And, O my son, be, on the one hand, good, / And do not, on the other hand, be bad;

I’ve been reading Luis de Gongora‘s The Solitudes (Las Soledades) the last couple of days and, without intending mockery, can’t shake treating the whole thing in the vein of A.E. Housman’s parodic sendup of ancient tragedy, Fragment of a Greek Tragedy.

The setup here is that Alcmaeon has been ordered by his father Amphiarus to kill his mother Eriphyle. Amphiarus had earlier discovered that Eriphyle had accepted a bribe to urge him into the campaign against Thebes (of Seven Against Thebes fame) where he, being a prophet, knew he was doomed to die.

Most of the lines are either borrowed from or heavily modeled on surviving tragedy. My title is, I think, a pained reflection of Housman’s dealing with how students insist on translating μέν … δέ constructions.

Chorus. O suitably-attired-in-leather-boots
Head of a traveller, wherefore seeking whom
Whence by what way how purposed are you come
To this well-nightingaled vicinity?
My object in enquiring is to know.
But if you happen to be deaf and dumb
And do not understand a word I say,
Nod with your hand to signify as much.
Alcmaeion. I journeyed hither a Boeotian road.
Cho. Sailing on horseback or with feet for oars?
Alc. Plying by turns my partnership of legs.
Cho. Beneath a shining or a rainy Zeus?
Alc. Mud’s sister, not himself, adorns my legs.
Cho. To learn your name would not displease me much.
Alc. Not all that men desire do they obtain.
Cho. Might I then hear at what your presence shoots?
Alc. A shepherd’s questioned mouth informed me that –
Cho. What? for I know not yet what you will say.
Alc. Nor will you ever, if you interrupt.
Cho. Proceed, and I will hold my speechless tongue.
Alc. – this house was Eriphyla’s, no one’s else.
Cho. Nor did he shame his throat with hateful lies.
Alc. Might I then enter, passing through the door?
Cho. Go, chase into the house a lucky foot.
And, O my son, be, on the one hand, good,
And do not, on the other hand, be bad;
For that is very much the safest plan.
Alc. I go into the house with heels and speed.

CHORUS

In speculation
I would not willingly acquire a name
For ill-digested thought,
But, after pondering much,
To this conclusion I at last have come:
Life is uncertain.
This truth I have written deep
In my reflective midriff,
On tablets not of wax.
Nor with a pen did I inscribe it there
For many reasons: Life, I say, is not
A stranger to uncertainty.
Not from the flight of omen-yelling fowls
This fact did I discover,
Nor did the Delphic tripod bark it out,
Nor yet Dodona.
Its native ingenuity sufficed
My self-taught diaphragm.

Why should I mention
The Inachian daughter, loved of Zeus,
Her whom of old the gods,
More provident than kind,
Provided with four hoofs, two horns, one tail,
A gift not asked for:
And sent her forth to learn
The unfamiliar science
Of how to chew the cud?
She, therefore, all about the Argive fields,
Went cropping pale green grass and nettle-tops,
Nor did they disagree with her.
Yet, howso’er nutritious, such repasts,
I do not hanker after.
Never may Cypris for her seat select
My dappled liver!
Why should I mention lo? Why indeed?
I have no notion why.

But now does my boding heart
Unhired, unaccompanied, sing
A strain not meet for the dance.
Yea, even the palace appears
To my yoke of circular eyes
(The right, nor omit I the left)
Like a slaughterhouse, so to speak,
Garnished with woolly deaths
And many shipwrecks of cows.

I therefore in a Cissian strain lament,
And to the rapid,
Loud, linen-tattering thumps upon my chest
Resounds in concert
The battering of my unlucky head.

Eriphyla (within). O, I am smitten with a hatchet’s jaw;
And that in deed and not in word alone.
Cho. I thought I heard a sound within the house
Unlike the voice of one that jumps for joy.
Erip. He splits my skull, not in a friendly way,
Once more: he purposes to kill me dead.
Cho. I would not be reputed rash, but yet
I doubt if all be gay within the house.
Erip. O! O! another stroke! That makes the third.
He stabs me to the heart against my wish.
Cho. If that be so, thy state of health is poor;
But thine arithmetic is quite correct.

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