Friday, 11 November 2022

Agathias concludes his proem.

This is the final part of the long poem with which Agathias introduces his Cycle, freshly translated for this blog. It follows the praise of his patron, Theodore, of which I gave you a version last time. He closes by telling his readers what to expect by way of structure and content.

Agathias divided his anthology into seven sections, each containing a particular kind of epigram; this was a familiar type of organisation, carried over from the epigram-books of individual classical authors such as Posidippus (as confirmed by the Milan papyrus). Agathias could deploy it on a larger scale within a single volume because parchment codices were much more capacious than the papyrus book-rolls of old.

I would begin by setting out for you,
In rivalry with men of olden time,
All that progenitors of modern song
Have written in the way of offerings
As though for former gods; for it seemed wise
Yet to conserve an expert mimicry
Of ancient letters. Part the Second, though,
Collects the antique votive offering:
All that we graved with pens or had inscribed
Out in the world, on well-wrought statue’s base
Or on the many far-flung monuments
That witness to the breadth of human art.
As for the third part of this book new-made,
It takes as motive, insofar is right,
Whatever mottoes God permitted us
To write for tombs, in verse, while still intent
On truth unswerving. As for what we wrote
Of all the varied paths of human life
And of the teetering scales of fickle fate,
Look for it by the fourth foundation-stone
Of this my book. In quick succession too
The charms of our Part Five may win you round,
In which we wax satirical and write
In the invective mode. The Queen of Love
Steals the sixth chapter, and may well divert
Our path to discourse out of elegy,
And sweet Desires. Within our seventh hive
Of poets’ honey you will ascertain
Pleasures of Bacchus, dancing choruses
That like their drink unwatered, bowls of wine,
And dinner-parties that bring happiness.

The joyful banquets of the proem's conclusion recall its opening lines, in which Agathias introduced his Cycle as a literary smorgasbord of choice morsels from contemporary poets.

In the Anthology, the proem (4.3) is followed by a shorter poem (4.4), also by Agathias, which I think must have concluded his Cycle. In technical terms it is his sphragis, his seal and sign-off, and it's lovely -- but that will be for another day.

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