Wednesday, 3 June 2020

A lost sea-monster

Book 6 is the Anthology's collection of dedicatory epigrams: real or imaginary inscriptions to accompany offerings hung up in temples. All sorts of things can be offered to gods -- a retiring craft worker can hang up the tools of their trade, for instance -- making Book 6 a whole ancient world in miniature.

These two poems are immediate neighbours and concern the same subject, a colossal, millipede-like sea-monster called the scolopendra. The modern genus scolopendra includes various large tropical centipedes, but none nearly so large as their ancient namesake. 6.223 is in the book, but 6.222 is newly done for this blog post.

A note on weather: the constellation Orion rises in July and sets in November, and was anciently associated with storms in both seasons. Virgil in Aeneid 1 has Orion stir up a sudden storm that drives the refugee Trojans' ships onto reefs, just as the storm of Theodoridas' epigram casts the scolopendra onto the reefs of southern Italy:
Hic cursus fuit,
cum subitō adsurgēns flūctū nimbōsus Orīōn 
in vada caeca tulit penitusque procācibus Austrīs 
perque undās superante salō perque invia saxa 
dispulit; hūc paucī vestrīs adnāvimus ōrīs. (1.534-8)
Theodoridas (3rd century BC) was a poet of Syracuse, so Apulia ('Iapygia' in the Greek) was fairly local. Antipater was writing about a century later.

I reproduce Aelian's account of the scolopendra below the translations. He was a rhetorician writing in the third century AD, so the many-legged sea-monster had a good run, but it is not found in the modern Mediterranean; at some point it went away, to where all the good stories eventually go.

6.222
THEODORIDAS

The scolopendra with a thousand feet,
That depths of sea stirred by Orion’s storm
Cast on the reefs of the Apulians:
The masters of the deep-hulled merchantmen,
Ten oars a side, hung up this giant rib
Of cartilage from off that bristling beast,
Nailed in a temple to divinities.

6.223
ANTIPATER <OF SIDON?>

This ragged remnant of an ocean beast,
The scolopendra, twice four fathoms long,
Tossed in the surf upon a sandy shore,
All mangled by the reef, Hermōnax found
When he with netsman’s art was drawing in
His haul of sea-fish. What he found, he hung
As offering to Ino and her son,
Palaemon — a sea-monster, for sea-gods.

‘Now in the course of examining and investigating these subjects and what bears upon them, to the utmost limit, with all the zeal that I could command, I have ascertained that the Scolopendra is a sea-monster, and of sea-monsters it is the biggest, and if cast up on the shore no one would have the courage to look at it. And those who are expert in marine matters say that they have seen them floating and that they extend the whole of their head above the sea, exposing hairs of immense length protruding from their nostrils, and that the tail is flat and resembles that of a crayfish. And at times the rest of their body is to be seen floating on the surface, and its bulk is comparable to a full-sized trireme. And they swim with numerous feet in line on either side as though they were rowing themselves (though the expression is somewhat harsh) with thole-pins hung alongside. So those who have experience in these matters say that the surge responds with a gentle murmur, and their statement convinces me.’
--Aelian, On the Nature of Animals 13.23, tr. A. F. Scholfield for the Loeb Classical Library (1958)


Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Gregory's sister, Gorgonion

His sister, Gorgonion, is probably one of the siblings for whom Gregory wrote the poem we know as 8.99. This comes in at the tail end of the long-ish sequence he composed for his favourite brother, Caesarius. Gregory wrote three other poems specifically in memory of Gorgonion. Here are versions of them, made fresh today.


101
On Gorgonion, his sister

Of Gregory and Nonna the dear child,
I lie within, Gorgonion, received
Into the mysteries of Heavenly life.

102
On Gorgonion

Gorgonion left nothing upon earth,
Only her bones; all else she stored on high,
Up with you Martyrs who have won the prize.

103
On the same, and on Alypius, her husband

For Christ she offered up her whole estate,
Namely her flesh and bones; and her one loss
Was parting from her husband; nor indeed
Was she without him for so very long,
But suddenly Christ snatched him too away,
Famous Alypius. Ah, you lucky man,
And wife the luckiest: for in the streams
You have sloughed off the filth of mortal life,
And now you have been born again, anew.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Gregory on Caesarius: the complete collection

Here are all seventeen of Gregory's laments for his handsome and talented younger brother, from book 8 of the Greek Anthology. The last two poems in the sequence also mark the deaths of a second brother, Philagrius; and of a sister, Gorgonion, who then gets three epitaphs of her own (AP 8.101-3).

(I do wonder at Philagrius only getting the one epitaph, given how Gregory usually is. Did a sequence of poems get lost, or did the two of them just not get on?)

The versions of 8.91 and 98 will be in Epigrams from the Greek Anthology, out this autumn (Amazon UK / Amazon US); the rest are newly done, for this blog. I'm moved by Gregory and feel privileged to have translated him.

'Gregory’s handiwork' -- poem 98 contains an internal signature, a feature I've not seen in other Anthology poets, but that seems to comfort Gregory as he memorialises a lifetime of painful losses for posterity.

85
On Caesarius his brother

The tomb is merciless. I never dreamed
That it would swallow up the latest-born
Before their elders; nonetheless it took
Caesarius, our parents’ famous son,
Before the ones who had preceded him.
What kind of justice, this? What kind of right?

85b
On the same

The tomb is not at fault; don’t call it names.
The deed was Envy’s, for how could it bear
To see a young man wiser than the old?

86
On the same

Gregory, your good fortune was to gain
A son who soared above all mortal men
In looks and wisdom, and our Emperor’s friend:
Yet he was powerless to overcome
Pitiless death. My fears were all too true.
What says the tomb, though? ‘Suffer and endure:
Caesarius is dead, yet you possess
The mighty reputation he had won,
To compensate you for your own dear son.’

87
On the parents of Gregory the Great and Caesarius

‘We two were ripe for burial, when here
The masons set this stone for our old age;
They set it for our use; but out of joint
Caesarius possesses it instead,
The last-born of our children. O our child,
Our child, we suffer grief beyond compare:
Make haste to welcome us into your tomb.’

88
On the same Caesarius

This stone our parents raised to be their tomb,
Expecting their remaining share of life
To be but slender; but against their will
They gave it to their son Caesarius,
A bitter gift, since he ahead of them
Was ransomed and set free from mortal life.

89
On the same

‘My old age lingered long upon the earth;
While in your father’s place you have this stone,
Dearest of all my sons, Caesarius.
What kind of law is this? What kind of right?
Lord of Mankind, how could you nod at this?
I cry for life too long, and death too soon.’

90
On the same

‘I cannot, no, I cannot love this gift,
The tomb that was your sole inheritance
From all of our estate, Caesarius;
The stone that pierced your aged parents through.
Malicious Envy willed it to be so.
I cry for life made longer still by pain.’

91
On the same

Wisdom and everything it comprehends:
Geometry, the stations of the stars,
The stratagems of the logician’s art,
Grammar and history too, and speaker’s force:
Caesarius alone of mortal men
With subtle mind and soaring intellect
Could grasp them all. Alas! Now like the rest
He is become a scattering of dust.

92
On the same

You left your brothers the entire estate,
And in its place you claim a little tomb.
Caesarius the glorious, you knew
Geometry, the stations of the stars,
History too — but none of what you knew
Was any remedy against your death.

93
On the same

Beautiful man, you left your fatherland
And travelled far, famous Caesarius,
Bearing with you the summits of all skills.
We sent you forth a healer unsurpassed
To aid our sovereign, but we welcomed back,
Alas!, mere ashes from Bithynia’s plain.

94
On the same

The terrifying earthquake’s rumbling threat,
That time Nicaea’s city tumbled down — 
This you escaped, only to cede your life
To cruel disease. We weep, for you were young,
And pure, and wise, handsome Caesarius.

95
On the same

The best and bravest son of Gregory
And Nonna who feared God: I am the tomb
That covers nobly-born Caesarius,
Peerless among the eloquent and wise,
Pre-eminent among the sovereign court,
Who blazed as lightning to the ends of earth.

96
On the same

The day Caesarius was swept away,
The emperor’s halls were hushed in disbelief;
At once the Cappadocians bowed their heads;
And if a trace of goodness had remained
Among mankind, it has been done away,
And reason now and principle are wrapped
Inside a cloud of mute unknowingness. 

97
On the same

If weeping ever made a man a tree,
Or turned one into stone, if any spring
Once flowed with human tears, then stones and streams
And trees should all be pining for him now,
You friends and neighbours of Caesarius;
Honoured by all, he brought our rulers pride.
Oh, how it hurts! For he has gone below.

98
On the same

Gregory’s handiwork. In sad regret
For best of brothers, I proclaim to men
That they should hate and scorn this mortal life.
Who was so fine as my Caesarius?
Who of all men could match him, or could claim
So great a name for wisdom? None that live;
But he has flown from life, gone suddenly,
As might a rose from all the other flowers,
As does the dew from off the leaves at dawn.

99
On the same <and his siblings, Philagrius and Gorgonion>

Greet your new neighbours; take them in your arms,
You Martyrs, these the blood of Gregory,
Of Gregory and of Nonna the renowned,
For by their piety and holy rites
Of burial they are gathered here as one.

100
On the same, and on Philagrius

Hear, Alexandria! Philagrius
Has lost the beauty in which he excelled
No less than in the reason in his soul;
Envy as well has snatched Caesarius,
Who was so young; and never did you send
Such blooms to horse-famed Cappadocia.


Friday, 15 May 2020

Greek epigram - and more - on Comfort Classics

Cora Beth of the Open University runs a very useful website that classics fans ought to know about, Classical Studies Support. I've contributed a feature on the Greek Anthology to its regular interview slot during the pandemic, Comfort Classics. Here's the direct link to mine, but there's lots more.

I've linked to this before, but I'm doing so again because quite a conversation has developed with a fellow fan of ancient Greek poetry, Frederick Armour, who has contributed his own interview on Pindar. You'll find this conversation in the comments section underneath my post. If you've basic questions about Greek epigram and the Anthology, you might find something helpful there.

But don't stop there! There are now dozens of Comfort Classics posts, covering all kinds of ancient authors and artefacts; the latest for now is by an Open University MA student, Tom Mason, on Greek philosophy going into Latin verse in Lucretius and Ovid.

Caesarius: the borrowed tomb, part 2

I'm reposting here my translation of Gregory of Nazianzus 8.89 from my last blog post. It deserves to be read as a pair with its immediate sequel, 8.90, because they echo each other so closely. Both are written in the voice of the elder Gregory, father to Gregory and Caesarius.


8.89
On the same

‘My old age lingered long upon the earth;
While in your father’s place you have this stone,
Dearest of all my sons, Caesarius.
What kind of law is this? What kind of right?
Lord of Mankind, how could you nod at this?
I cry for life too long, and death too soon.’

8.90
On the same

‘I cannot, no, I cannot love this gift,
The tomb that was your sole inheritance
From all of our estate, Caesarius;
The stone that pierced your aged parents through.
Malicious Envy willed it to be so.
I cry for life made longer still by pain.’

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Caesarius: the borrowed tomb

Two more of Gregory's epitaphs for his brilliant younger brother, snatched away suddenly by illness while both their parents, Gregory (senior) and Nonna, were still alive. The second poem is written from the point of view of the elder Gregory, some considerable time after they lost Caesarius. By now he himself has died of old age, but even in the grave he continues to weep for his boy.

8.88
On the same Caesarius

This stone our parents raised to be their tomb,
Expecting their remaining share of life
To be but slender; but against their will
They gave it to their son Caesarius,
A bitter gift, since he ahead of them
Was ransomed and set free from mortal life.

8.89
On the same

‘My old age lingered long upon the earth;
While in your father’s place you have this stone,
Dearest of all my sons, Caesarius.
What kind of law is this? What kind of right?
Lord of Mankind, how could you nod at this?
I cry for life too long, and death too soon.’

Monday, 27 April 2020

Two more for Caesarius

Following on from my last blog post, two more of Gregory's laments for his kid brother. The first is addressed to their father, also named Gregory; the second ventriloquises the collective statement of Gregory Senior and Nonna, his wife, for whom 'our' Gregory wrote many epitaphs.

8.86
On the same

Gregory, your good fortune was to gain
A son who soared above all mortal men
In looks and wisdom, and our Emperor’s friend:
Yet he was powerless to overcome
Pitiless death. My fears were all too true.
What says the tomb, though? ‘Suffer and endure:
Caesarius is dead, yet you possess
The mighty reputation he had won,
To compensate you for your own dear son.’

8.87
On the parents of Gregory the Great and Caesarius

‘We two were ripe for burial, when here
The masons set this stone for our old age;
They set it for our use; but out of joint
Caesarius possesses it instead,
The last-born of our children. O our child,
Our child, we suffer grief beyond compare:
Make haste to welcome us into your tomb.’