Sunday, February 25, 2018

Bull God

I have always wanted to translate all the Homeric Hymns, so I finally decided why not. It is something I can work on while working on my long poem, currently titled "Standing Water."

The first hymn is to Dionysus. It is a fragment. (Most of the hymns are intact, but this one, not.) There is a word in the second line, "εἰραφιῶτα." Hugh G. Evelyn White, a translator I much respect, translates it as "insewn" and notes that Dionysus was sewn into the thigh of Zeus to hide him from Hera. This is how the Hellenistic scholars read it. They saw the letters "ραφιῶ" and related it to "rapio" "to sew." We get the word rhapsody from it--a sewing together of melodies or song--. Modern scholars, however, trace the word back to Sanskrit for "Bull God."

Translating this, one is faced with the question which to use. The later Greeks, at least, read it as referencing sewing and the god sewn into the thigh of Zeus. Did it once mean Bull God to the earlier Greeks? It is hard to know. I am tempted to go with both:

Some at Drakanos, some say on windswept Ikaros,
some in Naxos, divine born, god of bulls, 
                             sewn into Zeus’s thigh

But then, I am left with what to do with it when the word occurs again in line 17:

ἵληθ᾽, εἰραφιῶτα, γυναιμανές:

Be gracious, Lord of bulls, thigh born, who drives women to frenzy

Not sure

Saturday, February 24, 2018


Reading Philosophical Investigations I came across this discussion of The sword Excalibur: "The word Excalibur is a proper name in the ordinary sense. . ." But in the German text, which is en-face, has no mention of Excalibur. Rather the sword is Nothung,, the sword Siegfried places between himself and Bruenhilde to guarantee her chastity. It is obvious translator has substituted the English sword for English readers. It saves a footnote, and the point of the passage is that a name applies whether a thing exists or not, so that the idea that there is a direct relationship between a noun and a thing doesn't really make sense. Both are famous swords within their own cultural context.

Yet, i will say, i would have preferred the original sword, even if i am less familiar with the legend and the Wagnerian Opera. I like to get the feel of the cultural context of the original. I like a bit of otherness, strangeness.

I see this done a lot with Greek texts too. A strange or difficult idiom or reference is substituted for with a familiar one. In The first elegy of Kallimachos, I remember, the translator wrote "from an ancient people." In the Greek the word was not ancient but προυσέληνς, "before the moon", because the people were said to be so ancient they were older thαn the moon. A much more poetic and interesting take.