Sunday, January 29, 2017

Iliad I, lines 101-120

            So he asserted, and sat back down; but among them arose the
            hero Atrides, ruler of far-flung realms Agamemnon,
103      burning with outrage, his dark heart filled to the brim with fury,
            both of his glowering eyes ablaze like a raging bonfire—
            setting his glare on Calchas at first, he lashed out against him:
            “Seer of evil!  You’ve never once spoken of anything good, yet
            evil is dear to your heart when you make your predictions and forecasts—
            never a word that profits, and no good ever accomplished.
109      Now, with the Danaans gathered in council, you prophesy once more,
            telling them now that the far-shooting archer has given us all grief
            just because I kept the girl, and not the magnificent ransom.
            Yes, it is true that I want her, to have her at home in my household;
            true, I would rather have her than even my own Clytemnestra,
            dearly beloved wife, for the girl is no lesser than she is,
115      neither in body nor bearing, in mind nor handiwork either.
            Still, I am willing to give her back, if that would be better.
            I want my people to live on in safety, rather than perish.
            Get me a prize to replace her at once, though, so I’m not the only
            Argive who goes unrewarded by honor, for that would be shameful.
            All of you see it, that my prize goes to another purpose.”

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Iliad I, lines 92-100

            Therefore the innocent seer took courage and spoke to the Argives:
            “Not for a sacrifice, nor for a vow, does Apollo blame us.
            Rather, he blames us because of the priest Agamemnon dishonored—
            he wouldn’t free his daughter, nor would he take his ransom.
            That’s why the far-shooting archer has given us grief, and he still will;
97        nor will he drive this shameful destruction away from the Argives
            ’til we have given the bright-eyed girl to her loving father,
            free, without ransom, and driven a hundred sacred oxen
            over to Chryse; and having appeased him, perhaps we’ll persuade him.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Iliad with scanned verses

After a reader's request, I decided to create a separate page for the Iliad which includes a simple scansion of the lines. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, scansion is a parsing of the meter into feet composed of stressed and unstressed syllables (in English; in Greek, feet are composed of long and short syllables). I have highlighted the first syllable of each metrical foot with boldfaced red text, to assist anyone who wishes to scan the meter in my verses. I'll keep this up as well as the main text, as I continue to translate the Iliad into dactylic hexameter. I welcome additional reader input!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

New canto posted from Dante's Inferno

I decided to post Canto XXII in addition to the four cantos I have already posted, because Canto XXI and Canto XXII are really a pair, and they ought to go together.

    Inferno: Canto XXII

Both cantos take place in the fifth pouch of the eighth circle of Hell, where barratry (political corruption) is punished. Dante's native city of Florence was a hotbed of political corruption around 1300 AD, including the politicians who unjustly exiled the poet. The sinners here are submerged in boiling tar, and in many ways they are meant to reflect the situation in which living corrupt politicians find themselves, just as the sticky tar represents the state of a corrupt government.

Both cantos also feature ten black demons, whose general attributes have informed the Western conception of devils for centuries: mischievous parodies of evil humans, complete with wings and pitchforks. The demons are presented to us as the guardians of the fifth pouch, whose role is to patrol the border of the tar pit, looking for sinners trying to escape. But the demons too are rowdy and deceitful, and some of them eventually get caught up in the tar themselves.

Thus the two cantos are Dante's parody of a corrupt government, which enmeshes the authorities and the governed alike. Corruption touches us all, for it mucks up the very gears which drive society, government and industry. A lot more can be said about these cantos, but I will only add that the cantos have a lot to say in turn about our present society. Dante's Florence was torn apart by the feuding of rival political factions; and an honest citizen had little to choose from, because both sides were corrupt and bitterly partisan.

Although both parties held opposing opinions about important matters of state, neither side realized that the peaceful coexistence of opposing views should be more important than this or that view in itself. It is amazing how relevant the politics of late thirteenth century Florence are to the politics of the United States in the twenty-first century. Our politicians could learn a thing or two from Dante (who was a politician himself, before he was exiled by his opponents). I hope you all enjoy the new canto.

Iliad I, lines 53-91

            Nine days long did the arrows of god rain down on the army;
            but on the tenth, Achilles called all of the ranks to a muster—
55        white-armed Hera had put the idea in his mind, for the goddess
            pitied the Danaans, after she saw that so many were dying.
            Once they had all been assembled, and all were together in one place,
            nimble-footed Achilles stood up among them to speak out:
            “Son of Atreus, now that we’ve lost our ground, I suppose that
            we should return to our homes, if at least we should ever escape death,
61        that is, if warfare and pestilence both are to vanquish Achaeans.
            No, but come on: let us ask some diviner, or some priest, or
            even a dream interpreter, since our dreams are from Zeus too—
            someone who’ll tell us why Phoebus Apollo is furious with us,
            whether he blames us because of a vow, or a sacrifice maybe;
            or, if the savory smoke of our lambs and billygoats reach him,
67        whether the god would be willing to possibly ward off our ruin.”

            Thus having spoken, he sat back down.  But arising among them,
            Calchas the son of Thestor, by far the best of the augurs,
            he who had known what is, what would be, and what had once been,
            he who had led the Achaeans to Ilium in their warships
            using the art of foresight which Phoebus Apollo had given—
73        keeping the good of the Argives in mind, he began to address them:
            “O Achilles, beloved of Zeus, you compel me to answer
            as to the wrath of the Lord Apollo, the far-shooting archer.
            So I shall tell you.  But listen—you have to swear to protect me,
            you must be ready to come to my aid with your words and your hands both,
            yes, for I fear I will anger a man with enormous power,
79        lord over all of the Argives, and all the Achaeans obey him.
            For, when a king is enraged at a subject, is he not stronger?
            Even if, somehow, he swallows his anger at least for the first day,
            still he will harbor resentment deep in his chest ’til it bursts out.
            Think it over, Achilles, and tell me if you will defend me.”

            Nimble-footed Achilles responded at once to the seer:
85        “Courage!  Whatever you know, you can say what the god has shown you.
            Now by Apollo, beloved of Zeus, to whom you, O Calchas,
            pray when the will of the gods is revealed to the Danaans through you:
            no one, as long as I live on the earth and my eyes see the daylight,
            no one will lay heavy hands on you by the hollow vessels,
            none of the Danaans, even if you were to name Agamemnon,
91        who can now claim that he is the greatest of all the Achaeans.”

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Iliad I, lines 1-52

            Sing of the wrath, my goddess, of Peleus’ son Achilles,
            doomed and destructive, which gave the Achaeans numberless sorrows,
            sending so many robust souls down to the house of Hades,
            spirits of heroes, but bodies abandoned as meat for the dogs and
            flesh for the birds, and the will of God was all but accomplished
            right at the outset of strife, at the moment they clashed, when the conflict
7          parted Atrides, master of men, from god-like Achilles.

            Which of the gods had brought them together to wage such a quarrel?
            Leto and Zeus’s son Apollo: enraged at the king, he
            stirred up a plague through the army; and people all over were dying,
            all because Atreus’ son had dishonored the priest of Apollo,
            Chryses, who’d come to the swift Greek ships to buy back his daughter,
13        bearing a boundless ransom, and holding a golden scepter
            tied with the banner of far-shooting archer Apollo—he pled with
            all the Achaeans, but most of all he beseeched the Atridae,
            both of the sons of Atreus, marshals of men and the people:
            “Sons of Atreus, and you other Achaeans with strong greaves,
            truly, may all of the gods who dwell on Olympus give you
19        Priam’s city to plunder, and then safe passage homewards;
            but, may you let my child go free, and accept this ransom,
            honoring Zeus’s son, the far-shooting archer Apollo.”

            Then all the other Achaeans cried out with shouts of approval,
            out of respect for the priest, and to reap the magnificent ransom;
            but, unmoved in his heart, the king Agamemnon Atrides
25        harshly dismissed him, and speaking with powerful words, he commanded:
            “Don’t let me find you again, old man, by the hollow vessels—
            lingering here today, or returning again tomorrow—
            or else the scepter and banner of god will no longer protect you.
            As for the girl, I will never set her free until old age
            comes to her, back in my house in Argos, far from her homeland,
31        working away at the loom, and sharing my bed beside me.
            Leave us, and try not to vex me, so you may return in safety.”

            So he spoke; and the old man feared him, obeyed his commandment,
            silently walking away by the shore of the rumbling ocean.
            Then, going farther away from them, over and over the old man
            prayed to the Lord Apollo, whom fair-haired Leto gave birth to:
37        “Hear me, god of the silver bow, who keeps watch around Chryse,
            sacrosanct Cilla, and Tenedos, where you reign with power:
            Smintheus, if I ever built you a roof on your beautiful temple,
            or if I ever have burned you the slivers of rich fat thighs of
            bulls and of goats, then you can accomplish for me this one prayer:
            make the Danaans pay for each of my tears with your arrows.”

43        So he spoke in his prayer; and Phoebus Apollo had heard him.
            Down from the heights of Olympus he came, with rage in his heart, his
            bow in his hand, and a covered quiver slung on his shoulder,
            arrows behind him clattering as he departed with fury,
            plummeting forth, and the raging god came down like nightfall.
            Out by the ships he descended, and kneeling, let fly an arrow—
49        with it, a terrible clang pealed out from the bow of silver.
            First he fell on the mules and the circling dogs; but thereafter,
            launching a piercing shaft at the Greeks themselves, he struck them.
            Piles and piles of corpses were burning on funeral pyres.

My new translation of the Iliad, in dactylic hexameter

I began the new year by working on a new translation of Homer's Iliad. What distinguishes my work from the many existing Iliad translations is that I am keeping to the meter of the Ancient Greek (which, to my knowledge, has only been done in one other translation, and in that, not very successfully).

Why is the meter important to the poem? The Iliad has its roots as oral poetry in Ancient Greece. It is not meant to be read, so much as performed. However, no English translation yet captures that element of it. The poem ideally should be sung or recited to an audience, and it should therefore carry a rhythm amenable to singing or recitation. Such a rhythm is what I am striving for.

The meter of the ancient epics is called "dactylic hexameter". Of course, English works a bit differently than Ancient Greek, and as a result of that, the equivalent English meter operates a bit differently than the original. Dactylic hexameter in English is best exemplified by Longfellow's poem "Evangeline". The poem is a bit long, but even the first few lines can give you an idea of how the epic meter works:
This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic..."
Basically, there are six metrical "feet" per line, and if we represent stressed syllables with "S" and unstressed syllables with "u", the first five feet may take either of the following forms: "Suu", "Su", or "SS" (which are called "dactyls", "trochees", or "spondees", respectively). The last foot in each line must take either "SS" or "Su" (a spondee or a trochee). The most conspicuous things you'll notice is that every line begins on a stressed syllable, and the ending of the lines is always either two stressed syllables, or a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. Longfellow's poem should give you a good sense of the rhythm and music inherent in the metrical form.

I am publishing my new translation each week, as I write it, on this blog. Anyone who follows along will get to see my version of the poem as it develops. I plan on releasing each week's work on the Sunday following that week. Because of the demands of graduate school and the continuing revision of my Inferno translation, I may not be able to make rapid progress on this, at least at the start. But I will make sure to at least publish something each week.

I hope you will enjoy following along with me as I write the poem. I wish everyone a happy new year!