the years, including some writings published posthumously” (editor’s preface, p. 6);
The Second Light (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1986), a selection of essays, aphorisms, and fragments from Ekelund’s entire production (republishing all of Agenda 1976, with corrections and many additions). Still in print.
I intend to publish additional annotated translations here; in all likelihood rarely, and little; with a preference for the author’s readings of ancient Greek and Latin literature. The above-mentioned books are warmly recommended for anyone who desires more, and does not read Swedish.
Ekelund’s highly personalised idiom turns his Swedish into a language that is even for Swedes not perhaps foreign, but new and difficult. If the English translations will sound odd, I hope it will not be entirely due to the incompetence of the translator.
From Elpidi (1939)
I 51 (p. 33)
The most u n t r a n s l a t a b l e line, perhaps the most delightful, in the entire Latin poetry, I thought to be this one, by Horace:
virtus repulsae nescia sordidae.
But see here — how the living meet!
“A noble man has no plans at all; not even a wish. He can, accordingly, never come to shame.” (E. A. Hermelin)
— Friherre Axel Eric Hermelin (1860–1944) was a brilliant and highly original translator of and occasional commentator on classical Persian poetry and Christian esotericism. The line by Horace (Odes 3.2.17) has been translated into English.
VIII 6 (p. 133)
Those who have seen and felt with V i r g i l have all seen him with the eye of folk tradition. The heritage of ancient time’s Asclepian singer’s tradition, in a beautiful, sure hand —: that is Virgil. Such he has won the heart of Dante. And of Hamann, and Swedenborg. And such is the light — the transparency force of a deep-light-imprinted face — that may still set the innermost cords of a Viktor Rydberg in vibration, as if he stood before his most tender secret-laden childhood memory. The new sign of the times with him, which with peculiar energy and concord was taken hold of by tradition and also struck the early Christians, is light of the Orphic light. (But the “Homeric” is of little value; has nothing whatsoever to do with his innermost fate.) He was truly a searcher and a scout, a v i e w – k e e p e r: and you might say, that P a l i n u r u s represented his greatest skaldic measure. The sea was his world —: as such Horace knew him — and the sea took him.
From Atticism–Humanism (2nd ed. 1946)
IV 33 (p. 157)
K á t h a r s i s —: the simple, unresplendent way. Motus in loco natali placidus. Such lay, after all, beneath the Aristotelian explanation of the tragic. It was perhaps with an instinct towards Germanicism and mysticism, that Goethe in his most advanced age turned with such peculiar anticipation towards Aristotle. Only from muse-led experience and a unified view, this word by him may perhaps be understood —: that were he given his life to live again from the beginning, then for the bearing of his inquiry in artistic matters Aristotle would be the guiding star!
A philosopher, somebody said — when I was young — should not only be able to read Greek, he should be able to speak Greek! His intention was correct; that is — to t h i n k Greek.
Motus in loco natali placidus: “Movement is tranquil in the place of origin”. The phrase is found in a commentary by Catholic philospher Franz von Baader on Jacob Böhme (Baader, Sämtliche Werke II 397); I am not sure if it is a quotation or Baader’s own formulation. Ekelund may perhaps have seen it in a book by Eric Hermelin, translator of Böhme (see above). This word: Ekelund may be thinking of a letter to Carl Friedrich Zelter, 29 March 1828: “Stünden mir jetzt, in ruhiger Zeit, jugendlichere Kräfte zu Gebot, so würde ich mich dem Griechischen völlig ergeben, trotz allen Schwierigkeiten die ich kenne; die Natur und Aristoteles würden mein Augenmerk seyn. Es ist über alle Begriffe was dieser Mann erblickte, sah, schaute, bemerkte, beobachtete, dabey aber freylich im Erklären sich übereilte.”
These anecdotes were appended to Recollections of the Table Talk of Samuel Rogers (1856), the editor of which, Alexander Dyce, attributes them to his conversations with William Maltby (1763–1854). A good many of them are quite pointless and unfunny; and there is in fact little that is flattering to Porson with regard to intelligence and taste. There is much that is suggestive of an autistic tendency (Asperger).
Appended here are also Porson’s appearances in Samuel Rogers’ Table-talks taken from the same book. The pagination, added within brackets, refers to the following text.
Copy text is the third edition of Essays in Criticism (1875), available at the Internet Archive; I have corrected it at one or two places collating the edition of R. H. Super (1962). The numbers within brackets refer to the pages of the 1875 edition, denoting the following text.
A shorter version of the essay was originally published anonymously in MacMillan’s Magazine IX, 136-42 (December, 1863), as a review of Robert Willis’s 1862 translation of Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. A better English translation by R. H. M. Elwes (1883) is available on the internet.
On the occasion of Richard Seaford’s article in TLS June 17, 2009, the beginning of the Second Isthmian was read and translated.
Men of old, Thrasyboulos,
who mounted the chariot of the golden-crowned Muses,
gathering there with the glorious lyre,
lightly shot their honey-voicèd hymns of youth,
of the beautiful youth that had attained
the lovely summer-ripeness wooing Aphrodite
on her perfect throne.
For the Muse did not desire profit
then, nor worked a trade:
Nor were the softly sounding songs
from honey-spoken Terpsichore
sold with silver faces.
But now she allows
the Argive’s word to attain the place
most near to truth.
“Money, money makes the man.”
Who said it having lost his goods and friends.
Οἱ μὲν πάλαι, ὦ Θρασύβουλε,
φῶτες, οἳ χρυσαμπύκων
ἐς δίφρον Μοισᾶν ἔβαι-
νον κλυτᾷ φόρμιγγι συναντόμενοι,
ῥίμφα παιδείους ἐτόξευον μελιγάρυας ὕμνους,
ὅστις ἐὼν καλὸς εἶχεν Ἀφροδίτας
εὐθρόνου μνάστειραν ἁδίσταν ὀπώραν.
ἁ Μοῖσα γὰρ οὐ φιλοκερδής
πω τότ’ ἦν οὐδ’ ἐργάτις·
οὐδ’ ἐπέρναντο γλυκεῖ-
αι μελιφθόγγου ποτὶ Τερψιχόρας
ἀργυρωθεῖσαι πρόσωπα μαλθακόφωνοι ἀοιδαί.
νῦν δ’ ἐφίητι <τὸ> τὠργείου φυλάξαι
ῥῆμ’ ἀλαθείας < ⏑ – > ἄγχιστα βαῖνον,
χρήματα χρήματ’ ἀνήρ
ὃς φᾶ κτεάνων θ’ ἅμα λειφθεὶς καὶ φίλων.
It is untypical of Pindar thus to idealize a poetry for not being “profit-hungry” (φιλοκερδής) or “working a trade” (ἐργάτις). He was definitely not ashamed of getting paid, even writing about it, for instance at the end of the Third Pythian,
If the god should hold out exuberant wealth to me,
I have the hope to find great glory forthwith.
εἰ δέ μοι πλοῦτον θεὸς ἁβρὸν ὀρέξαι,
ἐλπίδ’ ἔχω κλέος εὑρέσθαι κεν ὑψηλὸν πρόσω.
A close reading of the beginning of the Second Isthmian might, with a pinch of imagination, elicit a more significant message than the hypocritical reverence for amateur disinterestedness that it professes. The piece may be read as a statement of literary criticism as well as, beneath the surface, ironically detached professional pride. The key-word is “lightly” (ῥίμφα). Poets of old wrote lightly, says Pindar, lovesongs of (about or to) beautiful youths. He has in mind the Archaic melic poets, for instance Alcman, Alcaeus and Ibycus, perhaps also Archilochus and Sappho although they preferred girls — but παιδείους … ὕμνους in v. 5 may in fact with some good intention be read as “songs of young boys and girls” (cf. Crat. fr. 258, Eup. fr. 327, LSJ παιδικός III 2 a).
Now if we compare this description of the Archaic Lyre with Pindar’s own production, we find that he is depicting the very antithesis of Pindaric poetry. Pindar wrote grave hymns, about deadly serious mythological subjects. If he should occasionally write about boys (fr. 123), the result is not light, but morally challenging, boldly metaphorical, and possessing the gravity of good and expensive knives. Hence, the lightly composing amateur poets of old — would they not be, from Pindar’s perspective, also a tad light-weight? Is it not also possible to elicit from the epithet παιδείους another meaning: I mean educational? Instead of the ordinary παιδικός, Pindar chooses an adjective which is cognate with παιδεία, education, and which is elsewhere normally used in the context of child-rearing.
This cannot be without significance: indeed from Pindar’s perspective, the Archaic poets belonged to the Lehrjahre of Greek poetry. Now, with Pindar, poetry had reached maturity. And might accordingly, as an adult, allow itself professional remuneration.
Clothed in words of pious reverence, the beginning of the Second Isthmian could in fact contain an ironical and carefully concealed snub at the patron: possibly he could not afford to pay that much. The entire poem contains only 48 verses, to be compared with about a hundred in most Pythian and Olympian odes, and three hundred in the Fourth Pythian.
Then again a silver coin is a silver coin, and we could perhaps compare the story about Pindar’s older contemporary Simonides, as related by Aristotle (Rhet. 1405b):
As the winner in the mules’ race tried to offer Simonides too little money, he said that he did not want to compose a poem, professing to be insulted for having to write about half-asses. But when he gave enough, Simonides wrote:
Hail, sisters of storm-heeled horses (fr. 10 Page, PMG)
Not a very original idea of mine, I see now after studying Verdenius’ commentary. Although it is usually surmised that Pindar asks for money, rather than mocks the unsufficiency of his client’s funds.