The editors would like to express their thanks to Josephine Balmer for the work she has put into creating this supplement and for the helpful introduction she has written for it.
THE CLASSICAL GREEK POETS
Josephine Balmer • Roz Kaveney • Lesley Saunders • Laura Swift & Russell Bender
THE LATIN POETS
Maureen Almond• Josephine Balmer • David Cooke • Emma Gee • Liam Guilar • Anthony Howell • Ian House • Roz Kaveney • Henry Stead
THW 11 September 5, 2018
Classical translation is a vast field. It includes over fifteen hundred years of world literature, from Homeric epic to medieval chronicles. It also embraces a variety of different approaches from translation, reconstruction, version, poetic response to deliberate transgression and subversion, each one opening up the text to further new readings, establishing a new dialogue between ancient and contemporary, moving the text on through the centuries.
This section aims to give a sense of such variety. It starts in c.800 BCE with a Homeric simile from the Iliad transformed in to an English sonnet. This is followed by classicist poet Lesley Saunders’ translation of a Homeric Hymn paired with the acclaimed original poem it inspired. The fragmentary poetry of Sappho is represented by translations from my newly-revised edition for Bloodaxe placed alongside responses and versions by Roz Kevaney. Finally in the Greek section, Laura Swift and Russell Bender of Potential Difference theatre company offer a scene from Fragments…, their radical reconstruction of Euripides’ extremely fragmentary fifth-century BCE tragedy Cresphontes, which has recently been performed in London and Oxford.
From Latin we have new versions of Lucretius by academic and translator Emma Gee, translations from and responses to Catullus’ erotic poetry, including Henry Stead’s film-poem of the extraordinary ‘Attis’, a reworking of a passage from Ovid’s epic Metamorphoses by The High Window editor David Cooke, and poems based on the same text from Ian House. Teesside poet Maureen Almond offers responses to Horace’s Odes while the often-neglected first century CE ‘Silver Age’ poets, Seneca and Statius, are translated by Anthony Howell and Henry Stead. [Henry Stead also translates the curious but vital poem, ‘Moretum’, from the late collection Appendix Vergiliana, once attributed to Virgil.] Finally, poet and medievalist Liam Guilar offers his own verse versions of stories from the medieval Latin prose of twelfth-century chronicler Gerald of Wales.
These different and wide-ranging translations and versions illustrate how the singular issues raised by working with fragmented, disputed and uncertain classical texts lead to creative strategies and solutions on the part of their translators which, in turn, can then overlap and interact with those of creative versioning and poetry. For classical translation, more than any other, feeds the imagination; it is fluid, dynamic, performing an act of critical resuscitation, breathing life into new works. Hopefully, this small but vital selection of texts, genres and approaches will whet the appetite of both readers – and writers – for further explorations.
Homer: Iliad 12, 278-86: a version by Josephine Balmer
Homer’s epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, reached their written form around 700 BCE. This extended simile from Iliad Book 12 (ll.278-86), typical of Homer’s poetic style, originally described the arrowheads and missiles of the Greek raining down on the besieged city of Troy. Here it is recontextualised by Josephine Balmer to evoke the day of her mother’s snow-hit funeral in contemporary south-east England. It comes from her collection, Letting Go: thirty mourning sonnets and two poems (Agenda Editions, 2017)
Out of nowhere, it flurries thick and fast,
early winter yet sharp as arrow shaft.
The wind calms. Grief is stilled. But it falls on
veiling the Forest hills, dark, distant Downs,
levelling fresh-ploughed farmland. By the church
it pales the priest’s black coat as he clears paths
in vain, ghosts the bonnet of skidded hearse;
it dampens down crematorium furnace,
cuts off caterers, blocks would-be mourners.
Drifting further, across the south and west,
flakes catch on harbour walls like drying nets.
Now only the spray curved above Penzance
remains unblanched, grazed against those grey shores.
All else is wrapped in snow, stifled, silenced.
Anonymous: Homeric Hymns to Aphrodite in two versions by Lesley Saunders
The anonymous Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite was composed in honour of the goddess of love, Aphrodite or, as here, the ‘Kytherean’, by an unknown Greek poet sometime between the mid seventh century and the fifth century BCE. It also inspired Lesley Saunders’ own poem ‘Praise Song for a Pair of Earrings’, published in Nominy-Dominy (Two Rivers Press 2018), and also included here.
I: PRAISE-POEM FOR APHRODITE – ‘Let me win this competition’
My praise-poem is for holy Aphrodite crowned with gold,
whose domain is the citadel-crested sea-circled island
of Cyprus, where the strength of the wet west wind carried her
in a mist of spray over the swell of the thundering tide.
Their hair in braids of gold, the keepers of heaven’s cloud-gate
welcomed her with open arms and wrapped her in a cape
of immortality; on her deathless head they arranged
a gorgeous golden tiara, and in her pierced ears they hung
flower-drops worked in copper and precious gold;
around her velvety throat and radiant breasts they strung
pendants of gold chains – the kind the gold-braided keepers
wear themselves when they join the gods’ glorious dance
in the halls of their father. And then when they had covered
her body with finery they led her into the company of immortals.
The gods welcomed her warmly as soon as they saw her,
and gripped her hands in theirs; every one of them, awestruck
at the beauty of the Kytherean with her coronet of wildflowers,
longed for her to go home with him and become his lover.
Flash your lovely eyes my way, sweet goddess, let me win
this competition, make my poem a deserving one –
I’ll devote myself to you and to the cause of all poetry.
II: PRAISE-SONG FOR A PAIR OF EARRINGS
‘Then Anchises by divine will and destiny lay with the immortal goddess, the mortal, not knowing the truth of it’
A man may be shipwrecked in a dozen different ways,
by how a far-off cloud resembles land, the longed-for
shore obscured by mist and glimmer; or by how
across a room of friends a woman looks at him
a moment longer than she should – and so a suitor
may wait a lifetime for his lover. Or, maybe,
just this once, his luck is in: a goddess has fallen
for a mortal man. He’s ready to believe whatever
she may tell him – that she’s girlish, untouched
by love and all its dusky fingerings, its sweetest
of nothings. She’ll be his bride. His hands tremble
as he undoes her girdle, trespassing, lingering. At last
he lifts the veil. The beauty of her is unbearable,
he shades his eyes from her blaze, the necklaces, armbands,
in her soft lobes flower-buds of shimmering gold,
then the crowning glory of her hair. He knows, and chooses
not to know, the truth. From somewhere deep within
he calls her name, a wedding-bed is made, and history begins.
[Anchises, prince of Troy, was unwittingly seduced by Aphrodite; the son of their union was Aeneas, founder of Rome]
(from Nominy-Dominy. Two Rivers Press, 2018)
Sappho: Three Fragments translated by Josephine Balmer and Roz Kaveney
Sappho lived and wrote in the city of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos c. 600 BCE. Almost all of her surviving two hundred or so poems are fragmentary, some almost complete, others consisting of a few broken lines, even a single word. At the turn of the nineteenth century, many of the fragments known today were discovered on tattered papyri excavated in the Greek city of Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. More recently, in 2004 and 2014, new fragments have come to light, hidden away in university or private collections of papyri. Here, Josephine Balmer offers a translation of fragments16 and 94 from her recently revised edition Sappho: Poems and Fragments (Bloodaxe, 2018). These are mirrored by versions of both poems by Roz Kevaney. Balmer’s translation of one of the newly-discovered fragments, the so-called ‘Song to Cypris’, or Aphrodite, completes the selection.
I: FRAGMENT 16 (‘The Ode to Anactoria’)
Some an army on horseback, some an army on foot
and some say a fleet of ships is the loveliest sight
on this dark earth; but I say it is what-
ever you desire:
and it is perfectly possible to make this clear
to all; for Helen, the woman who by far surpassed
all others in her beauty, left her husband –
the best of all men –
behind and sailed far away to Troy; she did not spare
a single thought for her child nor for her dear parents
but [the goddess of love] led her astray
[to desire . . .]
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx[. . . which]
reminds me now of Anactoria
although far away,
whose long-desired footstep, whose radiant, sparkling face
I would rather see before me than the chariots
of Lydia or the armour of men
who fight wars on foot . . .
(Josephine Balmer from Sappho: Poems and Fragments Revised edition (Bloodaxe Books, 2018)
ANACTORIS (After Sappho)
Some get excited when the mounted police
Trot past. The hoofbeats drive their hearts
To pulse and throb. It doesn’t matter if
It’s horse or rider; it all works the same
And some like squaddies, some like sailor boys
Or latex, corsetry or stocking tops.
The world’s so full of lots of things to love;
Whatever does it for you. Everyone
Gets this. And she who was most beautiful
Helen, the one that we still talk about
After so many years, she had a man,
A king of men, and she walked out on him
Without a thought
And she went off to Troy
And gave no thought to any of her kids
Or to her parents. Venus took away
What little brains she had and set her off
To chase off after that dim pretty boy
An archer who killed better men than he
From a safe distance. But she loved him so
Oh! She burned for him, like that’s an excuse
Opened hot legs and satisfied her need
And tore the world apart.
And now I think,
I have to think, of sweet Anactoris
Her swaying walk, the glimmer of her smile
And how I’d rather look at her close up
Than stand up on a balcony in furs
And watch the whole Red Army marching past
Saluting me, and killing whom I chose.
Godlike he holds her hand. She smiles. Salt tears
Headheart hurts. So you go and write a song.
They’re dead. You too. The poem lasts so long
I’m yelling at you from three thousand years.
She’s smart. She doesn’t shriek your name aloud
At awkward moments. Sometimes quotes your verse
He asks about you. Her replies are terse.
Smiles thinking he’s not looking. Smiles are proud.
He sort of gets it. That first night he caught
Your glance, your swift departure. Treats her kind.
Comparisons are always on his mind.
You’re competition still. If jealous thought
Caroms around your head like iron wheels.
You’re fucking Sappho, bitch. Think you he feels.
. . . frankly I wish that I were dead:
she was weeping as she took her leave from me
and many times she told me this:
‘Oh what sadness we have suffered,
Sappho, for I’m leaving you against my will.’
So I gave this answer to her:
‘Go, be happy but remember
me there, for you know how we have cherished you,
if not, then I would remind you
[of the joy we have known,] of all
the loveliness that we have shared together;
for many wreaths of violets,
of roses and of crocuses
. . . you wove around yourself by my side
. . . and many twisted garlands
which you had woven from the blooms
of flowers, you placed around your slender neck
. . . and you were anointed with
a perfume, scented with blossom,
. . . although it was fit for a queen
and on a bed, soft and tender
. . . you satisfied your desire . . .’
(Josephine Balmer from Sappho: Poems and Fragments Revised edition (Bloodaxe Books, 2018)
I HATE IT – after Sappho
I hate it
as if I want to die a moment
when they cry.
And it was all,
We’re such bad news together,
it just hurts,
She really didn’t want to leave.
So I was all
Leave and be better off
Remember all the good times that we had
The love we shared,
Us and some other girl
Down at the flower market that time
Just as it shut
When we came back
With bunches of violets
Pots of crocuses
Too dry to live
Roses too red
Against her frock,
Clashed with her perfume
Some expensive stuff.
I’ll miss her money
And that posh chaise longue
Where we made love
Still, good things always end
You get to make them think they left
NEW FRAGMENT: CYPRIS SONG
How could anyone not have their heart broken
many times, Cypris – I mean by whomever
we truly love – and not wish to be set free
from pain? What do you
want of me when you cruelly tear me apart,
when you shake me with desire that saps the strength
from my limbs…?
xxxxxxxxxxxxxx… I wish you…
…might suffer this [torment too]…
know it [to be true]….
Euripides: Cresphontes: translated by Laura Swift and Russell Bender
The Athenian dramatist Euripides (c.480-406 BCE) is thought to have written over 90 plays, of which 18 or 19 have survived, including Medea, Bacchae and The Trojan Women. His psychological approach to character and motivation, as well as his placing of mythical events in everyday settings, have ensured his place as one of the most influential dramatic writers of world literature. And yet not all of his works are so approachable. Cresphontes (c.425 BCE) survives only in fragments, ranging from part of a scene to scattered words. Sometimes we know the context of a line, or which character said it, and sometimes we can only guess where in the play it came. A later writer preserves a summary of the myth, which helps us to reconstruct the play’s plot, though we can’t be sure that the version he tells was the same as Euripides. Here Laura Swift and Russell Bender offer their translation of the remaining fragments, followed by a scene from their radical stage version of the play, Fragments…, produced with the theatre company Potential Difference and recently staged in London and Oxford. Further information will be found here: www.potentialdifference.org.uk
448a.73b: Old men, walk this way, carrying the aged weight of your knees … long lived limbs … plant your staffs in the earth … acceptable to the gods
449: It would be better if when a child is born we came together to mourn for all the evils he is coming into, and when a man dies and has his rest from troubles, we escorted him from his home celebrating and crying out for joy.
450: If he dwells in the underworld among those who are no more, he can have no power.
451: If my husband was waiting to kill you, as you say, you should have waited too, since time had gone by.
452: My experience is the same as every other man. I feel no shame in loving myself most of all.
453: Peace, deep in riches, fairest of the blessed gods, I am filled with yearning for you – how slow you are in coming … your songs adorned with dancing, your garland-loving celebrations. Keep hateful discord from our homes, and crazed strife that takes pleasure I sharpened iron.
454: It is not I alone among mortals who has had children die, or been bereaved of a husband. Countless women have drained the same misery from life as I.
455: And the twice seven children of Niobe, who were killed by Apollo’s arrows.
457: Shame is born in the eyes, child.
458: My misfortunes have taught me wisdom, taking as their fee the dearest of my loved ones.
459: The type of profits a man should acquire are the sort that he is not going to lament afterwards.
The story so far…:
The play is set in the kingdom of Messenia. The previous king, Cresphontes, was murdered by his brother Polyphontes, who took over the throne and married Cresphontes’ wife Merope against her will. He killed two of their three sons , but the third, Telephontes, escaped. Now a young man, he has returned in search of revenge. This is a dangerous journey, since Polyphontes is offering a reward to anyone who kills him. To get into the palace without being suspected, Telephontes poses as a bounty hunter and claims that he has killed the missing prince and wants to claim the reward. In the original play, Merope tricks Polyphontes into believing she now wishes to reconcile with him. We imagined their reconciliation as a press conference, making use of and remixing the more philosophical and ‘sound-bitey’ fragments from the play.
A press conference. King Polyphontes, Queen Merope and the Prince Telephontes (posing as a bounty hunter) sit blinking into the flashes of cameras and the voices of journalists.
Journalist 1: I’d like to ask a question to the King. Your Majesty, what does this news mean for our city?
Polyphontes: Peace… peace, deep in riches, fairest of the blessed gods. We yearn for you – how slow you have been in coming.
Journalist 2: Sir, you talk about peace. Aren’t you worried about a resurgence of violence from those who have rallied behind the late Prince’s name. What is your message for these people?
Polyphontes: Set your staffs in the ground. Ban hateful strife from our homes. Keep away civil unrest. Peace delights in depths of wealth.
Journalist 3: A question for her majesty the Queen. Madam, can you really forgive the death of your son?
Merope: I am not the only woman who has had children die. Countless women have suffered the same fate from life as I. My misfortunes have taught me wisdom, taking as their fee, the dearest of my loved ones.
Journalist 4: So does that mean you’re standing by your husband’s decision to kill your son?
Merope: It is not I alone who have children who died nor lost my husband…Niobe herself lost fourteen children, killed at the hands of Apollo.
Journalist 4: With respect, my lady, you’re not answering the question. Do you accept what your husband has done?
Merope: It is acceptable to the gods –
Journalist 4: Do you condone his actions?
Merope: It is acceptable to the gods.
Journalist 4: But is it acceptable to you?
Polyphontes: (soothing) He was waiting to kill me. There is no shame. He dwells below in the underworld. He has his rest from troubles. Peace. He is amongst those who are no more.
Journalist 3: Sir, could this be seen as a victory for the populist movement that brought you to power?
Polyphontes: It would be better to come together when a man dies. My experience has taught me wisdom. Strife is crazed. Strife can have no power.
Journalist 2: I’d like to ask a question to the young bounty-hunter. How can you justify killing for money?
Telephontes: (taken aback to be involved) … I feel no shame.
Journalist 2: You feel no shame at killing someone for profit?
Telephontes: I… feel no shame in loving myself above all.
Polyphontes: the kind of profits a man should acquire are those he will never lament. Escort this man rejoicing with glad cries, garlands, celebrations, and dancing.
He brings the press conference to an end. They leave.
Lucretius: Three extracts from De rerum natura in versions by Emma Gee
( De rerum natura 1.712-39)
There are those who make a Noah’s Ark of elements
a two-by-two procession
of air and fire, water and earth
and say these four –
fire earth breath rain –
between them make the universe.
among these is Empedocles
born on his three-cornered hat of an island
whose coast the great breakers of the Ionian sea
paint with verdigris
and a narrow greedy strait divides
from the Italian shore.
on one side the blowhole yapping
lapping like a mad dog with its tongue of foam;
on the other Etna threatening
through its flames’ still muffled crack and snap
that its powerful jaws will once again disgorge
a jet of fire tall enough
to strike the vaulted ceiling of the sky.
you have to see this place:
it counts its marvels cheap
crammed with produce
well stocked with muniments of men
but there’s nothing more amazing
more worthy of wonder and worship
it’s true – he transcends the human race;
the poems that burst from his breast
and flame from his glowing thoughts
might be the utterances of a god.
his mountain-top intelligence stands out
from the throng of those whose eminence
is far behind in scale – but even so
he’s just as wrong as all the other elementalists
though their near-divine discoveries
are like oracles delivered from the heart’s shrine
still much more true than those
the priestess prophetess pours forth
from Apollo’s laurelled tripod-seat.
THE SOUL IS MORTAL
(De rerum natura 3.526-57)
Often we see a person slip away
as life-sense seeps out
limb by limb, feet first
toes and toenails
whiten as we watch
feet and legs die
then blowfly death
tracks cold feet over what’s left.
the mortal soul comes out piecemeal
in tatters, like pathetic threads
of prayer flags horizontal in the wind.
but if you think the soul
returns to womb state
draws all its senses in and
curls up in some byway of the body
then you’d think sensation too
would amass in that spot
where soul is densest.
there’s no such place: ripped to threads
the soul is blown outdoors
dispersed like paper curling in the wind.
even if the soul could ball itself
into a swarm while the body
of those who suffer articulated death
decays around it – still the soul is mortal
no matter if it perishes
scattered in the air
or becomes insensate when
recoiled from its extent.
either way, as sensation more
and more withdraws
less and less of life remains
in a body whose extremities
have died already.
Soul is a limb
with its own specific place
just like eyes and ears
and those other organs
that rule our lives.
And just like widowed hands
or disembodied nostrils
or an unaccompanied eyeball
can’t touch or smell or see
let alone survive even
in a makeshift body of formaldehyde
so the amputated soul dies outside the body.
the soul is no continuation of the man –
we are not it, any more than
we are just our bodies –
the body’s like a jar
that bottles in the soul –
neither is our Self without the other.
( De rerum natura 3.526-57)
Death begins with the feet
later, the legs:
Why are they making me walk
when I’m never going to walk again?
the frame’s degradation
countered by the zimmer –
hardly an answer to a death
that creeps up from below.
the eyes go too
though the fingers may still tap
out the letters on the keyboard
learned by heart, alphabetic
constellations in the closing darkness.
a sharpening of the senses
is discernible too –
from the hospital bed
a patient listens to the radio
at a volume almost imperceptible:
Bach like a flower pressed
between the membranes of life and death
makes ears a substitute for eyes,
sound lending colour to the mind
in lieu of light.
What’s it like being a disembodied soul, my friend?
I’m afraid I can’t answer that question.
Catullus: Two poems translated by Josephine Balmer and Roz Kevaney, with a film-poem by Henry Stead
The Latin poet Catullus is thought to have lived from c. 84 to c.54 BCE. His sensual, scabrous poetry mostly details his passionate love affairs, particularly that with the unknown ‘Lesbia’, as well as his circle of friends – and enemies. Here Josephine Balmer translates Poem 11, a bittersweet note to an unfaithful Lesbia, and Poem 84, a witty attack on the awful Arrius who aspirates his Latin in the fashionable Greek manner of the time. Roz Kaveney then responds with a version of each poem. These are followed by a film poem by Henry Stead which translates Catullus’ strange and beautiful poem ‘Attis’ in an innovative fashion.
Furius and Aurelius, Catullus’ close friends
and fellow travellers, whether he enters
into Indies where waves roar on eastern shores
xxxxxxxxxas the known world ends;
or urbane Urcanes, soft-living Arabians,
the shaggy Sagae, shot-bringing Parthians
or those smooth seas which seven-mouthed Nile befouls,
whether he makes his advance on the Alps haute,
views those testimonials to Caesar’s might –
Gallic Rhine, the rough Channel, or the Britons,
xxxxxxxxxugly and remote;
and if they’re agreed on these, should gods divine
decree, I’d like to ask for one further part:
pass these words on to my girl, not too many
xxxxxxxxxand not quite so kind:
let her live well and fare well with paramours
she clasps in her embrace three hundred times – more,
loving none, having all, over and over
xxxxxxxxxjust breaking their balls;
say not to lament my love, see then as now,
which, thanks to her, has fallen like a flower
at the far meadow’s edge, touched and then devoured
xxxxxxxxxby the passing plough.
(Josephine Balmer from Catullus: Poems of Love and Hate.(Bloodaxe Books, 2004)
I know, boys, that you’d go to Timbuktu
for me. To the North Pole, the South one too.
You’d mingle with Jivaros who shrink heads
or with the gentle Japanese, whose beds
are hard if you’re not used to them. You’d go
look at the Pyramids, eat Eskimo
cuisine, swim with piranhas, burn your feet
on Iceland’s lava. If you want to treat
me right, you’ll go and tell her, where she fucks
three hundred men queued up―the stupid schmucks,
she drains the juice from them and breaks their balls,
up that back alley with the come-smeared walls―
she snapped my heart off, like the flowers
some man drives over in your garden in his van.
(Roz Kaveney from Catullus. Sad Books, 2018)
We say ‘advantages’, he says ‘hadvantages’,
we say ‘artifice,’ Arrius has ‘hartifice’;
in fact, he hammers it out to his heart’s content –
such are his haspirations to heloquence.
His mother and uncle, I hear, once did the same;
maternal grandparents must have share of blame.
But now he’s been posted East and our ears are eased;
hear those hated words, as smooth, soft, as we please
until they lose their horror, don’t seem so harmful.
And then, a message comes, hideous, hawful:
since Arrius crossed the sea we call ‘Ionian’
the whole world, it seems, now says ‘Hionian’.
(Josephine Balmer from Catullus: Poems of Love and Hate. Bloodaxe Books, 2004)
’Arry ’as ’is own langwidge. ’E will say
“an hambush” for example, and look proud,
sure that ’e ’as it right. Will say things loud
and say ’em at each hoppurtunitay.
I blame ’is kin. ’is nuncle, first one freed,
’is muvver and ’is sisters and ’is aunt
vey all try to speak proper and they can’t.
Are sure vey’ve got it right. Ho yes hindeed.
But now that he’s gone East for good, our ears
are gently soothed by accents smooth and mild.
No more his mispronunciations wild …
until a sudden thought brings back worse fears.
What if his accent spreads, so that one day
e’ll sail back ’ome on the Hionian Say?
(Roz Kaveney from Catullus Sad Books, 2018)
POEM 63: ATTIS
A film-poem by Henry Stead
Attis is an audiovisual translation of the 63rd poem of the Roman poet Catullus. It was made for live performance in collaboration with Jef Oswald (music), Elisa Muliere (artwork) and Adam Pelling-Deeves (video edit). Catullus’ original is one of the most haunting cultural remnants of the ancient world. It tells, in its rare and breathless galliambic metre, of a young man, Attis, who under the spell of the Mother Goddess Cybele leaves his old life behind and joins her cult. The initiation ritual for the chief celebrants of the cult — the galli (or gallae as Catullus calls them) — famously involved castration. This moment, early in the poem, switches Attis from masculine to feminine. The score is bass heavy, so it is best experienced with headphones on, or through speakers with a full range.
The written text can be read here: ATTIS by Catullus
Horace, Odes: responses by Maureen Almond
Horace (65 BCE- 8 BCE), a contemporary of Virgil and Ovid, wrote several works of lyric poetry including Satires, Epistles and Odes. In her collection Affectionately Yours, Teesside poet Maureen Almond has recast poems from Odes Book 2 : Vatis Amici. Her poems take the form of letters to family, friends and leading figures, some dead, some still alive, attempting to pass on some of the knowledge and wisdom gained from Horace in dealing with ‘love, friendship, conviviality, politics and the brevity of life’ (David West). In the process the advice Horace gave in Roman times becomes as relevant now as it ever was.
TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH, BRI
(after Horace Odes 2.6 Septimi, Gades aditure)
Bri, I know you’d go with me to the ends
of the earth; go south, which isn’t burdened
by the name cultural desert; to Cumbria’s
but I want Teesside, foundered by iron men,
to be my place of pension. I’m tired, Bri,
wind down the steadies, don’t renew our passports,
close the gates.
And if I can’t have the Tees, I’ll settle
for the Llyn, for knowing sheep on wild hills,
for slate; for the trickling water of the Daron,
ruled by Darona.
Aberdaron could be journey’s end for me.
a place where (if you know the right farmer)
milk’s unpasteurised and unsmoked mackerel
wriggle to your plate,
where Daronwy blessed the toes of our two-year-old,
where a valley held me when my mother died,
where wine from the dandelion tasted better
This place was our refuge and calls us back;
a place of safety where dog and child could roam.
There you could fill your eyes with tears of pride
for your wife, the poet.
Teesside has the unfortunate reputation of being a cultural desert.
Steadies – these help to stabilise caravans, set them down in one place
Daron – a river on the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales
Darona/Daronwy – God/Goddess of the Oak grove & Welsh River God/Goddess]
(after Horace Odes 2.9 Non semper imbres)
Darling Mogs, our patch isn’t always bleak
nor our grass overgrown, though the daisies
are through; no, what we have is buttermilk
carpet to cushion our toes for a while.
The Tees still flows towards the North Sea.
It may not be tidal now at Horse Shoe Bend,
but it is not always muddied or still.
Our oaks are thickening and will withstand the winds.
We hum Fifties songs and constantly mourn
your lost red hair. You know I love you
as much as the sun itself, and more so since
the grey’s poked through, taken over, like bindweed.
Your old dad didn’t spend his white years
grieving because his blazing autumn,
(passed on from his father), faded away.
He dried his tears for two golden-haired sisters.
Stop it now with your constant complaints,
let’s regard this wild plot of ours as an oasis.
Write about it, praise the Council
who cleaned the river and returned the swans.
Remember how it used to bubble
buttercup yellow when it was full of iron,
how the foam bound its waves and its people,
kept everyone on a tanglefree path.
Horse Shoe Bend – The River Tees curves round the town of Yarm in a horse-shoe shape and is known as Horse Shoe Bend
(after Horace Odes 2.20 Non usitata nec tenui ferar)
Dear Stephen, squat little wings will raise me up;
part wife, part nurse, part mother, part poet.
There will be splashing and flapping,
an ugly take-off (for I can hardly bear my own weight):
eventually, though, my webbed feet
will skim the Tees and I will soar,
over the Cleveland Hills, out to the North Sea;
Beyond that even, because the heavens are calling me.
In my working-class feathers I land
on you so often, dear Stephen,
in the hope that I won’t die
or get stuck in murky Tees mud.
Already now I’m starting to waddle;
My legs are shorter; my head is mallard –
I think – and my finger nails are feathering.
I shall be the world-famous, friendly duck –
a widely-flown duck; known beyond England’s
northern coast, beyond the Isis, past Europe
and the States. My fat little wings will carry me
to Asia; frozen Poles, the Doldrums.
When this happens, Stephen, and my cry
is but a quack on the horizon, don’t be sad;
celebrate, tilt your glass, and take confit de canard.
Stephen is Stephen Harrison, Fellow and Tutor in Classics, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Professor of Latin Literature, University of Oxford and the writer’s mentor.
Ovid, Metamorphoses: three extracts translated and reimagined by David Cooke and Ian House
Ovid, a younger contemporary of Horace, lived and wrote in Rome the first century CE until a mysterious ‘crime’ led to his exile from Rome to the Black Sea city of Tomis where he is thought to have died. His epic masterpiece, Metamorphoses, offers a complex interweaving of mythical stories on the poem’s title theme which has proved immensely influential throughout the centuries. Here David Cooke reworks the epic’s opening description of a previous, golden age then Ian House offers two poems. The first of these reimagines the story of Philomela, brutally raped by her brother-in-law Tereus, who then cut out her tongue. But Philomela and her sister Procne devise a horrific punishment, boiling up Procne and Tereus’ son Itys and serving him to his father as a feast. The second poem takes as its starting-point the myth of Hermaphroditus with whom the water-nymph, Salmacis, was besotted. When she prayed to the gods for help in her passion, they merged the two bodies, male and female, into an androgynous form.
Aurea prima sata est aetas
to that golden age
when no one needed
to pay the heavies
and each man’s face
was like an open page
before there was money,
greed and plunder?
The pine trees covering
as yet unfelled,
had never ploughed
water, weighed down
by cargo and propelled
by slaves. Well supplied
at home, why stray
beyond it? A spear
was not required
when wolves were tame
and your neighbours
like you in indolence,
incurious and free.
Back then no
No signage barred
the way. Unwavering,
until that era ended.
In the library the master regaled his guests
with a gobbet of Ovid: Philomel’s rape
and her silencing – He seized her tongue
With pincers and hacked it off
With a brutal knife. The root quivered.
The severed end trembled on the black earth
And murmured, murmured without stopping.
Amid the kitchen’s chatter and backchat,
the thrust and parry of footmen and maids,
Cook dictated a recipe for Roasted Tongue:
Let it simmer till tender.
Make several incisions
with a sharp knife
and fill with a savoury forcemeat.
Turn on a spit.
Wipe dry and glaze.
In the dining room,
round a crystal epergne heaped with sweetmeats,
the servants listened
to the fencing of ladies and gentlemen.
(The recipe is abbreviated from a recipe at Basildon Park, a Georgian mansion near Reading).
ONE OR THE OTHER OR NEITHER OR BOTH
Fifteen and full of himself,
cocky and diffident,
handsome as heaven,
sweaty from exercise,
one of life’s innocents
at the edge of a crystal-clear pool
he slips off his togs, slaps his body
for the joy of it, unaware
of the girl who lolls in the shadows,
combing her hair, painting her fingernails.
She’s seen it all before but this one’s special
and now she emerges into daylight,
reaching her arms to him,
sinuous, suggesting. He flushes
breathtakingly, turns tail,
seeks safety in water,
glides through the pool like an ivory sculpture
but she’s all round him and in him,
her breasts on his chest,
silk-soft legs entwined in his.
Today in the water’s opacity one glimpses
a girl who waits in the mind’s coverts,
peeps out, emerges, dabbles and dives,
mastering his struggles to keep a hold
on himself, to contain what’s born in him
till the struggle’s abandoned
in a kind of kenosis,
a full dissolution,
and a boy knows that she’s him.
Seneca: A choral ode from Medea (591-633): translated by Henry Stead
Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BCE- CE 65) was a statesman, philosopher, dramatist and tutor to the emperor Nero (on whose orders he later took his own life for alleged involvement in a conspiracy against his former pupil). His most important works of poetry were nine tragedies, mostly based on Greek works, which were infamous for their bloodthirsty scenes. Medea is perhaps the best known of these, based on Eurpidies’ original, in which Medea takes vengeance on her betraying husband Jason by killing his new wife and later murdering her own children by Jason. In this extract, translated by Henry Stead, the chorus pray to the gods that Jason might be spared, unlike other tragic mythical figures.
Blind is firexxfed on anger
it has no care for rulexx or brakes
no fear at all xof death
it’s drawn to it
No hunger of forest fire
No concrete storm at sea
No silence as the bomb tears
No violence of twisting blade
could ever match
xxxxxxa woman scorned
xxxxxxa woman burning
The known road has no hidden toll
xxxxxxxxxxxit’s safe to tread xxthe trodden path
Neptune rages at the binder of the sea
xxxxxxxxxxxyearns to destroyxxthe man
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwho spun a web
xxxxxxxxxxaround his world
We pray you gods forgive the Argo
Forgive Jasonxx let him live
We pray you gods xxsoothe
Phaethon stole his father’s chariot
xxxxxxxchariot of the arching sun
He disobeyed his father’s words
xxxxxxxburned xxhimselfx alive
The known road has noxxxxxxnoxhidden toll
it’s safe to treadxxxxxxxxthe trodden path
Tread it safe
xxxxxxxxxxxxdo not break xxnatural laws
All the Argonauts are dead
The men who pulled those famous oars
xxxxxxxxxxxxstripped thickwooded Pelion bare
xxxxxxwho xxsailed between the clashing cliffs
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxsuffered cruel tests on the open sea
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxbeached their ship on foreign land
xxxxxxxxxxThey came back xstained xwith death
A high pricexxxxxxxxxxxxxx forxxxxxx innovation
The deep demanded punishment
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxfor their crime
xxxxxxxxxxxxfirst tamer of the deep
Orpheusxxxxxxxxxxwith voice of honey
hushed the winds and waves
taught the birdsxxxxxxxxxxxto listen
deadxxxxxxxxxxsown in a field in Thrace
xxxxxxhis severed head xflowedx down
xxxxxxxxxxxto the underworld
no way backxxxxxxthis time
Statius, Somnus: translated by Anthony Howell
Statius lived and wrote in Rome in the first century CE. His surviving works include the twelve book epic, the Thebaid, plus another unfinished epic, the Achilleid. His collection of occasional poetry in five books, the Silvae, consists of 32 occasional poems, mostly in hexameters, which concern events in the lives of his circle of friends. Here Anthony Howell translates one of the most popular of these, ‘Somnus’, a hymn to sleep and a prayer to the end of insomnia, The poem comes from his volume, Statius: Silvae, translated with Bill Shepherd and published by Anvil (2007).
By what crime or fault of mine have I deserved
To be the only soul without the benefit
Afforded others by this placid baby God?
Settled are the livestock, and the wild as well,
Birds also, for each drooping treetop testifies
To a breezeless slumber; even waterfalls
Recede into the distance as the hackles on
The waves are stroked to smoothness and the sea itself
Lies dormant in the snug of coastal cleavages.
This is the seventh time the moon has swung around
To gaze into my unrelieved returning stare:
As often have the stars of dusk and dawn been back
To peep at me, and, as I toss, Tithonia,
Who drives the twinkling flock before her, sprinkles me
With dewdrops from her whip. So hard to bear!
And how much longer must I? If I had the thousand
Eyes of Juno’s watchman I would get at least
More sleep than this – there always was a part of him
Which took a nap. But goodness, now, if anywhere
Some person trammelled in his girl’s responding arms
The long night through would drive you off deliberately,
Come here to me, dear Somnus. Not that I insist
That these poor orbs receive a thorough powdering
Of soporific dust dispensed by fluttering –
Happier mortals may demand such luxury!
Simply brush me with your long antenna’s tip,
Or tiptoe lightly over me with your hovering step.
Gerald of Wales: three stories by Liam Guilar
Gerald of Wales (1145-1223), is one of the more fascinating characters of the twelfth century. Over twenty Latin works survive. His Journey through Wales can be read for pleasure, partly because Gerald takes breaks from telling the reader how brilliant he is, and how wrong everyone else is, to tell stories like these, revisioned here by poet Liam Guilar from his forthcoming collection, A Presentment of Englishry (Shearsman, 2019).
He stepped out into unobstructed wind,
shut and barred the door, half-dragged,
half-carried the defeated child towards
the parapet. His fumbling hand felt stone
felt for the edge and end of stone, found space.
Footsteps on the stair, pounding at the door.
A small crowd in the courtyard, pointing
to a blind man and a child on the castle’s
highest tower. The castellan was pleading:
‘Give me back my son!’ and demanding
to know how the prisoner had escaped.
Blinded and castrated, for a reason
no one could remember, he’d been there so long
he’d been allowed to grope his way around.
No one thought he could be dangerous.
‘Give me back my son, my only son, my heir,
and I will set you free.’ ‘Castrate yourself,’
the blind man raged. ‘Castrate yourself or
I will toss your son, your only son, onto the stones below.’
The gathered people saw the blade descend and groaned.
‘You’ve done it?’ called the man. ‘I have.’
‘Where does it hurt?’ ‘In my groin, ‘You lied.’
The blind man moved the child closer
to the edge. ‘Wait,’ screamed the lord, ‘this time.’
The people saw the blade and groaned again.
‘Where does it hurt?’ ‘In my heart.’
the blind man held the squirming child over space.
‘Wait!’ The blade descended: the lord bellowed.
‘Where does it hurt?’ the blind man called.
‘In my teeth,’ the gasping Castellan replied.
‘Now you will never have another child.’
They thought the boy screamed ‘father’ as he fell.
The blind man leapt into the wind.
Two bodies scattered on the stones.
A monastery now marks the spot
It’s called ‘The Scene of Sorrows’.
On the night of the storm the hunter took refuge
with his horse and his dogs in the church of Llanafan.
A foolish and irreverent thing, writes Gerald.
(Welsh and Irish saints are so much more
vindictive than the French and English version.)
By morning the affronted saint,
had driven the dogs mad.
and made the huntsman blind.
Although he did penance and prayed for forgiveness
his sight did not return. (cf ‘vindictive saints’ above).
Hoping for a miracle, his friends helped him to Jerusalem,
a red cross sewn into his tunic. Armed and mounted,
they pointed him towards the heathen’s battle lines.
He charged, was cut down and died with honour.
On the first night he dreamt.
he put his hand in the hole
beneath the gushing spring
and pulled out a gold torque.
Three nights; the same dream.
After the third, he arose
walked the mile to the spring
and put his hand in the hole.
A snake bit him and he died.
Dreams are like rumours, writes Gerald,
you need to use your common sense.
Dr Maureen Almond has a strong interest in classical literature. Her work is included in the Primary Texts Reading List for Oxford University, ‘The Reception of Classical Literature in Twentieth-Century Poetry in English’ and has been cited in The Cambridge Companion to Horace (2007). She was a contributor to the BBC Radio 3 programme, The Essay and to Living Classics: Greece and Rome in Contemporary Poetry in English. (OUP, 2009). Published work includes:Tailor Tacks (1999), Mudfog Press. Oyster Baby, (2002), The Works, (2004), Chasing the Ivy, (2009),Biscuit Publishing.Tongues in Trees, (2005) New Writing North, Recollections, (2008), Flambard Press Affectionately Yours (2016) Iffley Press
Josephine Balmer’s recent collection, The Paths of Survival (Shearsman), was a Poetry Book of the Year 2017 in The Times and also short-listed for the 2017 London Hellenic Prize. Other works include Letting Go (Agenda Editions), The Word for Sorrow (Salt),
Chasing Catullus (Bloodaxe) and translations of Catullus, Classical Women Poets and Sappho (all Bloodaxe), the latter just reissued in a revised and expanded edition to include the newly-discovered fragments. She has also published a study of classical translation and versioning, Piecing Together the Fragments ( OUP).
Russell Bender is a theatre director who specialises in developing new writing. His productions include FAIR FIELD (Shoreditch Town Hall / Ledbury Poetry Festival), NO DOGS, NO INDIANS by Siddartha Bose (Brighton Festival, Southbank Centre, Live Theatre, Newcastle), DARKNET by Rose Lewenstein (Southwark Playhouse), GAME OF LIFE by Rose Lewenstein (The Yard). He has developed work at Ovalhouse, Battersea Arts Centre and the National Theatre Studio and been a staff director at the National Theatre. He is also Creative Associate at the multi award winning publisher and arts producer Penned in the Margins.
David Cooke co-edits The High Window.
Emma Gee grew up in Australia and lives near St Andrews. Her translations of Lucretius have been published in Tellus no.6 (2015), Agenda no.49 (2016), and Modern Poetry in
Translation 2016. Her latest book, Mapping the Afterlife from Homer to Dante , is forthcoming with Oxford University Press New York.
Liam Guilar studied medieval literature and history at Birmingham University (UK) and after moving to Australia completed both Masters and Doctoral level research on medieval poetry. He has published five books of poetry. Individual poems have appeared in PN Review, The SHOp, Shearsman, Southerly, The Stinging Fly, Crannog, Australian Poetry Review, Meniscus and other journals and anthologies. His website is http://www.liamguilar.com and his blog is at http://ladygodivaandme.blogspot.com.au
Ian House taught in schools in England and the United States and then in adult language schools in Eastern Europe. Because he was principally teaching English Literature, he found neither the time nor the inclination to write. On retirement the floodgates opened and since then he has been writing and translating/versioning copiously. His two poetry collections, both from Two Rivers Press, are Cutting the Quick (2005) and Nothing’s Lost (2014). A third is scheduled for 2020.
Anthony Howell is a poet and novelist whose first collection of poems, Inside the Castle was brought out in 1969. In 1986 his novel In the Company of Others was published by Marion Boyars. He was invited to the International Writers Program, University of Iowa in 1971. His Selected Poems came out from Anvil, and his Analysis of Performance Art is published by Routledge. In 1997 he was short-listed for a Paul Hamlyn Award for his poetry. His versions of the Silvae of Statius have been well received and Plague Lands, his versions of the poems of Iraqi poet Fawzi Karim, were a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for 2011. He is UK editor of Grey Suit Editions. He is a Hawthornden fellow and has recorded poems for The Poetry Archive. His latest book of poems is From Inside published by The High Window Press.
Roz Kaveney is a novelist and poet, working in publishing and living in London. She is fascinated by formal poetic structures, by other culture’s radically different ways of seeing the world and by the way desire survives an ironic view of life.
Lesley Saunders is the author of several books of poetry, most recently Nominy-Dominy (Two Rivers Press 2018), an extended praise-song for the Latin and Greek literature she grew up with. She is currently engaged in translating the poetry of Maria Teresa Horta, one of the most revered poets of modern Portugal. The resulting book, Point of Honour, is a dual-language anthology selected from the 20+ volumes of Horta’s poetry; it will be published by Two Rivers Press in April 2019
Henry Stead grew up in Devon and now lives and works in London as a poet, translator and educator. Author of A Cockney Catullus (OUP, 2016) , co-author of A People’s History of Classics (Routledge, 2019), and a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Open University, he works mainly on the reception of classical culture in Britain until 1956. He has co-edited Greek and Roman Classics in the British Struggle for Social Reform (Bloomsbury, 2015), and currently conducts a research project called ‘Brave New Classics’, exploring the intersections of classics and communism.
Laura Swift is a researcher in Greek literature and Senior Lecturer at the Open University. Her work specialises in the literary interpretation of Greek tragedy and early Greek fragmentary poetry. She is the author of The Hidden Chorus (2010) and Archilochus: The Poems (2019) as well as two introductory books on Greek tragedy. Since 2014 she has been collaborating with Potential Difference Theatre on creative responses to fragmentation as a form, and the fragments of Euripides, and has been awarded funding from the Leverhulme Trust, British Academy, and ESRC to pursue this. She and Russell are currently developing their play Fragments for a full production, with a view to performing it in late 2019.