Translating Pindar

It’s a truth universally acknowledged–or if it isn’t it should be–that the old debate between literal and free translation has lost currency, that the only opposition worth discussing is between foreignizing and domesticating translation styles. Friedrich Schleiermacher gave this dichotomy its Ur-expression when he claimed that a domesticating translator “brings the writer towards the reader,” while a foreignizing translator “brings the reader towards the writer.” Schleiermacher says that the two styles don’t mix, that you have to do it all one way, or all the other, but I don’t agree. I want to suggest that, while poems with a more or less familiar sort of lyricism may be well enough served by a foreignizing translation style, a more culturally specific, less transferable sort of poem demands a smoother, more naturalizing style if it is to have any chance of connecting in its new context.

Consider the two lyric poets generally acknowledged ancient Greece’s greatest–Sappho and Pindar. Sappho feels and has felt, to readers of the last three centuries, like a contemporary. Intimate and personal, rich in imagery, with a minimum of mythology and rhetoric, her poems give us what we expect from lyric poetry–deep individual feeling and a unified personal voice. Pindar, on the other hand, meets almost none of our expectations. His poems are large, public performances loaded with obscure myths and sententious generalizations, composed in praise of, usually, some rich asshole. For him, Yeats’s aphorism, that “Out of the quarrel with others, we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves, we make poetry” probably would not have landed. Sappho may need to have her strangeness reclaimed, her distance re-emphasized, but with Pindar, if a translator can’t close the gap, few readers will want to make the leap.

Consider his reputation. Eliot puts the general consensus en passant: “If Pindar bores us, we admit it”–though most of the damage had already been done by Voltaire [my translation]:

Come forth from the tomb today,
great Pindar, charged with holy awe!–
you who extolled, in bygone years,
a bunch of bougie cavaliers
from Corinth, or from Megara;
whose genius spurred you on to say
nothing in poems that never end;
savant whose panpipe smartly plays
stuff everyone’s supposed to praise
and nobody can comprehend.

Des vers que personne n’entend / et qu’il faut toujours qu’on admire! In brief, the volume of exegesis required for a hundred-plus line poem in praise of some ancient boxer is unlikely to lure readers to a poet they already assume, with Eliot and Voltaire, to be incomprehensible and dull.

To mount a case for the defense I first need to suggest the sorts of problems Pindar presents. Any ode might do, but I want to focus on Nemean 7, widely acknowledged one of his most difficult; much of my specific analysis is indebted to Glenn Most’s 1985 monograph Measures of Praise.

Nemean 7 is addressed to one Sogenes of Aegina, a boy victor in the pentathlon, and his father Thearion, and focuses on the nostos (homecoming) of Achilles’ son Neoptolemus from Troy. The poem is remarkable for its unusually positive treatment of Neoptolemus, in contradistinction to Pindar’s (probably earlier) Sixth Paean, which criticizes Neoptolemus. Here is a difficult passage:

ἐὼν δ᾿ ἐγγὺς Ἀχαιὸς οὐ μέμψεταί μ᾿ ἀνήρ
Ἰονίας ὑπὲρ ἁλὸς οἰκ-
έων, καὶ προξενίᾳ πέποιθ᾿, ἔν τε δαμόταις
ὄμματι δέρκομαι λαμπρόν, οὐχ ὑπερβαλών,
βίαια πάντ᾿ ἐκ ποδὸς ἐρύσαις· ὁ δε λοιπὸς εὔφρων
ποτὶ χρόνος ἕρποι. μαθὼν δέ τις ἀνερεῖ,
εἰ πὰρ μέλος ἔρχομαι ψάγιον ὄαρον ἐννέπων.
Εὐξένιδα πάτραθε Σώγενες, ἀπομνύω
μὴ τέρμα προβαὶς ἄκονθ᾿ ὥ-
τε χαλκοπάραον ὄρσαι

θοὰν γλῶσσαν, ὃς ἐξέπεμψεν παλαισμάτων
αὐχένα καὶ σθένος ἀδίαν-
τον, αἴθωνι πρὶν ἁλίῳ γυῖον ἐμπεσεῖν.

If any Achaean man is nearby, one dwelling beyond
the Ionian Sea, he will not blame me; I also trust
in my host’s hospitality, and among his townsmen
my gaze is bright, since I have not been excessive,
but have removed everything forced from my path.
May time to come
approach favorably. One who knows me will proclaim
if I come saying a crooked utterance out of tune.
Sogenes from the clan of the Euxenidae, I swear
that I have not stepped up to the line
and sent my tongue

speeding like a bronze-cheeked javelin, which releases
the strong neck from wrestling without sweat,
before the body falls under the blazing sun. [Race]

This passage presents a wide range of problems, cultural and linguistic, which I will address in a scatter-shot sort of way. First, the phrasing is too large for its context; specific meanings are fixed in relation to other parts of the ode, and often to cultural points of reference that don’t mean much to us. The first sentence (“If any Achaean man is nearby, one dwelling beyond the Ionian Sea, he will not blame me”) provides an excellent example. Within the ode, “beyond the Ionian Sea” seems to suggest Molossia, whose rulers claim descent from Neoptolemus. Earlier Pindar had briefly summarized Neoptolemus’ late career. It seems that, after leaving Troy, he gets lost on his way back to his island home of Scyros, and ends up in Ephyre on the northwestern coast of Greece, where he founds the town of Molossia and rules there for a time. Later, he goes to Delphi, gets into a “quarrel over the sacrificial meats,” and is killed. His final triumph is to be buried at Delphi, where he presides over hero sacrifices:

The Delphians, so good to guests, at this [sc. N’s murder] Strophe 3
grieved deeply, but Neoptolemus
had paid his debt to Fate, which had decreed
that one of Aeacus’ regal seed
must dwell forever in that ancient grove
near the god’s well-built shrine, to serve 70
in stewardship divine and guarantee
heroes are granted due solemnity.

Neoptolemus’ life illustrates a theme of redemption after vicissitude which Pindar brings to bear for the ode’s addressee, Sogenes of Aegina, and his father Thearion. Neoptolemus’ (aka Pyrrhus’) general reputation in the ancient world, and no doubt among Pindar’s audience as well, was as the first war criminal, having committed two atrocities during the sack of Troy: he murdered Priam at Zeus’s altar (as narrated in Aeneid 2, and Hamlet) and he threw Hector’s infant son Astyanax over the city wall. The vicissitudes of his homecoming, then, should be understood as punishment for his hyperbalon, his overstepping, in Troy–which is suppressed in the ode’s general attempt to deal with him positively. Yet it is clearly in the background as information his audience would have known.

To return, then, to our starting point: “No Greek, being nearby, who dwells beyond the Ionian Sea, will blame me.” In the broader context of the ode, we understand this to mean: any Molossian who happens to be in the audience will approve and agree with all that I have said. Were there Molossians in the audience? The line would be much easier to translate if we knew. (The grammar doesn’t help much–it maybe tilts the balance toward “yes” by suggesting a future more vivid condition, though the first half is ambiguated with a participle.) But there is another problem. Pindar has not actually said Molossian. Is “beyond the Ionian sea” an ornamental variation? Or does Pindar have some reason for widening his phrase, e.g., there are no Molossians in attendance, but someone from neighboring Thesprotia, whom for some reason the poem wants to associate with Molossia? This sort of imponderable question, arising from the fleetingness of the poem’s occasion, challenges both the translator’s ingenuity and the reader’s patience.

Much more could be said. In the other ten or so lines quoted above, the movement of ideas is swift, and the connections between them obscure, even bewildering; the dense implications of a phrase like (in Race’s translation) “[I] have removed everything forced from my path” are hard to discern; the word translated “hospitality” (προξενίᾳ) has a technical meaning that may or may not be relevant; and the address to Sogenes, while clear in import, is obscure in detail, again for cultural/contextual reasons. (What do you know about the ancient pentathlon?) Add the first-person universal, which might strike modern ears as arrogant, and the gnomic generalizing, which might bore–but, well, Pindar is hard; everybody knows it. What makes him worth the effort?

First, as is often the case, much of what makes him tough to translate also makes him a great poet. Take the transitions above, which I just taxed with obscurity. The Greek has a fluidity of thought and syntax which in English has only been achieved by Milton. Transitional passages, like doorways, look two ways at once: they cap what comes before and begin what follows. Words are put under intense stress within the odes’ high-pressure system. Under compression, meanings, here and elsewhere, expand: firmly fixed in (and by) their context they resonate outwards, much as individual athletic accomplishment is placed within a wider context of politics, society, and religion. Finally, the form of the odes itself feels mimetic to a high degree: large, complex stanzas providing the rhythmical warp with and against which the woof of thought and syntax weaves itself in turn and counter-turn, now clarifying, now obscuring, its patterns and connections. Here we touch on the aspect of the odes that fascinates me most: the fusion of associative and logical modes of organization. Are these odes as random as the athletic events they celebrate, with no real link connecting one part to another, besides a sort of inspired diffuseness? Or is there a pattern, in art and life, “that would speak to the wise”? Is it worth listening for? How can a translator make it audible?

Pace Schleiermacher, translations can foreignize and domesticate in different respects at different times, even in different ways. Meter, form, diction, syntax, reference–they all may move now towards the first language, now towards the second. In one place a translator might get a good effect by imitating the original syntax, in another, she might break it up and simplify for the sake of the translation. Here we make a cultural substitution that obviates a footnote, there we leave the original its difference; there we maintain obscurity, here we gloss and interpret. Nor is there only one way to foreignize or domesticate in a given respect. For example, both a free verse and a rhyming translation of Pindar are types of formal domestication, as opposed to one that imitates the original meter. (Though to imitate Pindar’s meter boggles the mind!) In short, the translator walks a line between challenging the reader and seducing her; between following the conventions of English, and expanding them.

When I argue for a mostly domesticating translation of Pindar, what do I mean? Well, here is what I did with the passage above:

No one of Neoptolemus’ progeny …. .. Strophe 4
dwelling beyond the Ionian Sea
will blame my words on hearing them. My trust
is in the welcome of my host; ……  ……  100
in town a light sparks in my eyes, because
no overstepping spoils my applause;
no griping violence hobbles my tripping feet.
May time to come come smiling still, and sweet.
The man who knows will say if a bad key
or false note jangles the melody.
Sogenes, Euxenid athlete,
I have not flung, with toe on line,
this bronze-cheeked javelin of mine— …… .. 109

I mean my darting tongue—to victory yet,  Antistrophe 4
I swear. The sun’s high heat will sweat
my wetted neck and sinews in the ring,
till I get the pin in the wrestling.

This domesticates not only because it rhymes, but because it seeks to pin down meanings and gloss obscurities. To start with, “of Neoptolemus’ progeny” glosses “dwelling beyond the Ionian Sea,” losing the broader potentialities of Pindar’s language in favor of a clearer transition. Is such a person in the audience or not? “On hearing them” (for ἐὼν δ᾿ ἐγγὺς, “being nearby”) tries to avoid the question.

Pindar is able to speak as broadly as he does because of the context he shares with his audience, which in the next lines shifts from a performative to a conventional one, from physical and temporal proximity to a shared possession of the motifs and proprieties of praise. Again it takes work to pinpoint the largeness of his words within the forward thrust of the poem. It is likely the audience would have understood οὐχ ὑπερβαλών (“not going too far,” “without hyperbole”) / βίαια πάντ᾿ ἐκ ποδὸς ἐρύσαις (“having removed all violent things out [from under] my foot”) as deft variations on a typical encomiastic theme: because my praise is true–“not excessive” [Race], measured and fitted to its object; also, not too long-winded–I avoid βίαια, force, violence, envy, criticism, in my life. But the causal relationship here can also be reversed: because Pindar avoids βίαια in his poetry–that is, he prefers praise to invective–he does not transgress or overstep in his life. Pindar does not suffer violence, physical or verbal, carping or criticism, because he does not perpetrate it. This statement reinforces what comes before, explaining why Pindar’s words avoid blame not just for his treatment of Neoptolemus, but also in a broader sense, as well as how he is able to “trust in the welcome of his host.” Once again, my translation–“No overstepping spoils my applause; / no griping violence hobbles my tripping feet”–seeks to pin Pindar’s words into their rhetorical context by using “spoils my applause” to gloss the primary, encomiastic meaning. (I am not sure whether the further pun on metrical feet is also present in the Greek.)

And so forth. The prayer (“May time to come come smiling still, and sweet”) is both personal and communal–all along the speaking “I” has not necessarily been Pindar, but a universal first-person, allowing the poet to give advice without hectoring, to wish himself well without selfishness. The end of the transition (“The man who knows will say if a bad key / or false note jangles the melody”) asserts in different terms the poet’s skill and the poem’s truth; it’s easy to imagine these lines calling attention to what may have been a particularly melodious passage in the music.

When the address turns to Sogenes, Pindar compares the five triads of the ode to the five events of the ancient pentathlon, in which wrestling came last and sometimes not at all, if a single competitor had won three events out of the first four–a feat Sogenes may well have managed. At any rate, Pindar’s point is to assure his audience that the ode’s Main Event, the praise of Sogenes, is still to come and won’t be skipped. The Greek is difficult, but the translation tries to make the point without requiring too much knowledge of Greek athletics. Yet it also, with phrases like “bronze-cheeked” and “darting tongue,” tries to preserve the surreal quality of Pindar’s imagery, as a species of strangeness that English poetry can bear.

I don’t want to overdo this sort of analysis. All translations are a tissue of such local negotiations and decisions. I would rather suggest how tightly the parts of a Pindaric ode, which have so often been construed as ramblingly associative, relate to the whole. In fact, this aspect of Pindar seems to me almost Coleridgean, who defines a poem as “proposing to itself such delight from the whole, as is compatible with a distinct gratification from each component part.” In discussing the translation I’ve tried to show how the somewhat mysterious individual sentences above relate to the passage in which they are found, and how the passage itself serves as a transition from Sogenes’ father Thearion to the praise of Sogenes himself. Immediately before that passage, we find this one addressed to Thearion:

…..   That we all differ
is natural, and each man is imbued
with his own singular life and livelihood—
but none persists in a wholly happy state.
There’s no man I can name whom Fate
has given good, and only good.
Thearion, Fate has granted you
your day of felicity in due 90

……  proportion, and though you possess .. . Epode 3
……  the fearlessness of true success,
it has not harmed your intellect. I am your guest and friend.
I help the men I love, deflect slanderous dark, and send
…… over their heads, like water streaming down,
…… true praise: for the good are requited, and merit renown.

Earlier, we saw Pindar emphasizing the theme of vicissitude in the story of Neoptolemus, in which misfortunes are followed by honors that make up for them: he sails past Scyros, then becomes king of Molossia; he gets murdered at Delphi, then becomes overseer of hero cults there. The next level is literary: Neoptolemus the war criminal has his reputation rehabilitated by Pindar; he becomes a model of redemption after suffering. Having illustrated this moral lesson in the first half, Pindar begins, at precisely the mid-point of the ode, to apply it to the victor’s father. It is hard not to imagine (back to the ode’s lost occasion) that Thearion himself tried and failed to attain his son’s level of athletic success, which he now vicariously celebrates as his own. Here, the associative leaps of the ode (for example, to Neoptolemus’ story, unexplained at first) begin to reveal their logical and metaphorical coherence; the parts start to coalesce into a whole.

The theme of mortal vicissitude recurs at the beginning and end of the poem as well. The ode opens with an address to Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth, “without whose ministrations, neither / the light of day, nor midnight’s gentle dark / could grace our eyes, nor yet the spark / that flies from Youth your sister’s lovely flame.” Eileithyia is invoked in part because Sogenes is a boy victor, but also perhaps because childbirth itself in Pindar’s world is a precarious business. The opening announces the main concern of the ode: why do some live and others die? some prosper and others fail? And how do we confront this fact in our own lives?

The answer seems to be that fruition, in some capacity, of some sort, eventually comes, and must suffice. The poetic concomitant of that “one shining moment” of victory is the performance of the ode that crowns it:

It’s easy to weave crowns. We’ll start again!
The Muse, as we all know, can spin
ivory into a wreath her skill ….. … . ……  120
entwines with gold and the lily like blooms
of coral culled from the sea’s deep rooms.

Even those who are not victorious themselves can partake in the glory of the event and the pleasure of the poetry, though Pindar does not pretend that everyone will get the same joy from athletics or from life. The possibility of achievement seems to justify the effort, as well as the suffering of failure. Meanwhile, Pindar illustrates how to make a virtue of necessity. It is his choice, as well as his business and perhaps his temperament (at least in the odes that survive), to celebrate particular successes rather than agonize over failures. The poem ends with a prayer to Heracles, that he secure the victor’s “youth to life that will endure,” and then concludes:

Now, heart, let no one say of us that in our poetry
we sang of Neoptolemus without variety.
To keep on plowing the same rut’s no use,
like badgering children that Corinth belongs to Zeus!   160

The full weight of the ode’s argument comes down on “variety” (in Greek, ἀτρόποισι ἔπεσι, “unturning” or “unyielding words”). Pindar means by this 1) that he has changed his tune in regard to Neoptolemus (concerning whom he had taken the conventional negative tack in Paean 6); 2) that in doing so he has changed not only his own earlier story but the usual pan-Hellenic one; and 3) that his poetry itself is chock-full of “variety:” twists and turns, swoops and swiftnesses; shifts in thought and argument, modulations of mood and cadence. Poetry that fails to move this way he compares, in the last two lines, to the mindless, tedious, pedantic repetition of old saws to bored children. (I confess that the specific relevance, if there is one, of the proverb Corinth belongs to Zeus escapes me.) Thus the main problem which the ode has taken up–the vicissitudes of mortal life–becomes, by a sleight of hand, the main virtue of the poem itself, its rapid changes. The problem has been transmuted, via praise, into its own solution. Praise is shown to justify itself, and poetry becomes the mirror in which the imperfections of life are both reflected and, to some extent, redeemed:

We know one mirror fit for the reflection
of deeds that merit recollection:
if Mnemosyne requite,
laurelled in brightness, effort’s pains
with poetry’s immortal strains.

The Pindaric ode is therefore a complex system in which the structure of argument and association, the obscure details and veiled references, conspire to grant us, at the end, a difficult vision of a wholeness that transcends the transitory nature of its parts. The world has been recomposed. The obscurities of reference and occasion–that is, of context–are indispensable to the texture and effect. Yet they also provide major barriers for entry to most readers–barriers which my translations do their best to smooth and simplify, while leaving Pindar’s essential otherness intact.

To unlock such otherness, to unleash its energies into a language or a poetry, is the goal of translation. But the project also requires tact; theoretical purity is ever the enemy of practical achievement (and translation is, foremost for me, a practice). An unyielding zeal for the foreign will alienate readers tyrannically insistent on their own enjoyment; who do not want their reading to be, as Dryden says, “a penance and fatigue.” Who reads Nabokov’s Onegin for pleasure? It is dedication to the foreignness of Pindar that ultimately argues for domesticating translation. Is Pindar’s difficult and aristocratic cosmos, that orderly arrangement which he both buttresses and sings into being through the complicated structures of his odes, worth engaging with on its own terms, precisely because it is different from our own? Those glimpses of cosmic unanimity, as well as the vision of graciousness in which the wheels of necessity and the gears of economy are lubricated with a large-hearted generosity and an impulse toward praise–might this have something to offer our cynical, materialistic age? Even, no, especially, if we don’t believe in his vision and never will, we might still be able to believe it for the duration of an ode, and find in Pindar’s poems a temporary relief from alienation and pessimism. That this vision is so difficult to recover, for reader and translator alike, may ultimately be the best argument for its value to both.

Nemean 7
for Sogenes of Aegina, Winner, Boys’ Pentathlon

Hear, Eleithyia, counsel to the Fates, … …….. … Strophe 1
those subtle judges and magistrates;
hear, mighty Hera’s daughter, childbirth’s Mother,
without whose ministrations, neither
the light of day, nor midnight’s gentle dark
could grace our eyes, nor yet the spark
that flies from Youth, your sister, ’s lovely flame.
But the lot yoking us each is not the same,
nor what we breathe for, nor the life we lead.
Thus you and the judges have decreed……………………………….. 10
Sogenes’ excellence and fame
among pentathletes—Thearion’s son;
and now we sing for the wreath he won.

He dwells within the spear-loud city of ….. . ……… Antistrophe 1
the sons of Aeacus, who love
high harmonies, and rush to lavish love on
a spirit mighty trials have proven.
A man’s fruition casts his case and theme
into the springs of Art, which stream
like honey in the heart. The Muses’ light…………………….. 20
apart, prowess is swallowed up in night.
We know one mirror fit for the reflection
of deeds that merit recollection:
if Mnemosyne requite,
laurelled in brightness, effort’s pains
with poetry’s immortal strains.

… …… Wise men have learned the winds of sorrow …………  Epode 1
 ..  will pick up soon, if not tomorrow;
no hoarders they of gold and blame. For poor men as for rich,
the destination is the same. I’d say the wanderings which  30
…… befell Odysseus have more than their just glory,
…… thanks to the verses of Homer, which sweeten the story—

…… whose flights of art and fanciful pretense ……… …. Strophe 2
……  attain to some magnificence,
…… as he spins skillful fictions and regales
………  his misled listeners with tall tales.
…… The judgment of the masses is stone-blind.
……  Could truth have swayed the rabble’s mind,
…… the smooth swordblade would not have pierced the chest
…… of hulking Ajax, when he was distressed …………….. 40
…… over Achilles’ arms. Only Achilles—
………  of all those in the swift Greek galleys
………  the zephyr’s even breezes blessed
………  en route to Troy—showed greater might
………  in the great war to reunite

blond Menelaus with his wife. On all … ……… … Antistrophe 2
alike the wave of death must fall;
looked-for or unforeseen it comes, and spares
no man. The only help is theirs
whose fair name, flourishing by the grace of god …………. 50
when they’re no more, is noised abroad.
Therefore over the world’s breast, rich and wide,
to Pytho—where he sleeps at the sanctified
earth’s navel—Neoptolemus came down
after he pillaged Priam’s town
with the Greeks toiling at his side.
He had sailed clear past Scyros and
wandered to ground on Ephyrian land.

………  He ruled Molossia for a little … …………. Epode 2
………  time, but bequeathed his royal title ………….. 60
to his descendants, to enjoy always. Then went to visit
the god, and brought, from the spoils of Troy, all of the most exquisite.
…… There, at the feasts, he chanced on a man who
…… fought with him over the meat and ran him through.

The Delphians, so good to guests, at this … ………Strophe 3
grieved deeply, but Neoptolemus
had paid his debt to Fate, which had decreed
that one of Aeacus’ regal seed
must dwell forever in that ancient grove
near the god’s well-built shrine, to serve……………………….. 70
in stewardship divine and guarantee
heroes are granted due solemnity.
O Aegina, opinion’s court demands
no lengthy speech. A witness stands
over the deeds of your progeny
and Zeus’s who upholds the truth.
Touching that brilliance, I speak forth

this bold claim: from the place where you abide, Antistrophe 3
a road of praises, ratified
by Truth’s exacting judgment, runs. But repose is 80
sweet after toil; even the roses
of thrilling Aphrodite, and honey’s savor,
can cloy and pall. That we all differ
is natural, and each man is imbued
with his own singular life and livelihood—
but none persists in a wholly happy state.
There’s no man I can name whom Fate
has given good, and only good.
Thearion, Fate has granted you
your day of felicity in due . 90

……  proportion, and though you possess .. . Epode 3
……  the fearlessness of true success,
it has not harmed your intellect. I am your guest and friend.
I help the men I love, deflect slanderous dark, and send
…… over their heads, like water streaming down,
…… true praise: for the good are requited, and merit renown.

No one of Neoptolemus’ progeny      ……..   Strophe 4
dwelling beyond the Ionian Sea
will blame my words on hearing them. My trust
is in the welcome of my host;         …….  ..  100
in town a light sparks in my eyes, because
no overstepping spoils my applause;
no griping violence hobbles my tripping feet.
May time to come come smiling still, and sweet.
The man who knows will say if a bad key
or false note jangles the melody.
Sogenes, Euxenid athlete,
I have not flung, with toe on line,
this bronze-cheeked javelin of mine— ……… 109

I mean my darting tongue—to victory yet, …..Antistrophe 4
I swear. The sun’s high heat will sweat
my wetted neck and sinews in the ring,
till I get the pin in the wrestling.
Great labor yields to greater happiness.
Allow me to supply it: if this
delight of mine ran riot, I must fulfill
for victors my down-payment of goodwill.
It’s easy to weave crowns. We’ll start again!
The Muse, as we all know, can spin
ivory into a wreath her skill ….. ………………….. . ……  120
entwines with gold and the lilylike blooms
of coral culled from the sea’s deep rooms.

……  Now call on Zeus’s name, and raise   .. Epode 4
……  over Nemea the hymn of praise
with voices twining and controlled. Here, on this holy ground,
the god’s king ought to be extolled with a serener sound,
…… for, as the story tells us, it was Zeus
…… whose mighty seed engendered Aeacus

to rule the cities and sublimities .. .. Strophe 5
of our great land, o Heracles, . . 130
and be your genial host, and friend, and brother.
If one man ever in another
takes any pleasure, it’s in the steadfast love
of a good neighbor, a gift above
all price, and worth all labor. If a god grants
a man so blessed his help and sustenance,
then, Bane of Giants, may you help Sogenes
to lavish his father with kindnesses
gladly, and graced by happy chance
along that holy street to dwell           …. .. 140
which his forefathers built so well.

He, like the pole that bisects the two sides Antistrophe 5
of the four-horse chariot yoke, abides
between your consecrated shrines; they stand,
as he goes forth, on either hand.
Hera’s bridegroom and the grey-eyed virgin heed,
o Throned in Bliss, when you intercede,
and this is as it should be. Heracles,
man’s frequent bulwark in adversities
and flat despair, I pray you to secure 150
their youth to life that will endure,
and weave thereto the brilliancies
of an old age spent in blessedness,
that their sons’ sons may still possess

……  such fair esteem as they now know, …. Epode 5
……  and shall hereafter only grow.
Now, heart, let no one say of us that in our poetry
we sang of Neoptolemus without variety.
…… To keep on plowing the same rut’s no use,
…… like badgering children that Corinth belongs to Zeus! … .. …  160

Chris Childers

Chris Childers

Christopher Childers has poems, essays, and translations published or forthcoming at Kenyon Review, Yale Review, Parnassus, and elsewhere. He is at work on a translation of Latin and Greek Lyric Poetry from Archilochus to Martial for Penguin Classics.
Chris Childers

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Author: Chris Childers

Christopher Childers has poems, essays, and translations published or forthcoming at Kenyon Review, Yale Review, Parnassus, and elsewhere. He is at work on a translation of Latin and Greek Lyric Poetry from Archilochus to Martial for Penguin Classics.