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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite

As is readily obvious, the translation is in rough form. I am attempting to make every line in English correspond to the line in Greek. I believe a basically colloquial language is the only one capable of being read in serious poetry today, though it is important to twist it with rhetoric and ornament to keep it alive. I used a basic five beat line, generally iambic, stretching it fairly often to six beats when the content implied some high moment or sustained tone. The line sounds almost but not quite natural in English. Since the lines are somewhat longer than ordinary, conversational breath units, they sound vaguely dignified and this impression is reinforced by the historic uses of English blank verse. The fact that the originals were written in a more highly artificial language might tend to favor a similarly artificial language for translation. But it is my contention and the common practice of classical translators today as a whole that the subject, style, and syntax of a poem like the Hymn are themselves sufficiently removed from colloquial realms that it would be a mistake to further intensify the effect. The lengthy semantic units of the lines allow the reader to linger lovingly on each of a long series of images or ideas, making the poem always clearly representing a special category of experience. (I think it would be tempting to break each line into tiny word groups and give each a separate space on the page, rather like bits in a Creeley poem, but the effect cannot be sustained for the large handfuls of meaning that each line of the hymn conveys and it would shortly become tedious and annoying.) I like to use as many ordinary expressions as possible, but an occasional admixture of the vulgar or the formal can sometimes help to remind the reader that the poem ranges over the whole of experience rather than being confined to specified reservations.

Hymn to Aphrodite

Muse, declare the deeds of golden Aphrodite,
the Cypriot who stirs sweet lust among the gods,
who's broken to her yoke the tribes of men,
flying birds, and all the wild beasts —
those that live on land or in the sea —
all love crowned Cytherea's works.
But there are three she cannot win with wiles:
bright-eyed Athena, aegis-bearing Zeus' child,
does not delight in golden Aphrodite’s deeds;
Athena's love's for war and Ares’ work,
for fights and combat and for well-made crafts,
for at the start she taught earth's men to make
chariots and war cars worked in bronze,
and then, she teaches, too, the soft-skinned girls
at home, puts in their minds most glorious skills;
nor does laughter-loving Aphrodite
control the loud resounding Artemis
of golden arrows who loves bows and hunts
and mountain beasts and loves the lyre and dance
and piercing cries and shady groves and just men's towns;
nor does the upright maiden Hestia,
crooked-counselled Cronos' first-born child
(and also youngest by the will of Zeus) love Love
(Apollo and Poseidon courted her
but she said no and firmly she refused
she swore a mighty oath which she upheld —
touching aegis-holding father Zeus's head,
the godly one, vowed virgin to remain —
Father Zeus gave her instead high fame,
and so she sits in hearts of homes and takes
the cream; she's honored in the temples, too,
and mortals make her senior of their gods.
Aphrodite's wiles won't win these three,
but Aphrodite captures all the rest,
the blessed gods and also mortal men.
Even thundering Zeus is led astray
the greatest and the one with greatest fame,
even his shrewd heart, when she should wish,
is easily led with mortals to make love
and his wife and sister Hera never knows.
(She whose form is fairest far of all,
most glorious of the gods whom Rhea bore
with sly Cronos -- all-knowing Zeus took her
and made of her his sage and prudent wife).
Then to Aphrodite Zeus tossed sweet
desire to mix with mortals so that soon
she could not keep away from beds of men.
So how could laughing Aphrodite then
make mock among the gods and softly smile and say
that she had joined the gods with mortal girls
(who give birth to sons of gods who're doomed to die)
and goddesses she'd mixed with mortal men.
Zeus threw then sweetest lust into her heart,
lust for Anchises tending cows on Ida's
spring-rich mountain peaks -- he looked a god.
Seeing him then laughing Aphrodite felt
A new desire and fear then strike her heart.
She went to Paphos -- Cyprus -- then where her
aromatic altar and her temple stood,
and she went in and shut the shining doors.
The graces then anointed her with oil
such as blooms on bodies of the gods.
(The oil was sweet, ambrosial, smelled so fine!)
Then laughter-loving Aphrodite donned
fine clothes of golden fabric on her flesh.
She left sweet-smelling Cyprus then for Troy
(fast she flew and high, the clouds her road),
then she came to spring-rich Ida, mother of beasts,
she went through hills right to his home and after her
came bright-eyed lions, fawning grey-furred wolves
and bears and fast leopards ravenous for deer,
and then her heart rejoiced at seeing them
and to their hearts she tossed hot lust; they paired
in twos and mated in the shade.
and then she came to the well-built house
and found him left alone within that place,
Anchises the great man with god's own grace.
All the rest had driven herds to grassy ,
spots and he was left alone at home
where he walked and plucked his lyre with piercing notes.
Zeus’ daughter Aphrodite stood before him
very like a virgin in her size and form
and told him as he eyed her not to fear.
Anchises looked at her and was amazed
to see her form and size and shining clothes.
She wore a robe outshining fire's glow,
fine and gold and richly worked. A marvel to
behold. It shone like moonshine all about her breasts
and she wore twisted armlets, calyx earrings bright
and round her tender throat fine necklaces.
Eros seized Anchises and he said
"You're welcome, queen, to this house, blessed one, be you
Artemis or Leto, golden Aphrodite,
noble Themis, or bright-eyed Athena
or it may be you're one among the Graces
who go with gods and whom we know don't die
or nymphs who live on lovely mountain tops
where rivers start and grassy meadows grow.
On a peak with prospects all about I'll build
an altar for you where I'll leave rich gifts
all through the year and you can smile on me,
make me great among the Trojan men,
make my offspring strong and as for me
let me live long and see the shining sun –
prosperous I'd come to old age door."
Aphrodite, Zeus' child, answered him,
"Most glorious of earth-born men, know I'm
not divine — why think I’m like a god.
I'm mortal and my mother was of earth.
My father's famous Otreus — you know
of him, he rules all well-walled Phrygia,
but I can speak your tongue as well as mine,
My nurse at home was Trojan and she took
me as a baby from my mother's care.
That's the way I learned your speech so well.
I danced for noisy Artemis of golden shafts,
the gold-wand-holding Argus-killer grabbed me —
we played, the nymphs, and much sought after girls
and then a countless crowd encircled us,
then gold-wand-holding Argus-killer seized me.
He took me over farms of mortal men
and over land untenanted, untilled
where raw-meat-eating beasts roam shaded spots
It seemed my feet would never touch the fertile earth.
He told me I should be Anchises’ wife,
and from our bed would come forth brilliant sons,
the offspring from our bed would shine most bright.
The mighty Argus-slayer told me this
and then he mounted up to join the gods,
and I came here for fate is on me strong.
I beg of you by Zeus and by your parents
(who must be good or they'd have no such son)
take this virgin then, unversed in love.
Show me to your father, to your pru-
dent mother and your noble siblings, too.
I shall be no bad addition, rather good.
Quick, send to the fast-horsed Phrygian folk
to tell my father and my mourning mother.
They will send you woven clothes and heaps
of gold. These many shining things are yours with me.
You should give a lovely wedding feast,
well-liked by men and by the deathless gods.
Having talked, she tossed his heart sweet lust.
Eros seized Anchises and he said,
"If you are mortal and your mother too,
famed Otreus your father as you say,
if godly herald Hermes brought you here,
if you’re to be my wife for life,
then there’s no god or mortal man can hold
me back till I have lain with you in love.
Right now Apollo the far-shooter could
loose pain’s arrows from his silver bow —
I would go to hell, my godlike girl,
after having mounted to your bed.
He took her hand and laughter-loving Aphrodite
looked off with pretty eyes downcast,
moved to the well-made bed with soft
clothes spread for him. For blankets they had skins
of bears and of loud-roaring lions, too
that he had killed himself on mountain heights.
And when they'd mounted to the well-made bed,
he first took off her twisted armlets, pins,
her calyx earrings, and her necklaces.
He loosed her girdlebelt and stripped her shining clothes
and laid them on a silver-studded seat.
Then — by the will of gods and destiny,
deity and man made love (he didn't realize).
But at the tine when cows and hardy sheep
turn back for home and leave the flowered fields
then Aphrodite dressed herself and poured
out sweet and soundest sleep on Anchises.
And when the bright divinity was dressed,
she stood beside the bed and her head touched
the roof and from her fairest goddess' cheeks
there shone a beauty that befits crowned
Cytherea -- waking him she said,
"Get up, o son of Dardanus! Why sleep?
And think, if now I look the same as when
your eyes looked on and saw me first before?
And quickly he awoke and looked at her,
at Aphrodite's throat and lovely eyes
and much afraid he turned his eyes aside
and pulled his cloak up high to hide his face
and speaking winged words entreated her,
"Goddess, when I saw you first, I knew
you were divine, but you deceived me then.
By aegis-holding Zeus I beg of you
don't leave me now to live a cursed life!
Take pity! He who beds a god becomes
after that no more a healthy man."
Then Zeus' daughter Aphrodite spoke,
"Anchises, noblest of all mortal men,
take heart and don't be overcome by fear.
You needn't fear you'll suffer harm from me
or other gods for we have love for you
You shall have a son who'll rule in Troy.
His children's children, too, who are to come.
His name shall be Aeneas since I was
filled with awful shame to lie with man.
(Yet your line always comes the nearest gods
in form and shape of any mortal men).
Wise Zeus he grabbed the blond Ganymede,
(his beauty was so great) and took him up
to pour the drinks in Zeus's house for gods.
A marvel and the gods all honor him.
He pours red nectar from a golden bowl.
But Tros felt endless pain then not to know
to where the wondrous wind had borne his boy
so always then he mourned and every day
till pitying Zeus paid him for his son
high-stepping horses such as carry gods.
Those were a gift and then Zeus told the Guide,
the Argus-killer, to inform the man
his son would live like deathless, ageless gods.
And when Tros heard this news from Zeus he wept
no more but in his heart rejoiced
and joyous rode his stormy-footed steeds.
So Tithonos was snatched by golden Dawn
and he was of your race yet like a god,
and she asked dark-cloud Cronos’ son if he
might be immortal, live throughout all time
and Zeus consented and fulfilled her wish.
Childish then was venerable Dawn.
She didn't ask for youth with no old age
so while he had his charming youth he lived
with golden-throned Dawn the early born
delighting at earth's end by Ocean's stream,
but when the first grey hairs began to grow
on his fair head and on his noble chin,
venerable Dawn kept from his bed
although she still looked after him at home,
gave him ambrosia, food, and finest clothes.
But when he was oppressed with loathsome age,
when he could not walk or lift his limbs,
it seemed to her heart then the wisest thing
to lay him down and close the shining doors.
There he always babbles and his strength
is gone which once he had in limber limbs.
I wouldn't have you deathless in that way
to be among the gods and always live,
but if you could preserve your present form
and shape and could be called my mate,
sorrow would not wrap my prudent heart.
But you will soon be seized by stark old age
which merciless stands next to every man
destructive, wretched, hated by the gods.
The gods will now reproach me thanks to you
every day and always due to you.
They used to fear my comments and my craft
for I could mate them all with mortals too.
Thus I made my mind subject them all,
but now my words will sound with no such strength
among the gods for much I've been misled.
Most wretchedly my mind has gone astray.
Beneath my belt a child I've made with man,
and when that child first sees sunlight, the moun-
tain nymphs full-breasted should assume his care.
(Those nymphs are neither men nor gods but live
quite long and eat immortal food and dance
in circles fair and fast among the gods
and Sileni and Argus-killer clear-
sighted mate with them in lovely caves.
And when they're born then pines or bright-topped oaks
grow up upon the fertile earth so fine
and flourish standing on steep mountain peaks,
and men know these are sacred precincts then
and never mortal cuts the trees with ax.
But when the Moira Death stands very near
first those fine trees will wither standing still.
Their bark then rots about them and boughs fall.
The nymph and tree leave sunlight then at once.
The nymphs shall keep my child and care for him,
and when he's reached the age of charming youth
the goddesses will show him them to you
and so that I can tell you all I want,
I'll bring the child here when he is five
and when you have cast eyes upon this boy
(a joyful sight for godlike he will be)
then bring him quick to windy Ilion
and if the mortals ask you who it was
who got your own dear child beneath her belt,
you must be sure to tell them as I bid --
say that his mother is a flowery nymph,
one who lives in forests of this hill,
but if you boast and say a foolish thing
and say you lay with well crowned Cytherea,
angry Zeus will throw a thunderbolt.
I’ve told you all so heed what I have said.
Keep yourself from talk, respect god's wrath.
Then she mounted up the windy sky.
Hail goddess, queen of Cyprus strong!
I began with you and now shall turn.

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