Friday, March 23, 2007

Archilochus' spear

I don't read Greek, so I read translations. I'd like to learn Greek but probably won't. I CAN get enormous pleasure sometimes from comparing differing translations, especially of the lyric poets; you can get so many different versions all on a single page.
To wit, some Archilochus:

By spear is kneaded the bread I eat, by spear my Ismaric
wine is won, which I drink, leaning upon my spear.RICHMOND LATTIMORE

My spear wins bread, my spear wins Thracian wine:
To drink it, on my spear-head I recline. C. M. BOWRA

My ash spear is my barley bread,
My ash spear is my Ismarian wine.
I lean on my spear and drink. GUY DAVENPORT

By the spear my bread is kneaded. With the spear I win
my Ismarian wine, which I drink while I lean on my spear. BARBARA HUGHES FOWLER

I owe my bread to my spear and this Ismaric wine,
which I drink leaning on my spear. DAVID MULROY

In the spear is my kneaded bread, in the spear my Ismarian wine, when I drink I recline on the spear. M. EDMONDS

The many ways this poem can be presented in English--and there are many more, you can compose your own by now even without the Greek--all contribute to our understanding of this terrific work. It has been said--it is easy to say, at least, and I do say it--that Archilochus invents the lyric. If not him, who? Here he is identifying himself, painting his own character portrait in words, using the spear, the bread, and the wine to tell us who he is and what he is like. By his language he becomes a real character. This is a totally different feeling than we get from Homer.