poetry


The semester is over!  To celebrate, I share here a portion of a poem of Gregory’s that I recently translated.  Friends from church held a “Port and Poetry” party: we gathered together and shared poems around a warm fire.  It was a delightful evening!  For our contribution, I read the Greek aloud (iambic trimeter), and my wife read the English.  

The excerpt comes from PG 37.1186, from the Carmina de se ipso.  

English

We waste not our words on outward things,
however they should be; the inward life,
our undivided care, demands our explication.
In mind resides a salvific grace,
a grace, which spurs us on to hea’en,
yet not before the mind hath spake
to tell us, of its one sure desire.
What gain shall ever come from damned-up stream,
or from the sun’s beam, blocked by clouds?
Of such a sort, the sophic mind in silence,
like rose’s grace, concealed by scurr’lous seed.
But when the shattered wind-blown seed shows forth
its bloom, then ye shall see the rose revealed,
adorned on stage for all to love and see.
Had e’er that beauty been borne away,
then Vernal Spring, bereft of grace, would be.
No more we seek to speak, to think, as those
who deem Thrift King in matters of the Word.

Greek

Ἡμῖν δὲ, τοῦ μὲν ἐκτὸς οὐ πολὺς λόγος,
Ὅπως ποθ’ ἕξει· τοῦ δ’ ἔσω λίαν πολύς.
Ἐν νῷ γάρ ἐστιν ἥμιν ἡ σωτηρία,
Πλὴν ἐκλαλουμένῳ τε, καὶ δηλουμένῳ.
Πηγῆς τί κέρδος ἐστὶν ἐμπεφραγμένης;
Τί δ’ ἡλιακῆς ἀκτῖνος, ἣν κρύπτει νέφος;
Τοιοῦτόν ἐστι νοῦς σοφὸς σιγώμενος,
Οἷον ῥόδου τὸ κάλλος, ὃ κάλυξ σκέπει
Οὐκ εὐπρεπές· τὸ τερπνὸν ἐκφαίνει δ’, ὅταν
Αὔραις ῥαγεῖσα τὸν τόκον θεατρίσῃ.
Εἰ δ’ ἦν ἀεὶ τὸ κάλλος ἐσκεπασμένον,
Οὐδ’ ἄν τις ἦρος ἦν χάρις τοῦ τιμίου.
Οὐδὲν πλέον ζητοῦμεν, ὡς οὕτω λαλεῖν,
Ὡς οἳ δοκοῦσιν εὐτελεῖς τὰ τοῦ λόγου.


ἐν αὐτῷ,
ΜΑΘΠ 

 


Since I’ve been reading the Psalms and the Iliad back to back, I’ve decided to write a bit of hexameter based on the Psalms.  These are scarcely great works of art, but do they allow me to practice the meter.  

Here’s my first offering, based on Ps. 36:31 (LXX).  

ἐν κράδιῃ νόμος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστι, ἄνακτος ἐόντος. 
τοῦ δ᾽ὁδός οὐκ ἐδαμάσθη, ὠκίστ᾽ ἐρχεται αὐτῃ.
 
“The law of God is in his heart, as the Lord is present [with him].
His path has not been overthrown, and he goes swiftly in it.” 
 
The Psalm itself reads:
 
ὁ νόμος τοῦ θεοῦ αὐτοῦ ἐν καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ,
καὶ οὐχ ὑποσκελισθήσεται τὰ διαβήματα αὐτοῦ.
 
“The law of God is in his heart,
and his steps will not be overthrown.” 
 
ἐν αὐτῷ,
ΜΑΘΠ 

For my term paper in my Homer class, I’ll be examining the Homeric influences in Gregory of Nazianzus’s Poemata Arcana. These are the first eight of his dogmatic poems.  Written in the epic hexameter of Homer, the poems are exquisite statements of Christian dogma and aesthetics.  The third poem, entitled “On the Spirit” commences in dramatic fashion.  Indulge me as I translate a few lines (with suitable poetic license):


“O Soul, why are you troubled?
Sing the boast of the Spirit,
Lest you divide the one not made so by nature.
Let us tremble at this great Spirit,
My God, by whom I know God;
The Spirit of God in the Heavens,
Who yet makes me a god here on the Earth.
Almighty, All-giving, the Song of the Sacred Dance,
Bearer of Life, both seen and unseen;
Divine counselor, He proceeds from the Father;
Divine Spirit he goes un-bidden.
He is not the Child;
But one is worthy of such honor,
Yet apart from God he is not;
Divine, he is equal in nature.”

Θυμέ, τί δηθύνεις; καὶ Πνεύματος εὖχος ἄειδε,
μηδὲ τέμῃς μύθοισιν ὃ μὴ φύσις ἐκτὸς ἔθηκε.
Πνεῦμα μέγα τρομέωμεν, ὅ μοι θεός, ᾧ θεὸν ἔγνων,
ὃς θεός ἐστιν ἔναντα, καὶ ὅς Θεὸν ἐνθάδε τεύχει·
πανσθενές, αἰολόδωρον, ἁγνῆς ὕμνημα χορείης,>
οὐρανίων χθονίων τε φερέσβιον, ὑψιθόωκον,
Πατρόθεν ἐρχόμενον, θεῖον μένος, ἀυτοκέλευστον,
οὔτε Πάϊς (μοῦνος γὰρ ἑνὸς Πάϊς ἐσθλὸς ἀρίστου)
οὔτ᾽ ἐκτὸς θεότητος ἀειδέος, ἀλλ᾽ ὁμόδοξον.

If you look at the Greek, you’ll see quite a few differences: I make no apologies here. Translating poetry demands poetic license. Of course, I’m hardly a competent English poet. Hopefully, my translation brings out some of what is truly beautiful in the original. Gregory’s poetry is difficult, but stunning in its erudition and loveliness.

I’ve bolded a few things I found particularly interesting or appealing in the Greek. First, one has acknowledge Gregory’s debt to Homer. The very first word of the poem, θυμός, is extremely common word for soul or spirit in Homer. Likewise, his command to his soul to “sing the boast of the Spirit” uses Homer’s singing and boasting language. One is reminded of the very first line of the Iliad, “Wrath, Goddess, sing!” One thinks too of Homer’s heroes always boasting in their lineage. Before a battle there was usually an exchange of words, each opponent boasting in his family line. So too, Gregory exhorts his soul to boast in the Spirit, so that it may be prepared for battle with those who “divide what by nature is indivisible.”

Of course, Gregory writes as a Christian poet as well. Though Homer has an immeasurable influence on his form and vocabulary, Gregory melds with it a web of Christian influences and theology. One particularly glaring incident comes in the 7th line, where the Spirit is called, θεῖον μένος. Μένος is another extremely common Homeric word. It means something like our english word “spirit,” but a bit more like in our use of “high-spirited.” Sometimes “battle strength” or “battle rage” is more fitting (the flexibility is rather like the Latin animus). But here, the Spirit the divine μένος! Gregory has taken an extremely common Homeric word, and filled it entirely with new content.

The Scriptural resonances are evident as well. The first line, while clearly echoing Greek epic, also echoes the Psalmist, “why are you downcast O Soul!” The Spirit is the “bearer of Life” for both “the heavenly ones and the earthly ones,” which I translated “seen and unseen” to evoke the allusions to the great creed. But my favorite phrase of these lines definitely comes from the fifth line, where the Spirit is the “ἁγνῆς ὕμνημα χορείης,” “the Song of the Sacred Dance.” It is turns of phrase like that that have established Gregory as one of the greatest Christian poets. His use of language so carefully and beautifully exhibits the truth of Christian theology. The two meanings of orthodoxy, which is both true worship and true theology, come together exquisitely in Gregory. Rightly has the Church remembered with the simple epithet, “the Theologian.”

ἐν αὐτῷ
ΜΑΘΠ

In a different vein from my normal posts, I thought I’d share a passage which I found particularly moving in Homer: Briseis’ lamentation for Patroklos in book 19. I’ve found female speeches in classical literature particularly moving. My favorite passages in Livy from last semester were probably Lucretia’s speech, and the speech of the Sabine women on the eve of the final battle between the Sabines and the Romans. In the same vein, I offer a bit of Homer here.

For those like me, who aren’t exactly up on their Homer, Briseis’ husband was killed in battle, and she was claimed as spoil by the Greeks for Achilles. Agamemnon then claimed her after he had to give up his own “seized woman,” which provoked the conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles that drives most of the Iliad. Patroklos, Achilles best-friend, was evidently gracious to Briseis, and here she morns his death after being brought to Achilles’ tent.

The Greek:


Βρισηῒς δ’ ἄρ’ ἔπειτ’ ἰκέλη χρυσέῃ Ἀφροδίτῃ
ὡς ἴδε Πάτροκλον δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ,
ἀμφ’ αὐτῷ χυμένη λίγ’ ἐκώκυε, χερσὶ δ’ ἄμυσσε
στήθεά τ’ ἠδ’ ἁπαλὴν δειρὴν ἰδὲ καλὰ πρόσωπα. (285)
εἶπε δ’ ἄρα κλαίουσα γυνὴ ἐϊκυῖα θεῇσι·
Πάτροκλέ μοι δειλῇ πλεῖστον κεχαρισμένε θυμῷ
ζωὸν μέν σε ἔλειπον ἐγὼ κλισίηθεν ἰοῦσα,
νῦν δέ σε τεθνηῶτα κιχάνομαι ὄρχαμε λαῶν
ἂψ ἀνιοῦσ’· ὥς μοι δέχεται κακὸν ἐκ κακοῦ αἰεί. (290)
ἄνδρα μὲν ᾧ ἔδοσάν με πατὴρ καὶ πότνια μήτηρ
εἶδον πρὸ πτόλιος δεδαϊγμένον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ,
τρεῖς τε κασιγνήτους, τούς μοι μία γείνατο μήτηρ,
κηδείους, οἳ πάντες ὀλέθριον ἦμαρ ἐπέσπον.
οὐδὲ μὲν οὐδέ μ’ ἔασκες, ὅτ’ ἄνδρ’ ἐμὸν ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεὺς
ἔκτεινεν, πέρσεν δὲ πόλιν θείοιο Μύνητος,
κλαίειν, ἀλλά μ’ ἔφασκες Ἀχιλλῆος θείοιο
κουριδίην ἄλοχον θήσειν, ἄξειν τ’ ἐνὶ νηυσὶν
ἐς Φθίην, δαίσειν δὲ γάμον μετὰ Μυρμιδόνεσσι.
τώ σ’ ἄμοτον κλαίω τεθνηότα μείλιχον αἰεί. (300)
Ὣς ἔφατο κλαίουσ’, ἐπὶ δὲ στενάχοντο γυναῖκες
Πάτροκλον πρόφασιν, σφῶν δ’ αὐτῶν κήδε’ ἑκάστη.

My own translation (which has no ambitions of merit nor poetry):


Briseis, then, like golden Aphrodite, when she saw Patroklos lying slain by sharp bronze, wailed loudly, throwing herself around him. She tore with her hand at her breast, her tender neck, and lovely face. Then the wailing woman, like one of the goddesses, spoke:

“Patroklos! you were so kind in spirit to my wretched self! I left from you while you were yet living, yet now I come upon you dead, O leader of the peoples! Evil from evil pours down upon me always. I saw the man, to whom my father and queenly mother gave me, slain by sharp bronze before the city, and my three brothers, whom all were born by a single mother, so very dear to me, all fall on that cursed day. But you would not permit me, when swift Achilles slew my own husband, and sacked the city of divine Munes, to weep. Rather you declared me to be the bride of godlike Achilles, and to take me in a ship to Phthia, and to give me a wedding feast among the Murmidons. Thus I weep your death insatiably, you who were always most kind to me.”

Thus she spoke, weeping, and the other women mourned around her. Patroklos was their excuse, but each had her own grounds for tears.

Though Homer’s greek has been not a little challenging, I find passages like this make the difficult work more than worthwhile!

ἐν αὐτῷ,

ΜΑΘΠ