Pure Pagan: Seven Centuries of Greek Poems and Fragments (Modern Library Classics)
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“For there is indeed something we can call the spirit of ancient Greece–a carefully tuned voice that speaks out of the grave with astonishing clarity and grace , a distinctive voice that, taken as a whole, is like no other voice that has ever sung on this earth.”
–BURTON RAFFEL, from his Preface
For centuries, the poetry of Homer, Aristophanes, Sophocles, Sappho, and Archilochus has served as one of our primary means of connecting with the wholly vanished world of ancient Greece. But the works of numerous other great and prolific poets–Alkaios, Meleager, and Simonides, to name a few–are rarely translated into English , and are largely unknown to modern readers. In Pure Pagan, award-winning translator Burton Raffel brings these and many other wise and witty ancient Greek writers to an English-speaking audience for the first time, in full poetic flower. Their humorous and philosophical ruminations create a vivid portrait of everyday life in ancient Greece –and they are phenomenally lovely as well.
In short, sharp bursts of song, these two-thousand-year-old poems speak about the timeless matters of everyday life:
Wine (Wine is the medicine / To call for, the best medicine / To drink deep, deep)
History (Not us: no. / It began with our fathers, / I’ve heard).
Movers and shakers (If a man shakes loose stones / To make a wall with / Stones may fall on his head / Instead)
Old age (Old age is a debt we like to be owed / Not one we like to collect)
Frankness (Speak / As you please / And hear what can never / Please).
There are also wonderful epigrams (Take what you have while you have it: you’ll lose it soon enough. / A single summer turns a kid into a shaggy goat) and epitaphs (Here I lie, beneath this stone, the famous woman who untied her belt for only one man).
The entrancing beauty, humor, and piercing clarity of these poems will draw readers into the Greeks’ journeys to foreign lands, their bacchanalian parties and ferocious battles, as well as into the more intimate settings of their kitchens and bedrooms. The poetry of Pure Pagan reveals the ancient Greeks’ dreams, their sense of humor, sorrows, triumphs, and their most deeply held values, fleshing out our understanding of and appreciation for this fascinating civilization and its artistic legacy.
From the Hardcover edition.
“O stranger, this message to Lakedaimon take: we lie here obeying their orders.”) Simonides (born 556 B.C.) honors the Spartans’ style of brevity (the Greek is eleven words) as well as their insouciant (but boasting) heroism. The epigrams in the Anthology can be sorted into the elegiac (tombstone inscriptions, memorials to the virtuous dead), the witty (satires and ironic observations of moral lapses), the silly (riddles and jokes), the erotic (beautiful boys, beautiful girls), and the drab
God, if I were only a kingfisher, Purple like the sea, flying never afraid Out over the waves Forever. SET SEVEN COUCHES Set seven couches And seven tables And cover them with poppy cakes, And linseed cakes, And sesame cakes, In and among the wooden bowls. TANTALUS Tantalus, Evil placed in the middle of Good, Sat under a hanging rock, ready to fall, And thought he saw, And saw Nothing. THE PEAKS ARE ASLEEP The peaks are asleep And gulleys And ravines are asleep And creeping things Out of the
need, now. HOW TO TELL Blamed for nothing, Able to do Everything: this Is how we know A god. ON HIS SPEAR Rest, O my long spear, on Zeus’ high column. Stay sacred to Him. Your blade is old: many battles Have worn it dull. SAILORS These men lying here were carrying honors to Apollo. One sea, one night, one ship carried them to their graves. THE DEFENDERS OF TEGEA Their bravery made sure That no smoke from great Tegea reached the sky. They chose to leave their children A city blossoming with
“Gluttonous Alkman”: Lyra Graeca, vol. I, p. 83, #46. “Not Aphrodite, No”: Lyra Graeca, vol. I, p. 73, #26. “O Dancers”: Lyra Graeca, vol. I, p. 73, #26. “Set Seven Couches”: Lyra Graeca, vol. I, p. 123, #138. “Tantalus”: Lyra Graeca, vol. I, p. 101, #89. “The Peaks Are Asleep”: Lyra Graeca, vol. I, p. 77, #36. “Try Singing”: Lyra Graeca, vol. I, p. 101, #87. ANONYMOUS “A Mirror”: Paton, vol. V, p. 564, #56. “An Epitaph”: Paton, vol. II, p. 128, #224. “An Oracle”: Paton, vol. V, p. 66,
OF TARENTUM “An Epitaph”: Paton, vol. II, p. 352, #660. “His Own Epitaph”: Trypanis I, p. 339, #181. “The Vine and the Goat”: Trypanis I, p. 338, #179. MELEAGER “Daphnis”: Paton, vol. II, p. 288, #535. “Heliodora”: Paton, vol. I, p. 196, #143. “On Himself ”: Paton, vol. II, p. 224, #417. “Spring”: Paton, vol. III, p. 196, #363. “Timo”: Paton, vol. I, p. 228, #204. “To Venus”: Paton, vol. I, p. 382, #162. MENANDER “The Source of Destruction”: Trypanis I, p. 282, #141. “Vanity”: