Symmachus

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Archive for November, 2008

The Swallow song (Carmina popularia 2 PMG)

ἦλθ’ ἦλθε χελιδὼν
καλὰς ὥρας ἄγουσα,
καλοὺς ἐνιαυτούς,
ἐπὶ γαστέρα λευκά,
ἐπὶ νῶτα μέλαινα.
παλάθαν σὺ προκύκλει
ἐκ πίονος οἴκου
οἴνου τε δέπαστρον
τυροῦ τε κάνυστρον·
καὶ πύρνα χελιδὼν
καὶ τὰν λεκιθίταν
οὐκ ἀπωθεῖται· πότερ’ ἀπίωμες ἢ λαβώμεθα;

εἰ μέν τι δώσεις· εἰ δὲ μή, οὐκ ἐάσομες·
ἢ τὰν θύραν φέρωμες ἢ τὸ ὑπέρθυρον
ἢ τὰν γυναῖκα τὰν ἔσω καθημέναν·
μικρὰ μέν ἐστι, ῥαιδίως νιν οἴσομες.
ἂν δὴ φέρηις τι, μέγα δή τι φέροις·
ἄνοιγ’ ἄνοιγε τὰν θύραν χελιδόνι·
οὐ γὰρ γέροντές ἐσμεν, ἀλλὰ παιδία.

Came, came the swallow
with pleasant seasons,
with the beautiful year.
It is white underneath
and black on the back.
You, roll the fruitcake
out of the rich mansion
and a cup of wine,
and a basket of cheese:
nor wheat bread shall the swallow,
nor pulse bread
refuse. Now should we leave? or else receive?

If so, then give, or else we’re not content
We’ll take the door or the lintel above it
or the woman, she who is sitting outside it,
she’s small indeed, an easy load;
if you will bring, bring something large:
now open, open the door for the swallow,
we are not old men, but only children.

*

A Greek popular song, sung by the children of Rhodes as they went from house to house in what apparently was an ancient version of ‘trick-or-treat‘. According to Theognis of Rhodes, cited by Athenaeus 8.60, who preserves the song, the collection was occasioned by a religious festival in the month of Boëdromion. In Athens, this was an autumnal month. The theme of the present song has been taken as evidence that on Rhodes, Boëdromion came in the spring.

In the European classical tradition, the song has often been quoted as a prime example of naive Greek pastoral, a celebration of life and the beauty of nature. Perhaps the reality behind it is grimmer than we have realised.  In the later European context, ‘trick-or-treat’ indeed took place in the autumn, after the harvest and slaughter was done, when farms and houses were well-stocked. The poor people who performed the trick-or-treat had long winter months to look forward to, and needed every ounce of nutrition they could get.

Now, apparently here the children are dressed up as swallows, with white cloths in front and black on the back. What if the talk about spring and beautiful seasons is only a game, a sort of grimly humourous joke intended to soften the hearts of the rich mansion-owners — and, at the same time an instance of the superstitious euphemic practise so common of Greek society. The beatiful season, καλὰς ὥρας, καλοὺς ἐνιαυτούς, which is coming, is not the spring — but winter. Let’s call the winter beatiful, maybe it will be nicer to us.

Sappho 8

P.Oxy. 2289

[ἆδυ  μὲ]ν [τ]ὸ [κάλλος ἴδην φιλάων]
[ὤστε π]ὰμ φ[άεννον ἐν ὠράνοισιν]
[ἄστρον,  Ἄ]τθι· σὸ[ν δὲ πρόσωπον ἐλλάμ-]
xx[πει] νεφ[έλαισι.]

Sweet is the beauty of friends to see,
like every flaming star in the sky,
Atthis: but your face shines
xxthrough clouds.

A. E. Housman, The Name and Nature of Poetry

A decently formatted version of this text is availabe here.

[p. 4]

The question should be fairly stated, how far a man can be an adequate, or even a good (so far as he goes) though inadequate critic of poetry, who is not a poet, at least in posse. Can he be an adequate, can he be a good critic, though not commensurate? But there is yet another distinction. Supposing he is not only not a poet, but is a bad poet! What then?

COLERIDGE, Anima Poetae, pp. 127 f.

Read the rest of this entry »

Osip Mandelstam, The Kremlin Mountain Man

The so-called ”Stalin epigram” (1933), read with some help from a native Russian speaker.

Мы живем, под собою не чуя страны,
Наши речи за десять шагов не слышны,
А где хватит на полразговорца,
Там припомнят кремлёвского горца.
Его толстые пальцы, как черви, жирны,
А слова, как пудовые гири, верны,
Тараканьи смеются усища,
И сияют его голенища.

А вокруг него сброд тонкошеих вождей,
Он играет услугами полулюдей,
Кто свистит, кто мяучит, кто хнычет,
Он один лишь бабачет и тычет.
Как подковы, кует за указом указ —
Кому в пах, кому в лоб, кому в бровь, кому в глаз
Что ни казнь у него — то малина
И широкая грудь осетина.

*

We live, but feel not the land beneath us
In ten steps’ distance, you will not hear our words
But if they may utter a half-choked sound
They’ll remember the Kremlin Mountain man

His fingers are thick, glistening worms
But his words true like twelve pound weights
His moustaches laughing cockroaches
And his bootstraps are beaming

The thin-necked rabble of chiefs around him,
Half-man servants he toys with.
One squeaks, one mews, one whimpers, he only
Babbles and points.

Like horse shoes he forges ukas on ukas
For each one’s groins, foreheads, eyes

His every death sentence a raspberry
But the Ossete’s chest is broad.

glistening worms: Demyan Bedny had mentioned to Mandelstam that Stalin left stains of fat on the books he borrowed (Montefiore, Stalin, p. 135 in the paperback ed.).

The thin-necked rabble of chiefs: according to Montefiore loc.cit. an allusion to Molotov’s small head and thin neck. Cf. also Gottfried Benn, ”Englisches Café”, which begins:

Das ganze schmalschuhige Raubpack,
Russinnen, Jüdinnen, tote Völker, ferne Küsten,
schleicht durch die Frühjahrsnacht.

Raspberry malina (малина): Perhaps an allusion to Malenkov, who like Mandelstam knew Latin and read poetry. He was one of the chief authorites in the executive branches of the 1930’s purges (see Montefiore, op.cit. s. 258-60). Because of feminine traits, he was nicknamed Malanya. Stalin’s broad chest could then be a complementary contrast to Malanya’s legendary broad hips.

the Ossete: see on Stalin’s father here.

Sappho 3

. . .
xx[δῶρα με] δώσην

οὐ τεα]ύτων μέντ’ ἐπ[ιδεύομαί τι
ἢ κ]άλων κἄσλων· σ[ὺ δ’ ἔπεσσιν αἴτης
οὐ κά]λοις, λύπης τε μ[άταιον ἴεισ’
xxεἰς ἔ]μ’ ὄνειδος.

αἰ γὰρ] οἰδήσαις ἐπὶ τ[ρὶς τόσονδε,
ὠς τρύφ]αν ἄσαιο· τὸ γὰρ [νόημμα
τὦ]μον οὐκ οὔτω μ[άλακως πέρα πρὸς
xxσοὶ] διάκηται

[ἀλλὰ] μηδ’ [ἄρ]ασδε [σὺ μηδὲ κρᾶσδε
[ὤστε βάτρα]χις, συνίημ[μι δ’ ἤδη
[ὄσσον εἰς πλήρ]ης κακότατο[ς. ἆρ’ οἶσθ’
xx[ὤς σε κάλημ]μεν; —

[ἴσθι πεδ τύχη]ν ἀτέραις μ’ ἔ[οισαν —]
[ἦ Δίκα ’χάρ]η φρένας εὖ [λέγοισα]
[ὤς φίλα θν]άτοις μακά[ρεσσι πάμπαν]
xx[ἔσσι μαγοίροις]

[ ]α[ ]
. . .

*

to give

I am not deficient in such matters
or in beautiful and good things: but you demand with words
that are not beautiful, and you grieve me, hurling witless
reproach at me

I wish you would swell to thrice your size,
so that you would have your fill of sweets. My mind
is no longer so softly disposed
towards you.

But do not bark, nor croak
like a frog. I know now
the extent to which you are full of baseness. Do you know
what we call you?

Yes, it happens that I associate with others:
Oh how Dika gladdened her mind, well saying
that you verily are a friend of the mortal, blessed
cooks.

κ]άλων i the second, [νόημμα och τὦ]μον in the third strophe is by Blass; ἔ]μ’ in the second and μ[άλακως in the third by J. M. Edmonds.