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.
technological advance to where we are now. Literacy means the ability to look at patterns of letters and pronounce them—for ancient Greeks, to memorize them. The earliest Greek poems are most certainly songs. Homer was sung; Sappho’s and Archilochus’s poems were all songs, to what kind of music we can’t even guess. The plays were what we would have to call opera. Given the kinship of the ancient lyre, or barbitos, to the auto-harp, Sappho’s cunningly woven assonances and consonances probably
Greek artifact. Paul preached in Greek. The “Dark Ages” were the years in which the Latin of the Roman occupation was evolving into French, Spanish, Italian, and Romanian. A monk here and a monk there could still read Greek, but for the most part it was lost in the Catholic West, which associated it with the Orthodox Eastern schism. The Catholic Bible was in the Latin translation of Saint Jerome. We can see the Latin West becoming curious about the Greek East as early as the twelfth century.
the University of Kentucky and the winner of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1990. His best-known book is The Geography of the Imagination and his most recent The Death of Picasso. He was the author of ten books of critical commentary, nine of short fiction, and seven of translations of Greek texts. He was also a painter and illustrator. ALKAIOS AGRICULTURE Trees: All right, Plant trees. But first Plant Vines. BACCHUS Give up? How stupid, Just for bad luck! Nothing will work. But
rest, in our burning heat. VENUS This is Venus’ place, For she loves to smile at the bright sea And make sailors happy. All around her the sea trembles, Seeing her loveliness. ARATUS IN THE BEGINNING Begin with Zeus, on every man’s lips. The streets are full of Zeus, and all the marketplaces; The sea is full of Him, and the harbors: All of us need Zeus everywhere we go. For Zeus has fathered us all, and smiles on us, And shows us his kindness, and sends us off to our work, Reminding us what
smiling on men: Guide my song, help me, For I bow to you and pray. ASCLEPIADES DRY FRUIT My arms hold Archansa, a shriveled old whore Whose wrinkles were once love’s sweetness. O lovers who picked her young blossoms, piercing fresh, brilliant, What a fiery furnace you came through! PYTHIAS Remember, O Night, how tricky Pythias Plays her usual games. I came When she called me; she called me, and I came. Just once Let her stand at my door and cry as I’m crying. RENDEZVOUS Nico, famous Nico,