‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Iliad in Old English

I had the idea a while ago, and would like to put it into practice (except: oh the labour! and oh -- who would ever want to publish such a thing?) of an anthology of Greek verse translated into an English that marked the historical range of the language in which the originals were written. This came to me after reading an anthology (I think it was this one) that translated choice portions of Homer, Hesiod, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Hellenistic poets, New Testament, early Christian writings and so on, right up to modern-day Greek poetry, all into the same contemporary-idiom English. That's fine as far as getting at the meaning goes, of course; but it inevitably flattens and erases our sense of the poetry. Because of course the Greek of Homer is two and a half thousand years older than the Greek of Seferis -- as different linguistically as Old English is from blog-speak. 'What would an anthology look like,' I thought to myself, 'that translated Homer into Old English, Hesiod into Chaucerian English, the Attic tragedians into Shakespearian English, Hellenistic poets into the idiom of the metaphysicals (or maybe into 18th-century English) and so on?' It would be a curious and absorbing task to generate so much text; but would the result be worthwhile in any sense?

One way to find out is actually to do it. So here, to begin with, are the opening eight lines of the Iliad in Anglo Saxon. Assuming I haven’t perpetrated any ghastly howlers, Old-English-wise. Which I daresay I have. To quote Anglo-Saxon George III: hwæt-hwæt?
Ábylgnesse æðelinges         Achilleses, sing þu gyden,
Maegan mága Peleuses        þæt mannmyrringe gewrecen
Hildewulfas an héape        tō Hades forsendede
Ábær Achaeanum        weáan al unárímede
Hereréafa hunda        ond þá herefuglas beadwe;
Þus Goddes geþoht        gefullforðed wæs
þā Agamemnon æðelcyning        þā rόfan Achilles
scearp sundrodedon wǣron        ádæledon in sacum.

[Lines 1-7] Sing of the anger of Prince Achilles, O goddess, the mighty son of Peleus whose wrath sent down to Hades many valiant souls of heroes and brought woes all unnumbered upon the Achaeans, and made them spoil for dogs and the birds that haunt the battlefield; thus the plan of Zeus came to fulfilment, and the noble king Agamemnon and brave Achilles were first parted in sharp strife.
[UPDATE: Tuesday 17th June 2014. Here are lines 8-21 of the Homeric original:]
Hwilc god gielda       brōhton on geador
Þǣra twa gára gúðrincas      sæccan geornlich?
Hit wǣs hyse Latones       ond híehþe God;
séocnes he sendede     in hine strong irre
ond Þe folc hie forfóron       sē fela ácwælon.
Be Atreuses æðeling       dede æpsenys æt Chryse,
Túnpréost Troyan. Cóm       tilan to Achaeanum
Ond to him scipum swiftum       unlíesan swéte dóhter.
Geþingsceat goldes ábær,       ond godeswriða Apollan
Habbede in hande, Þe god       hnæppaþ from feorwege
On ān gefýstlaþ gullisc.       Gebæd he Þe Achaeanas
Ond Þe twa telgan Atreuses,       teoha dryhtenweardas:
‘Atreuses æðelinges! ond       oþres Achaeanes bangebeorgen
Be goddes ásitteaþ Alympian       áhýðedest þu al Troyan
Ond æthwurfen earda æfter!       Ac mīn fréobearn ábirmē,
Þige þis þanc weoroidlean       in áre þrýþ-líc Apollan!’

[lines 8-21] Which of the gods was it that brought these two armed warriors eagerly to contend? The son of Leto together with the greatest God; for in his strong anger he sent sickness throughout the land, and the people began to perish, because the son of royal Atreus wrought dishonour upon the Trojan priest Chryses. For he came to the Achaeans and their swift ships to free his lovely daughter, bearing a golden ransom; and in his hands he held the holy wreath of Apollo who strikes from afar, on a staff of gold; and he implored all the Achaeans, and (especially) the two sons of Atreus, the marshallers of the troops: ‘Sons of Atreus, and other greave-clad Achaeans: by the gods who dwell in Olympus, may you sack the city of Troy, and afterwards return to your homes! but give my child back to me, and accept the ransom out of reverence for mighty Apollo!'
[UPDATE 2: Wednesday 18th June 2014. I'm going to keep adding to this post, as and when I get the odd moments necessary to turn these lines into Anglo-Saxon. A lull this afternoon resulted in the following stab at lines 22-32. Subsequent verse paragraphs will be added in other days.]
Swā hréopon ælfaru Achaeanes       geÁtan þis héah æweweard
Geþicgan þis greát geþingsceat;      gíet Agamemnon geunblissede,
Ac ágénsendede he him       ond ábéonn him áforlic:
“betst þu bēo ne here      bī þǣm hóle bátas,
Ealda, ne nū ne náwa,       ofnime þē stæf nīwgoldfyld
Ond þē wræd gedwolgod       weorne on þē andwlitan.
Hīe ic ne nyllað aheorde       onealde hīe in mīn hám
Æt Argos al feorþéode!       ic þe ágend!
Onstepee hie ombeht mīn       oft aet lám, ond
Fūs in forligerbedd!       Ne fýsest mīn irre!
Greme mē no: gǣst-þu,       gif þu wille tō géanhwierfan.”

[22-32] Then all the host of the Achaeans shouted assent, agreeing with this holy priest, to accept this great ransom, yet the thing did not please Agamemnon, but he sent him away harshly, and harshly commanded him: "Let me not find you, old man, by these hollow ships, not now not ever, lest your new-gilded staff not protect you and the wreath of the god wither on your brow. Her I will not set free. May she grow old in my home, in Argos, far from her native land, I her owner, as she walks to and fro as my slave, before the loom and eagerly serves my bed. Do not rouse up my anger! Go now, if you ever wish to return."

Swā he sægde       óht slæhtede þē ealdan
éaðmódede ond ēodon;       on his eft-sið
bi swinsunglic sǣ       al in sálnesse.
Ánfald þē ealda ábæd         ac æðel Apollan
godbearn geboren to      hwítloces Letoan:
“Heorcne, heofondéma!       hláford bogan seolfrenes
Chrysen ond Cillan bewacende       cynehláford Tenedosan
If ealltæw ic hréfede          hearge þīn, Sminthiane,
Ac gebær þu bernelác      bulena ond gætenua,
Andsware mīn orlegsceaft       æfne bén mīn:
Ásende arwan ac sé       attorsceaða Danaanum".

[33-42] So he spoke, and the old man was seized with fear and obeyed his word. He made his way beside the loud-resounding sea in silence. When he was alone, the old man prayed to the lord Apollo, the godchild born to glad fair-haired Leto: "Hear me heavenly one, lord of the silver bow, who stand over Chryse and holy Cilla, and rule mightily over Tenedos, Sminthian god, if ever I roofed over a temple to your pleasing, or if ever I made burnt-offerings of bulls and goats, fulfill this prayer for me: let the Danaans pay for my tears by your arrows."
[Sat. 21st June. This'll do me for now, I think.]
Swā ábæd he: Apollo       andswarede him líhting.
Ágrýndede from Alympe       wiþ ánhýdig stræde
háthiertede in heortan            hangelle on sculdran
flánboga ond bogefódder.      Ábrasledon þe flánas
eāc þe gealg godde ēodon       cóm nihtbealu.
Settede bī scipum:       scéat he ān arwe,
Þréalic ond þéowwracu       wæs hire flyhtdyn þurh.
Forma hradendlic hundas       he hearmde forman
manþwæree múlas        ac æfter menn—
wið stingende sceaftum        slæhtedon, befylledon.
Á áburnon       ádas ásprungenra.

[43-51] So he prayed, and bright Apollo answered him. He descended Olympus with resolute stride, angered at heart, his bow and quiver hanging from his shoulders. The arrows rattled in time with the stride of the angry god as he moved, and his coming was like the night. Then he sat down beside the ships and shot off an arrow: terrible was the rush of the arrows’s flight. At first he harmed the swift dogs and the harmless mules, but then the men themselves—shot down with his stinging shafts, and struck; and constantly burned the pyres of the dead.

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