No more surprises now, no stunning miracles, no thought
unthinkable, now that Heaven’s father Zeus has wrought
sheer midnight at high noon, and blacked the brilliant sun,
its shining stanched, and fear and trembling fell on everyone.
From now on no occurrences, no worries or wild hopes
are past belief; from now on there’s no grounds for shock or wonder,
not if you see the dolphins crop the mountains and treetops,
while woodland creatures graze each oceanic glen and copse,
the dolphins’ home, and frisk with pleasure in the breakers’ thunder.
χρημάτων ἄελπτον οὐδέν ἐστιν οὐδ’ ἀπώμοτον
οὐδὲ θαυμάσιον, ἐπειδὴ Ζεὺς πατὴρ ᾿Ολυμπίων
ἐκ μεσαμβρίης ἔθηκε νύκτ’, ἀποκρύψας φάος
ἡλίου †λάμποντος, λυγρὸν† δ’ ἦλθ’ ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους δέος.
ἐκ δὲ τοῦ καὶ πιστὰ πάντα κἀπίελπτα γίνεται
ἀνδράσιν• μηδεὶς ἔθ’ ὑμέων εἰσορέων θαυμαζέτω
μηδ’ ἐὰν δελφῖσι θῆρες ἀνταμείψωνται νομὸν
ἐνάλιον, καί σφιν θαλάσσης ἠχέεντα κύματα
φίλτερ’ ἠπείρου γένηται, τοῖσι δ’ ὑλέειν ὄρος.
Translator’s Note: You might not think it, but this fragment is a dramatic monologue: while the triggering subject is a solar eclipse (probably from 648 BC), Aristotle tells us (Rhet. 3.17.1418b28) that the speaker is a father distressed by his daughter’s shocking behavior—perhaps she has gotten pregnant unexpectedly, or run off with the wrong man. A perusal of Archilochus’ (untrustworthy) ancient biographies would naturally suggest Lycambes, with whom the poet had a famous feud. The story goes that Lycambes promised Archilochus the hand of Neobule, one of his two (or three) daughters, only to back out later, incurring the poet’s wrath. In retaliation, Archilochus unleashed vicious iambic attacks on the family, which drove the girls to suicide by hanging. For all we know, the present poem could have taken an abusive turn: the papyrus goes on for at least eight more lines before breaking off, with only a few words legible, including the name of one Archeanactides, otherwise unknown. Without the comment from Aristotle, we would read the poem as an evocation of archaic awe in the face of unfathomable nature; as it stands, we are about as ignorant of the poem’s dramatic purpose as the speaker is of modern astronomy.
The poem’s last three lines with their vision of nature turned upside down offer an early example of the rhetorical figure called adynaton (‘Catalogue of Impossibles’). Known to us from such sources as the lover’s song in Auden’s “As I Walked Out One Evening” and Chicago’s “Niagara Falls,” the trope is common in classical genres like tragedy, elegy, and pastoral. Horace, not for the only time, takes up the motif in Ode 1.2 with clear reference to this poem.
Also by Chris Childers (see all)
- Ovid: Tristia 3.7 - October 27, 2020
- Victor Hugo: The Satyr - June 8, 2020
- Alcaeus 347 - September 22, 2019