‘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.

Saturday 19 July 2014

A New Way of Translating Ancient Greek Classics: Roundup Post

This was the idea:
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 (The Penguin Book of Greek Verse) 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?
And these are the posts that resulted in a week-or-so of toying with the idea. I enjoyed myself. Indeed, if I could persuade a publisher to take it on as a project I'd do the whole lot. Not much chance of that, though. *sigh*

The Iliad in Old English

Hesiod in Early Middle English

Sappho in Late Middle English

Pindar in Late Tudor English

Aeschylus in Elizabethan English

Sophocles in Elizabethan English

Euripides in Elizabethan English

Aristophanes in Elizabethan English

Theocritus in Late Seventeenth-, Early Eighteenth-Century English

After that, I started to run into redundancy issues: it's possible to find later Greek authors translated into the idiom of the 18th-, 19th and 20th centuries (by English writers working in those centuries), rendering the necessity of my pastiche less pressing. Still I'm glad I did this: there are some nice effects in the Attic tragedians, and -- looking over them again -- I'd say the Sappho results in quite a striking and effective new English poem. But maybe I'm fooling myself.

Another possibility (again: were I plugged into the world of practical theatre, which I'm absolutely not) would be to do the whole of (say) Medea in that rather lovely Elizabethan pastiche English, and stage it. I'd certainly be up for doing that.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Theocritus in Late Seventeenth-, Early Eighteenth-Century English

This project now starts to run into a couple of difficulties. First of all: to follow it through I'm going to have to do some quite serious stretching of my timescales. If we're taking Sophocles to be, more-or-less, Shakespeare linguistically speaking; then five centuries on from Sophocles brings us barely into the Common Era, whereas five centuries on from Shakey and we're -- well, we're now. So either I translate a bit of the New Testament into contemporary English and then stop, or I stretch the Greek side of the timeline. My justifications for doing the latter are (a) the paucity of Greek texts 500 BC to 100 AD relative to the richness of evolving English styles, and (b) the relatively accelerated linguistic evolution of English compared with the Greek over the same period. Also, (c) because I say so.

A different sort of problem also arises. Actual English translations start to catch up with me. What I mean by this is: nobody at all beguiled the time in 900AD translating Homer into Old English. Likewise for Hesiod in the 1200s, or Sappho in the late 1300s,and so on. The decline of learning in the west meant that the Greek classics were pretty much forgotten. Latin of course was kept alive by the Church, but Greek hardly at all. Now, one reason the Renaissance is so-called is because knowledge of the Greeks was new-born; and from the 1600s onward we start to get contemporary translations of the texts I'm interested in. Certainly by the 18th-century there were dozens of versions of Greek masters. So why should I continue the labour of creating my own pastiche versions? Why not just reprint one or other 18th-century Theocritus (for instance)? Well I'm not sure I have a good answer for that, except to mumble something about consistency, and chime in with the Mastermind beep-beep-beep: I've started, so I'll finish. As the actress said to the Bishop.

At any rate, here's Theocritus's First 'Idyll'. There are lots of good modern translations to choose from if you're looking to compare: this Loeby one, for instance.

The Poem is laid in Sicily, upon the fragrant banks of the River Himera. A Goatherd encourages THYRSIS, a ſhepherd, to ſing aloud the LAMENT OF DAPHNIS, who did die for Love; and for reward gives to him a magnificent Cup (at firſt deſcribed, and only later ſhewn) and handſome Goat.

Most ſweet it is, th' whisper of this pine
That makes its muſic by theſe fountains fine;
And no leſs ſweet, O Goatherd, thy pipe's ſound.
Afore of thee Pan only mayſt be crowned.
If he muſt win a Kid, a Goat's thy due;
And if he claims the Goat, the Kid's for you!
And there's good eating on a dainty kid.

As ſweetly, ſhepherd true, Your notes are ſhed,
Like murmuring ſtreams aslip down yonder hill.
If ewe-lambs are reſerved for th' Muſes ſkill,
Then you ſhall win a ſheep. If ſheep's their prize
Then tender lamblet ſhall your win comprize.

By all the Nymphs I pledge you, Goatherd, ſit,
Come now down here by bankſide's ſhady pit
Beſide theſe tamarisks, and play your tune.
I’ll tend your goats the moment as a boon.

Faith, he that pipes at Noon muſt bear the brunt
Of angry Pan, his ire! who quits his hunt,
And lyes him down to ſleep by gurgling ſtreams,
And grows awrath if aught disturb his Dreams.
But, Thyrſis, ah! he uſed to ſing the ſcan
Daphnis' Affliction well as any man;
You are no 'prentice in the country art.
Now let us find an elm and ſit apart
Where ſtands Priapus' ſtatue, and the ſweet
Spring Fountain goddeſs and the ſhepherd's ſeat.
Chaunt thou beneath the oak as you that day
Did ſing gainſt Libyan Chronis winning lay.
I'll give thee my beſt Goat, a handſome white;
ſhe ſuckles two, yet fills three pails aright
And give thee then beſides a lovely Cup
Well ſcoured with Wax, that cries to be fill'd up,
And grand two-handled Pot, but newly made
On which the maker's marks are ſtill display'd
And round the brim a brede of Ivy twines,
And round the form a crocus pattern ſhines
The Berries crop, and wanton in on the leaf:
Within a Woman ſits, of beauties chief,
Her dazzling form thro' envious Veils on view,
And all around her lovers ſeek to woo,
They ſtrive and fight; ſhe unmov'd by their praise
Now ſmiling here, now there ſhe casts her gaze,
And now to theſe, now thoſe her Mind applies;
Whilſt pain has ſwoln their eyes to bulgeſome ſize.
Still love, ſtill beg, but ſhe poor Hearts declines!
Near theſe, a Fisher on white Rocks casts lines,
He ſeems to gather up to hurl his Net
He ſtands as labouring, and his Limbs afret.
He ſtrives to fish with evry ſtrength awrought
His grey hairs puffed and cords at neck all taut
For his ſtrength is the ſtrength of youth unmellow
And but a ſhort remove from this old fellow
A vineyard ſtands with ripe grape finely clad
And ſeated on a hedge a little lad.
And either ſide of him two Foxen browſe;
Ranging to and fro and pilfering down the rows
One Reynard ſteals to make the good grapes ſcarce,
The other tries his wiles at the lad’s purſe,
And vows he will not let him be until
He ſhared victuals to the other's fill.
The lad weaves ſtar-flower-ſtalks to make a gin
To catch the tasty meat of locuſts in,
The boy's ſo pleased with his work plaiting twine
Is careleſs both of wallet and of vines.
And for an end, mark you, ſpread all aboot
The cup goes to the lisſomeſt bear’s-foot,
A ſight worth ſeeing with its writhen art;
'Tis a marvellous work, and ‘twill amaze your heart.
Twas Calymnus' cup, who worked a boat;
I bought it from him for a cheeſe and goat.
It never touched my lips: unſoiled as new
And this ſhall be my free-giv’n gift to you
If you will ſing how in th’umbrageous grove
Young Daphnis ſighed, and pin’d, and dy’d for Love.
No, no: I am in earneſt. Friend, go to’t
Hoard not thy ſong until it be forgot!

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

'Tis Thyrſis ſong, from Aetna come to ſing
His voice is as his Fame a loveſome thing.
Where were ye Nymphs? Where did ye maidens hide?
Where were ye then when Daphnis pal’d and dy’d?
Was’t Pindus Top or Tempe’s open Plain,
Where careleſs you forgot your ſuff’ring ſwain?
For to Anápus’ flood you travelled never
Nor Etna’s height, nor Acis holy river.

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

When Daphnis dy'd the Wolves and Foxes moan'd;
For him with frightful Grief the Lions groan'd.

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

Full many Heifers ſlim, Cows, bulls and ſteers,
Lay round his Feet and wept their bovine Tears.

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

Firſt Hermes came from blue and distant hills
And asked "O Daphnis, what has cauſ'd ſuch ills?"

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

Came Plough-men, Herds-men, and the ſhepherds too,
All keen to hear what Priapuſ would do
"O Daphnis," quoth he, "why doſt hang thy Head?
Why peak and pine when thou mightſt bed a bride,
And follow her through wood and by lakeſide?"

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

"Ah, Daphnis, looſe and wanton in thy Love!
A Herds-man once, thou doſt a Goatherd prove;
A Goatherd, where he ſees the Kids at Rut,
Sits down, and grieves he was not born a Goat!"

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

“So when ye watch the women in gay frot,
Your eye grows ſad, becauſe you ſhare it not.”
All this young Daphnis heard; but mute He ſate,
Indulg'd his Grief, and hasten'd to his Fate.

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

Then Venus came, a ſmile her Face poſſeſſ'd,
With faint half ſmile, though anger filled her Breast.
Cry'd ſhe “Ah, Daphnis, ſpurning love for naught!
“Thou’rt beſted by the very Love thou fought!”

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

Retorted he; “O Venus, vengeful foe,
Who hated is by we who live below.
Doſt though think truly all my ſun be ſet?
I tell thee, even dead I'll beſt thee yet."

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

“Go thou to Ida, to ſcenes of pleasure clear,
At Ida’s mount Anchises tends his deer
Where blooms are ſerviced by attentive beeſ
And all the world is fair, becauſe at ease."

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

"There lives Adonis, of all men moſt fair,
And tends his ſheep and hunts the lightfoot hare."

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

"Go chase down bulky Diomed, and boast
You hounded Daphnis til he gave the ghoſt."

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

"Now farewell Wolf, and Fox, and mountain Bear,
No more ſhall Daphnis wander with you there;
Adieu fair Arethuſe, whoſe wat'ry flow
Down Thymbris valley cluckingly doth go."

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

"For this did Daphnis bring his kine to feed.
And here did water them beſide the mead."

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

"And Pan, O Pan, if on Mount Lycee ſteep
Or Maenal ſicily thy watch thou keep
Leave Helike’s Cliff, from Lycáon's tomb come o’er
Be at the God-admired ſepulchre no more."

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

“Come, Master, give this waxen pipe thy breath,
“I'll play on it no more; Love means my death."

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

“Let Violets grow Thorns, and Thistles blow;
Let juniper to daffodillies grow;
Pines grow Figgſ now Daphnis dies, and hound
Be hunted by the deer, all turned around;
And let the nightingale be outſung quite
By the ſcreech owl who haunts the hill at night.”

Sing on, ſweet Muſe, begin the rural ſong.

This ſaid, he perish'd; goddeſs Venus try'd.
In vain to reſurrect him to her ſide.
For cruel fate had broken his last thread,
And past the ſtygian lake his ſoul was fled;
The flood imprisoned now the lovely boy;
And with him was interred our muſe’s joy.

There; give me now the goat and tankard too;
From it of milk the Muſe ſhall have her due.
Fare well, ye goddeſſes, again fare well,
Another day a ſweeter ſong I’ll tell.

Fill thou they mouth with honey from the comb!
Good Thyrſis, bring the ſweeteſt back home.
You ſing as ſweetly as the cricket chirps
And ſpringtime joy your muſic all uſurps.
The cup is yours! Mark but how fair it ſmells
As if it had been laved at royal wells.
Come, Browning, milk her; kids pray jump no more;
This Goat is lively, and he may leap o'er.