In preparation for an upcoming spotlight on Greek and classical texts on the Allen Ginsberg  Project in the coming weeks, a post on a book that is sadly out of print – Guy Davenport‘s Archilochos, Sappho, Alkman – Three Lyric Poets of the Late Greek Bronze Age (fortunately, it’s been expanded and reprinted, and is freely available from New Directions as 7 Greeks – the additional poets are Anakreon, Herakleitos, Diogenes and Herondas)

Guy Davenport  (1927-2005)

Is it too early to note what an extraordinary figure Davenport was? (even outside of his remarkable achievement as a translator – “writer, translator, illustrator, painter, intellectual and teacher” – (Wikipedia struggles hard, but inevitably vainly, to try to encapsulate him). As a young Rhodes Scholar in Oxford in the late 1940’s he wrote a pioneering thesis on James Joyce. Soon thereafter, he took as his mentor Ezra Pound, “rejecting”, as one writer has noted,  “the poet’s mad politics, but cherishing his pervasive cultural intelligence” – Like Pound, Davenport has “turned translation into an art form, making dead tongues speak with a jolting vernacular urgency”.

His Archilochus, first appearing as Carmina Archiloci – The Fragments of Atchilochus  (1964)
– Archilochus, 7th Century BCE poet brought miraculously to life!

Ed Sanders on Archilochus – “..It’s difficult to describe Archilochos in one short flow of words. He was viewed by the Ancients as one of their greatest poets. Unfortunately only fragments survive due to the destruction of the Ancient library by the Christians and the Muslims. In his own time the secret police of Sparta, known as the Krypteia, ordered his books to be removed because of their blunt erotic language. He was extremely inventive. He created several new muses and was known for his robust and confessional and genius way with words.”

Davenport, from his introduction (well worth reading in its entirety)  – “Archilochus is the second poet of the West. Before him the archpoet Homer had written the two poems of Europe; never again would one imagination find the power to move two epics to completion and perfection. The clear minds of these archaic, island-dwelling Greeks  [Archilochus, Sappho, Alkman] survive in a few details only, fragment by fragment, a temple, a statue of Apollo with a poem engraved down the thighs, generous vases with designs abstract and geometric
“These fragments have I stored against my ruin..”

To cite only a few Archilochus fragments (in their Davenport translation):

Let him go ahead
Ares is a democrat
There are no privileged people
On a battlefield

Listen to me cuss

With ankles that fat
It must be a girl

As a dive to a sheaf of wheat,
So friends to you

Dazzling radiance

He comes, in bed
As copiously as
A Prienian ass
And is equipped
Like a stallion

There are other shields to be had,
But not under the spear-hail
Of an artillery attack,
In the hot work of slaughtering.
Among the dry racket of the javelins
Neither seeing nor hearing

Watch, Glaukos, Watch!
Heavy and high buckles the sea.
A cloud tall and straight
Has gathered on the Gyrean mountain-tops
Forewarning of thunder, lightning, wind.
What we don’t expect comes fearfully.
War, Glaukos, war

The arrogant
Puke pride

Hot tears cannot drive misery away.
Nor banquets and dancing make it worse

What breaks me
Young friend
Is tasteless desire
Dead iambics
Boring dinners

Greet insolence with outrage

To make you laugh
Charilaos Erasmonides
And best of my friends,
Here’s a funny story

A man has
The Fates
Gave him.

People have
Comes from

Zeus gave them
A dry spell

Boil in the crotch

Our very meeting
With each other
Is an omen

Begotten by
His father’s
Roaring farts

His attachment to the despicable
Is so affectionate and stubborn
Arguments can’t reach him

Let us sing
Of Glaukos who wore
The pompadour

Great virtue
In the feet

A great squire he was,
And heavy with a stick
In the sheeplands of Asia

Like the men
Of Thrace and Phrygia
She could get her wine down
At a go
Without taking a breath
While the flute
Played a certain little tune
And like those foreigners
She permitted herself
To be buggered

He’s yoke-broke
But shirks work,
Part bull, part fox.
My sly ox

Ignorant and ill bred
Mock the dead

Fox knows many,
Hedgehog one
Solid trick

Fox knows
Tricks and still
Gets caught;
Hedgehog knows
One but it
Always works

As one fig tree in a rocky place
Feeds a lot of crows
Easy-going Pasiphile
Receives a lot of strangers

Now that Leophilos is the governor
Leophilos meddles in everybody’s business
And everybody falls down before Leophilos
And all you hear is
Leophilos Leophilos

In copulating
One discovers

O that I might but touch
Neobule’s hand

life of the sea
Fare thee well

And I know how to lead off
The sprightly dance
Of the Lord Dionysus
– the dithyramb –
I do it thunderstruck
With wine

You’ve gone back on your word
Given over the salt at table

I consider nothing that’s evil

Voracious, even
To the bounds
Of cannibalism

In  myrtle

Give the spear-shy young
Make them learn
The battle’s won
By the gods

Upbraid me for my songs
Catch a cricket instead
And shout at him for chirping

Now whet your palette with an Archilochos Rock & Roll Wail Out.

Sappho and Alkman to follow tomorrow

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.