Friday, 14 January 2022

'Love-Epigrams', part three: starting with Strato

Woodward opens with a piquant choice: AP 12.2, the second of the programmatic poems with which Strato introduces his Boyish Muse. Stripped of typographic archaism, the caroller's version runs as follows, in three stanzas:

Seek not in these leaves of mine
Priam at the altar-shrine:
Look not for Medea's woes,
Nor for Niobe's ill throes:
Nor for chamber'd Itys' grief,
Nor for night-cocks on the leaf:
For of all such manner stuff
Former bardies wrote enough.
But the blitheful Graces iii, [i.e., three]
And sweet Eros ye shall see,
Blent with Bacchus; and, I wot,
Serious looks become them not.

My World's Classics version, for comparison:

No Priam at the altars on my page,
Woes of Medea or of Niobe;
No dozing Itys and no nightingales
Among my leaves, so do not seek them here.
Poets of old penned them exhaustively;
Instead find sweet Desire with pleasant Grace,
And Bacchus. They do not deserve a frown.

It's a matter of taste which one you prefer; Woodward's is hardly inaccurate. Instead he changes the poem's meaning it by uncoupling it from its immediate company. Here is 12.1, the poem that precedes it and opens the book:

‘Let us begin from Zeus’, Aratus said;
Muses, I shall not bother you today.
If I love boys and keep their company,
What is it to the maids of Helicon?

The poem immediately following it, AP 12.3, is explicitly homosexual and assigns pet names to the stages of erection of a young man's penis (I've blogged this poem). Woodward's isolation of 'Seek not in these leaves...' from its original context reframes his Strato as a poet of presumptively heterosexual amours.

Friday, 31 December 2021

'Love-Epigrams', part two: widened horizons

Woodward will surely have met Greek epigram at Harrow, through one of the standard selections compiled for use in classrooms. These books were both teaching tools and paradigms for emulation -- boys not only read but wrote Greek epigrams, and Harrow gave an annual prize for the best such composition. Unsurprisingly, the school selections were carefully winnowed to avoid what we would now term adult content. Published translations into English from the Anthology in the nineteenth century often centred on these poems as familiar mementos of shared upper-class schooldays.

Love-Epigrams knows no such limits, and convinces me that Woodward was choosing his poems from Paton's Loeb, which was still fairly new (1916-18) and was the first and so far the only complete translation of the Anthology into (mostly) English, face-to-face with an affordable and up-to-date edition of its original Greek. Paton's five volumes were a stupendous labour and have been a fundamental resource ever since; an update is under way but has so far only got as far as volume 1.

With Paton to browse in, Woodward ranges widely. The home of heterosexual erotic epigrams is Book 5 of the Anthology, but his selection of 133 poems draws also on Books 6 (votives, x4); 7 (funerary, x2); 9 (epideictic, x7), 10 (protreptic, x1); so-called Book 15 (the Planuedean Appendix, x1); and allegedly also Book 4, though this must be a typo, since Book 4 contains only the prefaces of the anthologists who preceded Cephalas.

By far the largest share of epigrams from outside Book 5, though, comes from Book 12 -- the Anthology's treasure-trove of paederastic epigrams, built around the Mousa Paidikē or 'Boyish Muse' of the notorious Strato of Sardis. One might not expect this from a retired vicar. Woodward's way with the Boyish Muse deserves its own blog post, or posts. Indeed, the very first poem of his selection is one of Strato's.

Friday, 17 December 2021

Woodward's first foray into epigram, part the first





English Verse

Woodward published his first translation from the Greek Anthology in 1934. John Barnes' biography (1996: 114-5) tells me he had by now been printing little books at West Hill for two years, beginning with carol lyrics that he illustrated with woodcuts. In one of those little carol-books were published for the first time the lyrics to 'Past Three A Clock' and 'Ding Dong! Merrily on High'.

Here as in later volumes, Woodward, a lover of old things, uses the archai 'long' form of the letter 's'. Peering closely one can distinguish it from an 'f' but for many readers the extra workload will really fuck. Furely hif friendf muft have fuggefted otherwife? I won't be reproducing thefe -- sorry, these -- in anything I quote in these blog poftf.

Love-Epigrams is to the usual dimensions (discussed in a previous post) but much fatter than anything that followed; the cover is glued onto the stitched spine. The title-page proudly announces its author as 'Formerly Scholar of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge', where he had read classics.

Barnes' focus is primarily on his subject's religious life but he passes on some curious information on this point: Woodward was admitted as a Sayer Scholar and graduated in 1872, after a three-year ride, with only a third-class degree. A casual search suggests the Sayer Scholarships were reserved for Harrow boys, but competition was surely fierce and Woodward's late-in-life translations show him to have remained a highly capable and widely read classical linguist. I suppose we are unlikely ever to know what went wrong, if 'wrong' should turn out even to be a relevant term to apply.

To be continued.

Friday, 3 December 2021

A little about Woodward

Born in Birkenhead, George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934) attended Elstree and Harrow Schools and won a Scholarship to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He read classics, not perhaps very attentively, coming away with a third-class degree and a vocation to the Anglican Church. His long career was spent at various churches in London, Norfolk, and Suffolk. In his country livings he was a keen bellringer and beekeeper. He retired a widower in 1906 and moved to 48 West Hill, Highgate, a distinguished old rental property, in 1916.

In the last years of his life he became a prolific self-publisher of, among other things, tiny books of translations of Greek epigrams into rhyming verse. He made them all at home in Highgate, where he installed a printing press. The books seem to me unusually sized: each page measures five by three-and-three-quarter inches, half the size of a duodecimo. The sheets are hand-cut, and typically joined by a simple double stitch. Covers are of brown card, of thinner stock than the pages they contain. The print-runs (120 or 136 copies) were almost as tiny as the books themselves, each copy being hand-numbered. There seems no indication that he offered them for sale.

If I have it right, the thickest of these pamphlets (Greek Anthology: 133 Love Epigrams in English Verse) is also the earliest (1924). Woodward had been in Highgate for eight years and was well into his seventies. The greatest concentration of his epigram volumes appeared hot on each others' heels in 1931, when he would have been 83 or thereabouts. I wonder if he was working the press by himself, or had help: I expect he had domestic staff. [update: he had two presses there, and in his last years his housekeeper operated them. He left one of the presses to her in his will] His papers are held at UCLA but it does not immediately sound as if they will shed much light. In the meantime I've ordered the biography by John Barnes. [update: it's a lovely book]

I've begun a list of Woodward's possible or (emboldened) definite epigram books, which I'll add to if I find more. I don't know the order in which volumes appeared in years when he issued more than one; I don't yet even have a sense of whether it can be known.

1924    Greek Anthology: 133 Love-Epigrams in English Verse

1925    Domestica: Being Greek Epigrams Turned into English Verse

1926    Greek Anthology: Beauty-Epigrams (I wonder if this is code for AP12?)

1928    Tart and Homely Gibes of Greek Epigrammatists

1928    Gleanings from Ancient Olive-Yards, Greek and Roman (mixed poets, non-Anthology)

1928    ? Spring-Time Songs Translated from the Greek (unclear if includes epigrams; not yet seen)

1929    Greek Epigrams on and by Famous Poets and Musicians

1929    Greek Anthology: Epigrammata Heroica

1929    A Bunch of Grapes from Ancient Greek Vineyards Crushed into English Measures (unclear if includes epigrams; not yet seen)

1929 ?  Greek Witticisms told in the English Verse (unlikely to include epigrams, but not yet seen)

1931    Epigrams on Sappho and Other Famous Greek Lyric Poetesses

1931    Greek Epigrams: Religious and Dedicatory, Part I

1931    Greek Epigrams: Religious and Dedicatory, Part II

1931    Greek Epigrams on Timon, Diogenes & Others

1931    Five and Forty Examples of the Epigram Sepulchral

1931    Tales of Sea-Sorrow from the Greek Anthology

1931    ? A Garland of Spiritual Flowers (unlikely to include epigrams, but not yet seen)

Friday, 19 November 2021

The Highgate Caroller

 In my next few blog posts I want to revisit one of the Anthology's more obscure translators -- the Revd Charles Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934), of St Augustine's in Highgate, London, where the porch bears an inscription in his honour (a bit garbled in transcription).

His enduring reputation is as a great collector and composer of carols and seasonal hymns: 'This Joyful Eastertide', 'Ding Dong Merrily on High', 'Past Three o'Clock'. But between 1924 and 1931 he also published a dozen or so books of translations from the Greek Anthology, doubtless making his selections from the newly published complete Loeb. You can see some in the stock of this rare book dealer.

I talk about Woodward a bit in my academic book, Greek Epigram in Reception (2013) but I'd like to unpack his story a little more, if I can find material to go on; and especially to revisit his tiny, card-bound pamphlets and the often charming translations they contain.

If anyone knows anything about Woodward, please get in touch? next post

Friday, 29 October 2021

On small mistakes

No matter how expert, every translator messes up somewhere. So it's with humility and respect, and in the conviction that I will have done worse, that I present here two instances where I was able in a small way to improve on the old Loeb by W. R. Paton.

Paton took on a daunting task. Never before had the whole Greek Anthology been translated into English, and he not only did it (with the minor exception of the poems he reckoned too obscene -- he put those into Latin instead) but did it well. In industry and breadth of learning he towers above me, and none of us could find our way around the Anthology without him.

Still, even Homer nods. Here are two occasions where I was able, or was helped, to fix a glitch.

9.333 (Mnasalcas)

Let us stand by the flatland of the strait,
To view the shrine of Cypris of the Sea;
And see the fount beneath the poplar’s shade
Where sip the beaks of darting kingfishers.


This epigram is in the book. 'Darting' in the final line is the Greek xouthos. Paton has yellow kingfishers, and at first so did I, but my wife asked "Are there yellow kingfishers?" and of course I couldn't find any. Xouthos does have a secondary meaning as a yellow or tawny colour, but its basic sense is of rapid movement, and secondarily of the sounds made by rapid movement, especially of wings: nimble, darting, rustling, whirring, buzzing.


13.23 (Asclepiades)

Though you be pressed for time, o passer-by,
Listen however briefly to the tale
Of Botrys and his overwhelming woe:
Eighty years old, he buried here his boy,
An infant, but his babble made some sense,
Already showed capacity. I cry
Not just for Botrys but for his dear son,
Robbed of life’s pleasures when he was undone.

This is one of the 'polymetric' epigrams preserved in the Anthology only because they are metrically unusual. Where I put 'an infant', Paton has 'a boy of nine'. The second couplet of the Greek runs:

ὃς πρέσβυς ὀγδώκοντ᾽ ἐτῶν τὸν ἐννέων ἔθαψεν

ἤδη τι τέχνᾳ καὶ σοφὸν λέγοντα.

Paton takes ἐννέων to be a genitive plural of the Greek numeral ἐννέα, 'nine', and pairs it with the genitive plural ἐτῶν: 'of nine years'. But ἐννέα does not decline -- no matter the gender or case, it's always just ἐννέα. Instead I am sure the plural ἐτῶν goes with ὀγδώκοντ᾽, 'eighty', which likewise does not decline: Botrys is an old man of eighty years. Instead I reckon ἐννέων must be a metrically convenient one-off formed from from ἐν(ν)εός, meaning dumb or speechless; or as Latin would have it, infans.

I did not spot this because I am better at Greek than Paton was -- in plain fact it is the other way around. But hard-pressed Paton was several thousand epigrams in, with hundreds left to go. Unlike him, I could make a litttle time to pause and wonder: what would be so special about a boy of nine already making some sense when he tried to speak? The solution followed from there.

Friday, 15 October 2021

My old Martial posts for the OUP World's Classics reading group

 Would you believe these are still up on the OUP site, after all this time? Well, they are --

-- and I've been really tickled to re-read them. I was on good form those few weeks, I think. Enjoy, if you haven't already, and despite the copyeditor's weird swapping-out of colons for commas all over the place.