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05 August 2012

A little bit on love

Here is a little love poetry from antiquity.  I don’t have the hieroglyphs for the first one, but I found it moving.  The Greek poem by Sappho and the Latin one by Catullus are related, the latter modeling his on the former.  All translations and modernizations, except the first poem, are my own.  I’m trying to avoid the grammar school word for word version, so forgive the exactness in favor of the flavor I have tried to match.

Here is the Egyptian:

To hear your voice is pomegranate wine to me:
     I draw life from hearing it.
     Could I see you with every glance,
     It would be better for me
     Than to eat or to drink.

     (Translated by M.V. Fox)

Here is Sappho:

φάινεταί μοι κῆνοσ ἴσοσ τηέοισιν
ἔμμεν ὤνερ ὄστισ ἐναντίοσ τοι
ἰζάνει καὶ πλασίον ἀδυ
     φωνεύσασ ὐπακούει
καὶ γαλαίσασ ἰμμερόεν τὸ δὴ ᾽μάν
καρδίαν ἐν στήθεσιν ἐπτόασεν,
ὠσ γὰρ εὔιδον βροχέωσ σε, φώνασ
     οὐδὲν ἔτ᾽ ἔικει,
ἀλλὰ κάμ μὲν γλῳσσα ϝέαγε, λέπτον
δ᾽ αὔτικα χρῷ πῦρ ὐπαδεδρόμακεν,
ὀππάτεσσι δ᾽ οὐδὲν ορημ᾽,
     ἐπιρρόμβεισι δ᾽ ἄκουαι.
ἀ δέ μ᾽ ί᾽δρωσ κακχέεται, τρόμοσ δὲ
παῖσαν ἄγρει χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίασ
ἔμμι, τεθνάκην δ᾽ ὀλιγω ᾽πιδεύϝην
     φαίνομαι [ἄλλα].

(That one appears to me the equal of the gods,
the man who, facing you,
is seated and – so near – listens
to your sweet voice.

And you laugh your sexy laugh, making
My heart flutter in my chest, because at
each glance I immediately lose
the ability to say anything

Silence pounds my tongue, and
At once fire pours beneath my skin
With my eyes, I see nothing
Through buzzing ears, I hear nothing

Cold sweat dribbles down me, a shiver
Quivers through me, and I am pale
Green as grass, and I seem almost...
Almost ...dead.)

Catullus has translated this poem into Latin, adding much.  There is a portion missing, put here into brackets, a line which I have many an idea about, including a half-hearted notion that there is nothing there at all.  Here is the Latin:

Ille mi par esse deo videtur,
ille, si fas est, superare divos,
qui sedens adversus identidem te
     spectat et audit
dulce ridentem, misero quod omnes
eripit sensus mihi: nam simul te,
Lesbia, aspexi, nihil est super mi
     <vocis in ore;>
lingua sed torpet, tenuis sub artus
flamma demanat, sonitu suopte
tintinant aures geminae, teguntur
     lumina nocte.
otium, Catulle, tibi molestum est:
otio exsultas nimiumque gestis:
otium et reges prius et beatas
     perdidit urbes.

Though very similar, Catullus has added a few ideas of his own.  The first one of interest is on the second line, superare divos (he is not only equal to the gods, he is greater than the gods).  Line 7 has a direct address, Lesbia, fitting given both Catullus’s poetic program and the nature of the inspiration of this poem.  The Roman reader, well-versed in the Greek of the original,  expects the next line, vocis in ore, but that part of the manuscript is missing.  The phrase means ‘voice in my mouth,’ completing the idea that “there is no more voice in my mouth.”  Intentional or not, it is rather amusing that ‘voice in my mouth’ is literally missing in the poem, not just missing in the poetic sense.  The last four lines are significantly different from Sappho’s poem , and I render them here as:

Leasure, Catullus, harms you, in
Leasure you revel and desire too much
Leasure has, previously, both kings
And wealthy cities destroyed.

I’ve pushed the word ‘leasure’ to the beginning, as has the Latin, to show the stress in this particular contemplation.  For Sappho, love has made her sick.  For Catullus, it is the leisure in which to contemplate such love that has caused misery, as it always has.

So, three love poems from three different civilizations of antiquity, all of them as fresh as ever.

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