20 July 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/29

Achilles rebukes his horses and the prophetic horse answers back x 9

Last week's poem was Keats's memorial to the sense of revelation he felt when he first read George Chapman's Elizabethan translation of Homer, so I thought for this week I would post an excerpt from that version, which I suspect most of us have not read. I have not, though I've had it sitting on the shelves for a very long time – since 1999, according to Amazon, and I don't know if I like it or not that they tell you how long ago you bought something which you still haven't read – and yet I go on buying, and new books get piled on top of the old, and I fool myself that I will get to each one eventually. We all have our ways of pretending we're immortal.

In addition to the Chapman, I have eight other versions of this same passage. I've also added a label, translation, if you want to see the other entries in which I compare different versions of one poem.

I took the photos at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Greek and Roman galleries.

The story so far is this: Achilles, infuriated by the arrogant treatment of him by the Greek leader Agamemnon, has retreated to his tents and refuses to fight. Without their greatest warrior, the Greeks are at a disadvantage on the battlefield, and the Trojans come close to attacking their ships. Achilles still refuses to fight, but his beloved friend Patroclus persuades Achilles to allow him to wear his distinctive armor, hoping thereby to fool the Trojans into thinking the great warrior is on the field. With the assistance of Apollo, Hector kills Patroclus, thinking he is Achilles, and after a struggle the Greeks capture the body and bring it back to the tents. Angry, remorseful, and thirsting for revenge, Achilles rejoins the battle. After he mounts his chariot, he rebukes his horses (which are of divine origin) for abandoning the corpse of Patroclus on the battlefield. One of the horses, abruptly given the power of speech by Hera, rejects the accusation and, underlining the role of the gods and Fate in the war, foretells the rapidly approaching death of Achilles himself. The horse's power of speech is then abruptly taken away by the Furies. Achilles responds that he already knows he is doomed to die at Troy, but before that happens he will give the Trojans their fill of his anger.

This passage is at the end of Book 19. Here are some useful things to know: the horses Xanthos and Balios (whose names refer to the color of their coats, and are translated in some of the passages below) are the offspring of the harpy Podarge and Zephyrus, the god of the west wind (some versions of their story give Zeus as their father). They are immortal. Danaans and Argives are terms Homer uses to refer to the Greeks. The Furies are also known as the Erinyes. The son of Leto is Apollo. (The Latin version of her name, used by Chapman, is Latona; some translators use Latin versions of the names, some Greek, and some transliterate the Greek differently.) Interestingly, given Apollo's role in his impending death, Achilles mounting his chariot is himself compared to Apollo the sun god, which gives a vivid sense of the glory and power seen in Achilles. Links to the translations (if you wish to buy them and I hope you do) are in the translators' names.

First we have Chapman:

       [. . . ] The fight's seate last Achilles tooke behind,
Who lookt so arm'd as if the Sunne, there falne from heaven, had shin'd –
And terribly thus charged his steeds: "Xanthus and Balius,
Seed of the Harpye, in the charge ye undertake of us,
Discharge it not as when Patroclus ye left dead in field.
But when with bloud, for this daye's fast observ'd, Revenge shall yeeld
Our heart satietie, bring us off." Thus since Achilles spake
As if his aw'd steeds understood, twas Juno's will to make
Vocall the pallat of the one, who, shaking his faire head
(Which in his mane (let fall to earth) he almost buried),
Thus Xanthus spake: "Ablest Achilles, now (at least) our care
Shall bring thee off; but not farre hence the fatall minutes are
Of thy grave ruine. Nor shall we be then to be reprov'd,
But mightiest Fate and the great God. Nor was thy best belov'd
Spoil'd so of armes by our slow pace or courage's empaire.
The best of gods, Latona's sonne that weares the golden haire,
Gave him his death's wound through the grace he gave to Hector's hand.
We, like the spirit of the West that all spirits can command
For powre of wing, could runne him off. But thou thy selfe must go;
So Fate ordaines; God and a man must give thee overthrow."
       This said, the Furies stopt his voice. Achilles, farre in rage,
Thus answerd him: "It fits not thee thus proudly to presage
My overthrow. I know my selfe it is my fate to fall
Thus farre from Phthia; yet that Fate shall faile to vent her gall
Till mine vent thousands." These words usde, he fell to horrid deeds,
Gave dreadful signall, and forthright made flie his one-hov'd steeds.

George Chapman (1611)


Next is the celebrated translation by Alexander Pope, which displaced Chapman as the standard version in English:

All bright in heav'nly arms, above his squire
Achilles mounts, and sets the field on fire;
Not brighter, Phoebus in th'ethereal way,
Flames from his chariot, and restores the day.
High o'er the host, all terrible he stands,
And thunders to his steeds these dread commands.
       Xanthus and Balius! of Podarges' strain,
(Unless ye boast that heav'nly race in vain)
Be swift, be mindful of the load ye bear,
And learn to make your master more your care:
Thro' falling squadrons bear my slaught'ring sword,
Nor, as ye left Patroclus, leave your Lord.
       The gen'rous Xanthus, as the words he said,
Seem'd sensible of woe, and droop'd his head:
Trembling he stood before the golden wain,
And bow'd to dust the honours of his mane,
When, strange to tell! (So Juno will'd) he broke
Eternal silence, and portentous spoke.
       Achilles! yes! this day at least we bear
Thy rage in safety thro' the files of war:
But come it will, the fatal time must come,
Not ours the fault, but God decrees thy doom.
Not thro' our crime, or slowness in the course,
Fell thy Patroclus, but by heav'nly force;
The bright far-shooting God who gilds the day,
(Confest we saw him) tore his arms away.
No – could our swiftness o'er the wind prevail,
Or beat the pinions of the western gale,
All were in vain – The fates thy death demand,
Due to a mortal and immortal hand.
       Then ceas'd forever, by the Furies ty'd,
His fate-ful voice. Th'intrepid chief reply'd
With unabated rage – So let it be!
Portents and prodigies are lost on me.
I know my fates: To die, to see no more
My much-lov'd parents, and my native shore –
Enough – When heav'n ordains, I sink in night;
Now perish Troy! he said, and rush'd to fight.

Alexander Pope (1743)

The link is to the Penguin edition, which is the one I used, though it seems to be out of print. Other editions might be available as well.


       Xanthus, hark! a voice hath found,
Xanthus of the flashing feet:
Whitearm'd Herè gave the sound.
       "Lord Achilles, strong and fleet!
Trust us, we will bear thee home:
Yet cometh nigh thy day of doom;
No doom of ours, but doom that stands
By God and mighty Fate's commands.
'Twas not that we were slow or slack
Patroclus lay a corpse, his back
All stript of arms by Trojan hands.
The prince of gods, whom Leto bare,
Leto with the flowing hair,
He forward fighting did the deed,
And gave to Hector glory's meed.
In toil for thee, we will not shun
Against e'en Zephyr's breath to run,
Swiftest of winds: but all in vain:
By God and man shalt thou be slain."
       He spake: and here, his words among,
Erinnys bound his faltering tongue.

W E Gladstone (1858)

Yes, this is the Gladstone who served as Prime Minister of England four times during the nineteenth century. Let us pause for a moment and contemplate a world in which someone could both be the Prime Minister of England and write enough worthwhile essays on Homer to have them published in a three-volume collection midway through his career. He did not translate the entire epic, only portions. This excerpt comes from Homer in English, edited by George Steiner with the assistance of Aminadav Dykman, part of the excellent Penguin series Poets in Translation, all of which now sadly seem to be out of print. Though this version is shorter than the other ones given here, I thought it was worth including it. It's interesting to see a translator still using rhyme for Homer in the mid-nineteenth century.


       "Xanthus and Balius both, ye far-famed seed of Podarga!
See that ye bring your master home to the host of the Argives
In some other sort than your last, when the battle is ended;
And not leave him behind, a corpse on the plain, like Patroclus."
       Then, from beneath the yoke, the fleet horse Xanthus addressed him:
Sudden he bowed his head, and all his mane, as he bowed it,
Streamed to the ground by the yoke, escaping from under the collar;
And he was given a voice by the white-armed Goddess Hera.
       "Truly, yet this time will we save thee, mighty Achilles!
But thy day of death is at hand, nor shall we be the reason –
No, but the will of heaven, and Fate's invincible power.
For by no slow pace or want of swiftness of ours
Did the Trojans obtain to strip the arms from Patroclus;
But that prince among Gods, the son of the lovely-haired Leto,
Slew him fighting in front of the fray, and glorified Hector.
But, for us, we vie in speed with the breath of the West-Wind,
Which, men say, is the fleetest of winds; 'tis thou who art fated
To lie low in death, by the hand of a God and a Mortal."
       Thus far he; and here his voice was stopped by the Furies.
Then, with a troubled heart, the swift Achilles addressed him:
       "Why dost thou prophesy so my death to me, Xanthus? It needs not.
I of myself know well, that here I am destined to perish,
Far from my father and mother dear: for all that I will not
Stay this hand from fight, till the Trojans are utterly routed.
       So he spake, and drove with a cry his steeds into battle.

Matthew Arnold (1861)

This is another rendition taken from Homer in English. Arnold, like Gladstone, did not translate the whole epic, but only certain passages as part of his arguments on how Homer should be rendered in English. He lists four main features of Homer's verse that he feels should be the goal of every translator, and since his list is still mentioned when the subject of Homeric translation comes up, here it is: "eminent rapidity; eminent plainness and directness both in vocabulary and syntax; eminent plainness in 'matter and ideas'; eminent nobility." Those might be Steiner's words I'm quoting (it's a little unclear in the headnote to this version), but if so he's summarizing Arnold.


[. . . ]
while behind him Achilleus helmed for battle took his stance
shining in all his armor like the sun when he crosses above us,
and cried in a terrible voice on the horses of his father:
"Xanthos, Balios, Bay and Dapple, famed sons of Podarge,
take care to bring in another way your charioteer back
to the company of the Danaäns, when we give over fighting,
not leave him to lie fallen there, as you did to Patroklos."
       Then from beneath the yoke the gleam-footed horse answered him,
Xanthos, and as he spoke bowed his head, so that all the mane
fell away from the pad and swept the ground by the cross-yoke;
the goddess of the white arms, Hera, had put a voice in him:
"We shall still keep you safe for this time, O hard Achilleus.
And yet the day of your death is near, but it is not we
who are to blame, but a great god and powerful Destiny.
For it was not because we were slow, because we were careless,
that the Trojans have taken the armor from the shoulders of Patroklos,
but it was that high god, the child of lovely-haired Leto,
who killed him among the champions and gave the glory to Hektor.
But for us, we two could run with the blast of the west wind
who they say is the lightest of all things; yet still for you
there is destiny to be killed in force by a god and a mortal."
       When he had spoken so the Furies stopped the voice in him,
but deeply disturbed, Achilleus of the swift feet answered him:
"Xanthos, why do you prophesy my death? This is not for you.
I myself know well it is destined for me to die here
far from my beloved father and mother. But for all that
I will not stop until the Trojans have had enough of my fighting."
       He spoke, and shouting held on in the foremost his single-foot horses.

Richard Lattimore (1951)


 [. . .] at his back Akhilleus
mounted in full armor, shining bright
as the blinding Lord of Noon. In a clarion voice
he shouted to the horses of his father:
"Xánthos and Balíos! Known to the world
as foals of great Podargè! In this charge
care for your driver in another way!
Pull him back, I mean, to the Danáäns,
back to the main body of the army,
once we are through with battle, this time,
no leaving him there dead, like Lord Patróklos!"
To this, from under the yoke, the nimble Xánthos
answered, and hung his head, so that his mane
dropped forward from the yokepad to the ground –
Hêra whose arms are white as ivory
gave him a voice to say:
                                         "Yes, we shall save you,
this time, too, Akhilleus in your strength!
And yet the day of your destruction comes,
and it is nearer. We are not the cause,
but rather a great god is, and mighty Fate.
Nor was it by our sloth or sluggishness
the Trojans stripped Patróklos of his armor.
No, the magnificent god that Lêto bore
killed him in action and gave Hektor glory.
We might run swiftly as the west wind blows,
most rapid of all winds, they say, but still
it is your destiny to be brought low
by force, a god's force and a man's!"
                                                On this,
the Furies put a stop to Xánthos' voice.
In anger and gloom Akhilleus said to him:
"Xánthos, why prophesy my death? No need.
What is in store for me I know, know well:
to die here, far away from my dear father,
my mother, too. No matter. All that matters
is that I shall not call a halt today
till I have made the Trojans sick of war!"
And with a shout he drove his team
of trim-hooved horses into the front line.

Robert Fitzgerald (1974)


The next excerpt, from Christopher Logue's celebrated version, needs a bit of background. Logue, who did not read ancient Greek, is not exactly translating the Iliad, but rather recreating it, and he embraces anachronisms if they will give a contemporary reader a more vivid sense of what's going on. So in the passage below he compares the movement of the horses by saying "as in dreams, or at Cape Kennedy, they rise": dreams signals to us how unreal these grand and powerful animals would look; Cape Kennedy (its name has since reverted to the original Cape Canaveral) was the site of NASA's rocket launches, and so we get a striking image that reminds us that these majestic horses are of celestial origin and that war machines like the chariot were among the most advanced technologies of their day. But the anachronisms are there for us, the contemporary readers, not the people in this ancient world, and Logue reminds us of its differences from our world: for example, though in other versions Achilles mentions the end of the fighting, here he explicitly gives the reason: the fighting had to pause when the day got too dark for the soldiers to see: when twilight makes the armistice.

He mounts.

       The chariot's basket dips. The whip
Fires in between the horses' ears.
And as in dreams, or at Cape Kennedy, they rise,
Slowly it seems, their chests like royals, yet
Behind them in a double plume the sand curls up,
Is barely dented by their flying hooves,
And wheels that barely touch the world,
And the wind slams shut behind them.

"Fast as you are," Achilles says,
"When twilight makes the armistice,
Take care you don't leave me behind
As you left my Patroclus."

       And as it ran the white horse turned its tall face back
And said:
This time we will, this time we can, but this time cannot last.
And when we leave you, not for dead, but dead,
God will not call us negligent as you have done."

       And Achilles, shaken, says:
"I know I will not make old bones."

And laid his scourge across their racing flanks.

Someone has left a spear stuck in the sand.

Christopher Logue, War Music (1981)


The ellipsis after line 13 below is in the translation. When I've started an excerpt mid-sentence, I've preceded it with an ellipsis in brackets.

          [ . . .] and behind him
Achilles struck his stance, helmed for battle now,
glittering in his armor like the sun astride the skies,
his ringing, daunting voice commanding his father's horses:
"Roan Beauty and Charger, illustrious foals of Lightfoot!
Try hard, do better this time – bring your charioteer
back home alive to his waiting Argive comrades
once we're through with fighting. Don't leave Achilles
there on the battlefield as you left Patroclus – dead!"
       And Roan Beauty the horse with flashing hoofs
spoke up from under the yoke, bowing his head low
so his full mane came streaming down the yoke-pads,
down along the yoke to sweep the ground . . .
The white-armed goddess Hera gave him voice:
"Yes! we will save your life – this time too –
master, mighty Achilles! But the day of death
already hovers near, and we are not to blame
but a great god is and the strong force of fate.
Not through our want of speed or any lack of care
did the Trojans strip the armor off Patroclus' back.
It was all that matchless god, sleek-haired Leto's son –
he killed him among the champions and handed Hector glory.
Our team could race with the rush of the West Wind,
the strongest, swiftest blast on earth, men say –
still you are doomed to die by force, Achilles,
cut down by a deathless god and mortal man!"
       He said no more. The Furies struck him dumb.
But the fiery runner Achilles burst out in anger,
"Why, Roan Beauty – why prophesy my doom?
Don't waste your breath. I know, well I know –
I am destined to die here, far from my dear father,
far from mother. But all the same I will never stop
till I drive the Trojans to their bloody fill of war!"
       A high stabbing cry –and out in the front ranks he drove his plunging stallions.

Robert Fagles (1990)


In the following, the most recent rendition included here, Xanthus address Achilles as huge Achilles. In the other translations, the equivalent phrase is: ablest Achilles (Chapman); Lord Achilles, strong and fleet (Gladstone); mighty Achilles (Arnold); O hard Achilleus (Lattimore); Akhilleus in your strength (Fitzgerald); master, mighty Achilles (Fagles) (Pope and Logue omit the adjective). Huge really struck me here. It's completely unexpected, and unusual, and because of that it conveys and emphasizes the sheer physical size and strength of the legendary hero more vividly than more usual terms like mighty (on the other hand, a word like mighty can also convey a sense of grandeur that doesn't necessarily come with the word huge). Like most of the translators, Verity includes a note explaining his principles, and one is to stick closely to the Greek in preference to trying to give a "poetic" version. If someone knows the original Greek term used, I'd love to hear it.

[ . . . ]
and behind him Achilles mounted, in full armour,
shining brightly in his weaponry like Hyperion the Sun,
and he called to his father's horses with a terrible cry:
"Xanthus and Balios, far-famed children of Podarge!
This time take more care to bring your charioteer back to
the Danaans' soldiery when we have had enough of fighting,
and do not leave him there dead, as you did Patroclus."
       Then from under the yoke the glancing-footed horse Xanthus
spoke to him; it had bent its head down, and all its mane
was drooping to the ground from the yoke-pad beside the yoke,
and the goddess Hera of the white arms had given it speech:
"We shall surely bring you back safe this time, huge Achilles;
but the day of your death is near at hand, and it is not we who
will be its cause, but a great god and your powerful destiny.
It was not through our sloth or carelessness that the Trojans
stripped the armour from the shoulders of Patroclus, but it was
the best of the gods, he whom lovely-haired Leto bore, who
killed him among the front-fighters and gave the glory to Hector.
We two could run with the speed of the West Wind,
which men say is the fastest of all things, but it is your fate
to be beaten down by the might of a god and of a man."
       When it had spoken in this way the Furies silenced its voice;
and swift-footed Achilles, deeply angered, addressed it:
"Xanthus, why do you prophesy my death? There is no need.
I know very well myself that it is my destiny to die here,
far from my dear father and mother; but for all that I shall not
hold back until I have driven the Trojans to eat their fill of war."
       He spoke, and with a yell to the leaders drove out his single-hoofed horses.

Anthony Verity (2011)


Unknown said...

Just my luck that my favorites were Chapman and Logue, and for each, I would need another one of the translations that I liked less to help translate the translation.
Very interesting post. Even the pronouns used for the talking horse were interesting.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Chapman would need annotations because it's several centuries old, but I am not sure why you think you'd need help with Logue?

Here's an interesting thing about Logue's version (and an insight into how he worked): One of his volumes is called "All Day Permanent Red" which is such a striking evocation of these battles -- but he actually took the phrase from advertising; it was a slogan for a brand of lipstick.

Glad you enjoyed it. I didn't pick up on the horse pronouns so I'll have to take a closer look!

Unknown said...

On Logue: "I know I will not make old bones," is a beautiful way of saying that he already knows he'll die soon, but I'm certain I wouldn't figure that out and then the next two lines, I guess, convey his anger and his plan to spill a lot of blood before he dies, but I would not have figured that out. Too bad, because I really,really like that translation. I think it flows in a really nice way.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

I think "to make old bones" is a fairly common or at least well-known expression in England (Logue is British). The spear stuck in the sand by an unnamed someone is I think a deliberately broad way of suggesting that the fighting (most of it done by anonymous soldiers) is going to continue. The passage I quote here is the end of Logue's War Music collection, and I'm sure by the time you read that far you would be more familiar with his idiom and style and it wouldn't present the annoying sort of challenge.