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02 February 2013

Homer for the weekend

A little Homer (trans. mine)
Iliad 1.33 – 1.42

ς φατ, δεισεν δ γέρων κα πείθετο μύθ:
β δ κέων παρ θνα πολυφλοίσβοιο θαλάσσης:
πολλ δ πειτ πάνευθε κιν ρθ γεραις
πόλλωνι νακτι, τν ΰκομος τέκε Λητώ:
κλθί μευ ργυρότοξ, ς Χρύσην μφιβέβηκας
Κίλλάν τε ζαθέην Τενέδοιό τε φι νάσσεις,
Σμινθε ε ποτέ τοι χαρίεντ π νην ρεψα,
ε δή ποτέ τοι κατ πίονα μηρί κηα
ταύρων δ αγν, τ δέ μοι κρήηνον έλδωρ:
τίσειαν Δαναο μ δάκρυα σοσι βέλεσσιν.

So he (Agamemnon) said, and the old man was afraid and heeded the warning.
And he (the old man) walked in silence along the strand by the resounding sea.
Fervently then, having departed, the old man prayed
To lord Apollo, whom lovely-haired Leto bore.
Hear me, god of the silver bow, who bestrides Chryse
And holy Cilla and powerfully rules over Tenedos,
Smintheus, if ever I roofed a temple to your liking
Or if ever I roasted to you the thigh bone fat
Of bulls and goats, answer this prayer for me:
Repay to the Greeks your arrows for my tears.

This passage pretty much has it all. 

Let’s start with my favorite, the second line.  I like it because of structure.  Almost at the beginning we have the word κέων, which I have translated as ‘silently.’  Almost at the end we have the word πολυφλοίσβοιο, meaning “much sounding,” a description of the sea (the last word).  In the middle we have the word θνα, which can be translated as “strand” or “beach.”  And so, between the silence of the old man and the rumble of the sea, we have the strand, which syntactically poses an accurate picture of a physical manifestation.  Also, say the word πολυφλοίσβοιο aloud.  On a modern tongue, it would sound something like ‘poluphloisboiyo.’  I imagine the movement of water when I hear this word.

‘Smintheus’ is a hapax legomenon in Homer, or a word that appears only once in a corpus, though it does make a few appearances other places, most notably in Strabo.  Strabo states that the term, which probably means ‘mouse-killer,’ is exemplified by the fact that at the temple of Sminthian Apollo, there is a dead mouse under the statue’s feet.  I personally think Strabo is just pulling something out of his ass, but that’s just me.

Finally, there is the last line of this passage.  The first words are of vengeance and mean ‘repay to the Greeks.’  That sentiment is followed by the expression of sorrow, ‘for my tears.’  And the last two words, ‘your arrows,’ are reserved to flavor the whole passage.  A gorgeous passage, if a little cruel (and honest?).

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