Here on their bums, great battles fought, four gallant fellows…

A parody of the classical Greek practice of erecting trophies after every victory, however small – from ch 17 of Rabelais’ Pantagruel. The first translation – of the complete passage – is M. A. Screech from ~15 years ago. The second is a late 19th century predecessor, W.F. Smith (here). The third is the great 17th century Urquhart / Motteux (here). Rabelais’ original comes at bottom. I would also include Donald Frame’s rendering from ~1990 but my copy has wandered from its place. Of impossibilities for translators, Rabelais must near the top of the list so it’s always curious to compare results.

‘Before we quit this spot,’ said Pantagruel, ‘I would like to erect a fair trophy in memory of your recent prowess.’

So every man, with great merriment and little rustic songs, set up a big pike-staff on which they hung a soldier’s saddle, a horse’s head-armour, caparisons, stirrups and spurs, a hauberk, a full set of steel armour, a battle-axe, a broad-sword, a gauntlet, a mace, gussets, greaves and a gorget, with all the array required for a triumphal arch or trophy. Then, in eternal memory, Pantagruel composed the following song of victory:

’Twas here that valiant fights were fought
By four brave men, as good as gold,
Through good sense not good armour wrought,
As Fabius and both Scipios told.
Six hundred sixty lice, now cold –
All powerful rogues – were burnt like bark.
Kings and dukes from now must hold
‘Tis wit not might lights glory’s spark.
Each mother’s son
Knows victory – won
Not by man – lies
Where God’s writs run,
Whose will be done
Sans compromise.
Not to the stronger comes the prize.
But to whose works from grace have sprung.
For him do wealth and honour rise
Who hopes in faith in Him alone.

While Pantagruel was composing the above poem, Panurge hung the horns of the roe-buck on to a big stake together with its pelt and its front right foot, then the ears of three leverets, the spine of a rabbit, the chaps of a hare, [the wings of a brace of bitterns, the feet of four wood-pigeons,] a cruet of vinaigre, a horn in which they kept their salt, a wooden spit, a basting stick, a wretched cauldron full of holes, a pan for sauces, an earthenware salt-cellar and a Beauvais-ware goblet. And in imitation of the verses on Pantagruel’s trophy he composed the following lines:

Here on their bums, great battles fought,
Four gallant fellows, good as gold,
In praise of Bacchus fun have sought,
Quaffing like carps the wine out-doled.
Saddles of hare and thighs untold
Of master leverets left their mark.
Scorpion-fish, salt, vinaigre old,
Strain all their guts lest bellies bark.
Seize wine, each son
And drink for fun
’Neath blazing skies:
Let the best run
Out from the tun:
Quaffed as a prize.
But leveret’s flesh – ‘tis no surprise –
Sans vinaigre is ne’er well done.
Its soul-worth in vinaigre lies:
Gainsay it not, then all are one.

‘Twas here that squatted in Delight,
Four merry Topers on the Lawn,
Did feast, nor did they Bacchus slight;
For them like Carps the Wine was drawn.
And whenas each did cheer the Morn,
Sir Leveret lost his Joints perforce:
They drank as though by Scorpions torn,
While Salt and Vinegar did them course.
Th’ Inventory
Against the sultry Heat
Is nought but Drinkery
Right neat and merry,
Nay of the best – ’tis meet.
To Vinegar must much Care be given
By him who would on Leveret feed,
For Vinegar is its Soul and Leaven-
Hold fast to this with strictest Heed.

Here was it that four jovial blades sat down
To a profound carousing, and to crown
Their banquet with those wines which please best great
Bacchus, the monarch of their drinking state.
Then were the reins and furch of a young hare,
With salt and vinegar, displayed there,
Of which to snatch a bit or two at once
They all fell on like hungry scorpions.
For th’ Inventories
Of Defensories
Say that in heat
We must drink neat
All out, and of
The choicest stuff.
But it is bad to eat of young hare’s flesh,
Unless with vinegar we it refresh.
Receive this tenet, then, without control,
That vinegar of that meat is the soul.

Ce fut icy, que à l’honneur de Bacchus
Fut bancqueté par quatre bons pyons :
Qui gayement, tous mirent abaz culz
Soupples de rains comme beaux carpions :
Lors y perdit rables et cropions
re levrault, quand chascun si efforce :
Sel et vinaigre, ainsi que Scorpions
Le poursuyvoient, dont en eurent l’escorce.
Car l’inventoire
D’un defensoire
En la chaleur,
Ce n’e
qu’à boire
Droit et net, boire
Et du meilleur :
Mais manger levrault, c’e
Sans de vinaigre avoir memoire :
Vinaigre e
son ame et valeur,
Retenez le en point peremptoire.

Identical emotions do not spring up simultaneously in the hearts of all men in accordance with a pre-established order

From towards the end of the first part of Swann’s Way, an observation I make near daily and never remember for the next day.

And it was at that moment, too—thanks to a peasant who went past, apparently in a bad enough humour already, but more so when he nearly got a poke in the face from my umbrella, and who replied somewhat coolly to my “Fine day, what! Good to be out walking!”—that I learned that identical emotions do not spring up simultaneously in the hearts of all men in accordance with a pre-established order. Later on, whenever a long spell of reading had put me in a mood for conversation, the friend to whom I was longing to talk would at that very moment have finished indulging himself in the delights of conversation, and wanted to be left to read undisturbed. And if I had just been thinking of my parents with affection, and forming resolutions of the kind most calculated to please them, they would have been using the same interval of time to discover some misdeed that I had already forgotten, and would begin to scold me severely as I was about to fling myself into their arms.

Et c’est à ce moment-là encore — grâce à un paysan qui passait, l’air déjà d’être d’assez mauvaise humeur, qui le fut davantage quand il faillit recevoir mon parapluie dans la figure, et qui répondit sans chaleur à mes « beau temps, n’est-ce pas, il fait bon marcher » — que j’appris que les mêmes émotions ne se produisent pas simultanément, dans un ordre préétabli, chez tous les hommes. Plus tard chaque fois qu’une lecture un peu longue m’avait mis en humeur de causer, le camarade à qui je brûlais d’adresser la parole venait justement de se livrer au plaisir de la conversation et désirait maintenant qu’on le laissât lire tranquille12. Si je venais de penser à mes parents avec tendresse et de prendre les décisions les plus sages et les plus propres à leur faire plaisir, ils avaient employé le même temps à apprendre une peccadille que j’avais oubliée et qu’ils me reprochaient sévèrement au moment où je m’élançais vers eux pour les embrasser.

I’m reading Proust this time in the special Pléiade edition released earlier this year. It takes the text of their four volume edition, strips all notes and draft passages, and shrinks everything into two 1500 page volumes of ~1.5in thickness each (as opposed to 2+ for the normal). They explain their rationale as follows:

Selon toute vraisemblance, ce n’est que par crainte de devoir acquitter un supplément de bagage que les voyageurs ne l’emportent pas plus souvent sur l’île déserte.À l’occasion du centième anniversaire de la mort de Proust, la Pléiade propose à titre exceptionnel, et à tirage limité, le texte de la Recherche, intégral et nu (les notes et les Esquisses restant l’apanage de l’édition en quatre volumes), en deux tomes d’environ 1500 pages chacun. Ce tirage satisfera les globe-trotters, sans leur être réservé. Les sédentaires le placeront près de leur fauteuil. Les promeneurs le glisseront dans leurs poches. Toute table de chevet pourra l’accueillir. Une oeuvre-monde, toujours à portée de main, explorable à l’infini.

I put this because pocket copies happen to be a favorite of mine. They’re underappreciated nowadays but I’ve never learned to read on my phone and can tolerate a kindle only in bed or on a plane so I have a great appreciation for anyone who thinks to make my favorite things available in a well-constructed and portable format.

A question of cubic capacity

From Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. Brought to mind during a doctor’s appointment today where we learned our baby daughter is 50th percentile for weight, 70th for height, and 98th for head size.

“But you are joking. What can you gather from this old battered felt?”

“I can see nothing,” said I, handing it back to my friend.

“On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything. You fail, however, to reason from what you see. You are too timid in drawing your inferences.”

“Then, pray tell me what it is that you can infer from this hat?”

He picked it up and gazed at it in the peculiar introspective fashion which was characteristic of him. “It is perhaps less suggestive than it might have been,” he remarked, “and yet there are a few inferences which are very distinct, and a few others which represent at least a strong balance of probability. That the man was highly intellectual is of course obvious upon the face of it….

“I have no doubt that I am very stupid, but I must confess that I am unable to follow you. For example, how did you deduce that this man was intellectual?”

For answer Holmes clapped the hat upon his head. It came right over the forehead and settled upon the bridge of his nose. “It is a question of cubic capacity,” said he; “a man with so large a brain must have something in it.”

She may

From Richard III 1.3.90-102

By Him that raised me to this careful height
From that contented hap which I enjoy’d,
I never did incense his majesty
Against the Duke of Clarence, but have been
An earnest advocate to plead for him.
My lord, you do me shameful injury,
Falsely to draw me in these vile suspects.
You may deny that you were not the cause
Of my Lord Hastings’ late imprisonment.
She may, my lord, for–
She may, Lord Rivers! why, who knows not so?
She may do more, sir, than denying that:
She may help you to many fair preferments,
And then deny her aiding hand therein,
And lay those honours on your high deserts.
What may she not? She may, yea, marry, may she–
What, marry, may she?
What, marry, may she! marry with a king,
A bachelor, a handsome stripling too:
I wis your grandam had a worser match.

And some exuberant commentary from Russ McDonald’s ‘Richard III and the Tropes of Treachery‘ (Phil. Quart 68.4):

Richard’s virtuoso performance is a function of his aural gifts, his awareness of sonic variation and, above all, of amphibology. To begin with, the extravagant repetition creates a musical effect that first teases the ear with the most fundamental sort of rhyme and then becomes so insistent as to be disorienting: “she may” or its inversion “may she” is heard nine times in nine lines. More than that, his lines are so charged with the effects of anaphora, internal rhyme, consonance, and other sonic amusements that soon it hardly matters what is being contested, for sound has come to overwhelm sense. Characteristically, Richard toys with his opponents, making delightful measures out of their feeble attempts at resistance, and this trouncing exposes the vulnerability of the linguistically innocent: whereas Rivers earnestly looks past the signifier towards the signified, Richard knowingly capers on the slick surface of language.

Peter Sellers’ A Hard Day’s Night

I was trying to find whether the Laurence Olivier Richard III cut or just cut down a certain early exchange and the Youtube algorithm blessed me with something far better – Peter Sellers monologuing A Hard Day’s Night as Laurence Olivier’s Richard III. The video is from a TV special called The Music of Lennon & McCartney. According to this nice history of Sellers’ relationship with The Beatles, he apparently also released this rendition as a single and made it to 14 on the charts in December 1965.

And for a refresher of what he’s parodying, here’s Laurence Olivier’s opening monologue:

And they took to calling him Pan, because he delighted them all

The Homeric Hymn to Pan in its entirety. This one is always overlooked in favor of the major hymns but is a small masterpiece of the atmosphere and perfect simplicity of early Greek literature.

About Hermes’ dear child tell me, Muse, the goat-footed, two-horned rowdy, who roams about the wooded fields together with the dance-merry nymphs: along the precipitous crag they tread the summits, calling on Pan, god of the pastures with splendor of rough hair, who has been assigned every snowy hill, the mountain peaks, and the rocky tracks. This way and that he roams through the thick brush, sometimes drawn to the gentle streams, sometimes again passing among the towering crags as he climbs up to the highest peak to survey the flocks; often he runs through the long white mountains, and often he drives the wild creatures through the glens, killing them, keen-sighted. Towards evening his solitary sound is heard as he returns from the hunt, playing sweet music from his reed pipes; his melodies would not be surpassed by that bird that in flowery spring among the leaves pours forth her lament in honey-voiced song.

With him then the clear-singing mountain nymphs, tripping nimbly by a dark spring, dance and sing; the echo moans round the mountaintop, while the god, moving from side to side of the dance rings, or again in the middle, cuts a nimble caper, a brown lynx hide over his back, delighting in the silvery singing—all in a soft meadow, where crocus and fragrant hyacinth spring up inextricably mingled with the grass. They celebrate the blessed gods and long Olympus; and they tell of one god above all, Hermes the courser, how he is the swift messenger for all the gods, and how he came to Arcadia with its many springs, the mother of flocks; it is there that he has his precinct as Cyllenian Hermes. There, though a god, he pastured dirt-crusted flocks beside a mortal man, because a surging desire had come upon him to unite in love with Dryops’ lovely-tressed girl. He accomplished the fruitful coupling; and she bore Hermes a dear son in the house, at once a prodigy to behold, goat-footed, two-horned rowdy, merry laugher. She jumped up and ran away, nurse abandoning child, for she was frightened when she saw his unprepossessing face with its full beard. But Hermes the courser quickly took him and laid him in his arm, and the god’s mind was exceedingly glad. He went rapidly to the abodes of the immortals, wrapping the child closely in skins of mountain hare, and sat down beside Zeus and the other gods and displayed his son. All the immortals were delighted, especially Bacchic Dionysus; and they took to calling him Pan, because he delighted them all (pantes).

So I salute you, lord; I seek your favor with my song. And I will take heed both for you and for other singing.

Ἀμφί μοι Ἑρμείαο φίλον γόνον ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα,
αἰγοπόδην δικέρωτα φιλόκροτον, ὅς τ᾿ ἀνὰ πίση
δενδρήεντ᾿ ἄμυδις φοιτᾶι χορο<γ>ηθέσι νύμφαις,
αἵ τε κατ᾿ αἰγίλιπος πέτρης στείβουσι κάρηνα
Πᾶν᾿ ἀνακεκλόμεναι, νόμιον θεὸν ἀγλαέθειρον
αὐχμήενθ᾿, ὃς πάντα λόφον νιφόεντα λέλογχεν
καὶ κορυφὰς ὀρέων καὶ πετρήεντα κέλευθα.
φοιτᾶι δ᾿ ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα διὰ ῥωπήϊα πυκνά,
ἄλλοτε μὲν ῥείθροισιν ἐφελκόμενος μαλακοῖσιν,
ἄλλοτε δ᾿ αὖ πέτρηισιν ἐν ἠλιβάτοισι διοιχνεῖ,
ἀκροτάτην κορυφὴν μηλοσκόπον εἰσαναβαίνων.
πολλάκι δ᾿ ἀργινόεντα διέδραμεν οὔρεα μακρά,
πολλάκι δ᾿ ἐν κνημοῖσι διήλασε θῆρας ἐναίρων,
ὀξέα δερκόμενος· ποτὶ δ᾿ ἕσπερον ἔκλαγεν οἶος
ἄγρης ἐξανιών, δονάκων ὕπο μοῦσαν ἀθύρων
νήδυμον· οὐκ ἂν τόν γε παραδράμοι ἐν μελέεσσιν
ὄρνις, ἥ τ᾿ ἔαρος πολυανθέος ἐν πετάλοισιν
θρῆνον ἐπιπροχέουσα χέει μελίγηρυν ἀοιδήν.
σὺν δέ σφιν τότε νύμφαι ὀρεστιάδες λιγύμολποι
φοιτῶσαι πύκα ποσσὶν ἐπὶ κρήνηι μελανύδρωι
μέλπονται—κορυφὴν δὲ περιστένει οὔρεος ἠχώ·
δαίμων δ᾿ ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα χορῶν, τοτὲ <δ᾿> ἐς μέσον ἕρπων
πυκνὰ ποσὶν διέπει, λαῖφος δ᾿ ἐπὶ νῶτα δαφοινόν
λυγκὸς ἔχει, λιγυρῆισιν ἀγαλλόμενος φρένα μολπαῖς—
ἐν μαλακῶι λειμῶνι, τόθι κρόκος ἠδ᾿ ὑάκινθος
εὐώδης θαλέθων καταμίσγεται ἄκριτα ποίηι.
ὑμνέουσιν δὲ θεοὺς μάκαρας καὶ μακρὸν Ὄλυμπον·
οἶόν θ᾿ Ἑρμείην ἐριούνιον ἔξοχον ἄλλων
ἔννεπον, ὡς ὅ γ᾿ ἅπασι θεοῖς θοὸς ἄγγελός ἐστιν,
καί ῥ᾿ ὅ γ᾿ ἐς Ἀρκαδίην πολυπίδακα, μητέρα μήλων,
ἐξίκετ᾿· ἔνθα δέ οἱ τέμενος Κυλληνίου ἐστίν.
ἔνθ᾿ ὅ γε καὶ θεὸς ὢν ψαφαρότριχα μῆλ᾿ ἐνόμευεν
ἀνδρὶ πάρα θνητῶι· θάλε γὰρ πόθος ὑγρὸς ἐπελθών
νύμφηι ἐϋπλοκάμωι Δρύοπος φιλότητι μιγῆναι.
ἐκ δ᾿ ἐτέλεσσε γάμον θαλερόν, τέκε δ᾿ ἐν μεγάροισιν
Ἑρμείηι φίλον υἱὸν ἄφαρ τερατωπὸν ἰδέσθαι,
αἰγοπόδην δικέρωτα πολύκροτον ἡδυγέλωτα.
φεῦγε δ᾿ ἀναΐξασα, λίπεν δ᾿ ἄρα παῖδα τιθήνη·
δεῖσε γάρ, ὡς ἴδεν ὄψιν ἀμείλιχον ἠϋγένειον.
τὸν δ᾿ αἶψ᾿ Ἑρμείας ἐριούνιος ἐς χέρα θῆκεν
δεξάμενος, χαῖρεν δὲ νόωι περιώσια δαίμων·
ῥίμφα δ᾿ ἐς ἀθανάτων ἕδρας κίε παῖδα καλύψας
δέρμασιν ἐν πυκινοῖσιν ὀρεσκώιοιο λαγωοῦ·
πὰρ δὲ Ζηνὶ καθῖζε καὶ ἄλλοις ἀθανάτοισιν,
δεῖξε δὲ κοῦρον ἑόν· πάντες δ᾿ ἄρα θυμὸν ἔτερφθεν
ἀθάνατοι, περίαλλα δ᾿ ὁ Βάκχειος Διόνυσος·
Πᾶνα δέ μιν καλέεσκον, ὅτι φρένα πᾶσιν ἔτερψεν.
καὶ σὺ μὲν οὕτω χαῖρε, ἄναξ, ἵλαμαι δέ σ᾿ ἀοιδῆι·
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ καὶ σεῖο καὶ ἄλλης μνήσομ᾿ ἀοιδῆς.

On Crystallography

From Ernst Jünger’s The Adventurous Heart: Figures and Capriccios (a translation of his Das Abenteuerliche Herz, Zweite Fassung). There may well be some transcription irregularities in the German – I had to use text recognition since I’m too lazy to change keyboard layouts to type it out.

On Crystallography

I seem to have learned a thing or two over the last years in regard to a literary device that illuminates the word and renders it transparent. Above all I find it useful for resolving a dichotomy that often takes a powerful hold on us – the dichotomy that exists between the surface of life and its depths. It often appears to us that the purpose of the depths is to generate the surface, that rainbow-colored skin of the world whose sight so intensely moves us. In other moments, this colorful pattern appears to be composed only of signs and letters by which the depths speak to us of their secrets, Consequently, whether we live within or without, we are gripped by the anguish of one who is always turning away from wonderful riches in whichever direction he goes. Anxiety seizes us during the austere enjoyment of solitude, just as at the festively decorated table of the world.

A transparent structure is one in which the depths and the surfaces are simultaneously apparent to the eye. It can be studied in a crystal which could be described as an entity able to both generate inner surfaces and turn its depths outward. I now pose the question if the world, large and small, is itself not also constructed on the pattern of the crystal -but in such a manner that our eye only seldom penetrates into this aspect of it? Certain signs suggest this is the case: everyone has at least once felt how people and things have been illuminated in certain significant moments, perhaps to such a degree that dizziness or even a shudder overcame them. This is true in the presence of death, but all significant powers, beauty for instance, elicit this effect – and we can ascribe it to truth in particular. An arbitrary example: the apprehension of the protoplant is nothing other than the perception of its actual crystalline nature in a favorable moment. Our voices become transparent in the same way during discussions on matters that touch us to the core; we understand the other in a different and decisive sense, through and beyond the agreement in the words. In addition, it can be assumed that places exist where this kind of insight is not mediated by a state of exceptional elevation but where it belongs rather to the capital of a marvelous life.

In regard to the use of words in this sense, it is handy that language also possesses depths and surfaces. We have countless expressions at our disposal in which a plain meaning coexists with a deeply concealed one, and what is transparency to the eye is here secret consonance. There is also much in literary figures, particularly in similes, that bridges the deception of the opposites. Yet the process must be flexible – if we use a polished lens to observe the beauty of lower animals, we should not shy from threading a worm onto the hook in order to pursue the wonderful life living in the dark waters. It has always been required of an author that things not appear to him in isolation, not impulsively or randomly – the word is bestowed on him that it may be directed to the one and the all.

Zur Kristallographie

Es scheint mir, daß ich während der letzten Jahre gerade in bezug auf jenen Kunstgriff der Sprache, der das Wort erhellt und durchsichtig macht, manches gelernt habe. Ihn vor allem halte ich für geeignet, einen Zwiespalt zu lösen, der uns oft” heftig ergreift – den Zwiespalt, der zwischen der Oberflä- che und der Tiefe des Lebens besteht. Oft scheint uns der Sinn der Tiefe darin zu liegen, die Oberfläche zu erzeugen, die regenbogenfarbige Haut der Welt, deren Anblick uns brennend bewegt. Dann wiederum scheint dieses bunte Mu- ster uns nur aus Zeichen und Buchstaben gefügt, durch wel- che die Tiefe zu uns von ihren Geheimnissen spricht. So packt uns, ob wir draußen oder drinnen leben, der Schmerz dessen an, der, wohin er sich wende, sich von herrlichen Gü- tern abwendet. Unruhe befällt uns während der strengen Genüsse der Einsamkeit wie an den festlich gedeckten Ta- feln der Welt.

Die durchsichtige Bildung ist die, an der unserem Blick Tiefe und Oberfläche zugleich einleuchten. Sie ist am Kristall zu studieren, den man als ein Wesen bezeichnen könnte, das sowohl innere Oberfläche zu bilden als seine Tiefe nach au- ßen zu kehren vermag. Ich möchte nun die Frage stellen, ob nicht die Welt im großen und kleinen überhaupt nach dem Muster der Kristalle gebildet sei – doch so, daß unser Auge sie nur selten in dieser Eigenschaft durchdringt? Es gibt Zei- chen, die darauf hinweisen: wohl jeder hat einmal gespürt, wie in bedeutenden Augenblicken Menschen und Dinge sich aufhellten, und das vielleicht in einem Maße, daß ihn ein Ge- fühl des Schwindels, ja des Schauderns ergriff. Das ist in der Gegenwart des Todes der Fall, aber auch jede andere bedeu- tende Macht, wie etwa die Schönheit, bringt solche Wirkung hervor – im besonderen schreibt man sie der Wahrheit zu. So ist, um ein beliebiges Beispiel zu nennen, die Erfassung der Urpflanze nichts anderes als die Wahrnehmung des ei- gentlich kristallischen Charakters im günstigen Augenblick. Ebenso werden in einem Gespräch über Dinge, die uns im Innersten berühren, die Stimmen durchsichtig; wir begreifen unseren Partner durch die Übereinkunft der Worte hindurch in einem anderen, entscheidenden Sinn. Darüber hinaus dür- fen wir Punkte vermuten, an denen diese Art der Einsicht nicht durch Zustände der ungewöhnlichen Erhebung vermit- telt wird, sondern zum Bestand eines herrlichen Lebens ge- hört.

Was nun die Verwendung des Wortes in diesem Sinne be- trifft, so kommt ihr zustatten, daß auch die Sprache Tiefe und Oberfläche besitzt. Wir verfügen über zahllose Wendungen, denen sowohl eine handgreifliche als auch eine sehr verbor- gene Bedeutung innewohnt, und was in der Welt des Auges die Durchsichtigkeit, das ist hier die geheime Konsonanz. Auch in den Figuren, vor allem im Vergleich, liegt viel, was den Trug der Gegensätze überbrückt. Doch muß das Verfah- ren beweglich sein – wenn man hier ein geschliffenes Glas verwendet, um die Schönheit der niederen Tiere zu erspähen, so darf man sich dort nicht scheuen, einen Wurm auf den Ha- ken zu ziehen, wenn man dem wunderbaren Leben nachzu- stellen gedenkt, das die dunkleren Gewässer bewohnt. Aber immer ist vom Autor zu verlangen, daß ihm die Dinge nicht vereinzelt erscheinen, nicht treibend und zufällig – ihm ist das Wort verliehen, damit es an das Ein und Alles gerichtet wird.

θαυματὰ ἔργα

From the Homeric Hymn to Dionysus (lines 34-53) – would-be kidnapping pirates coming to regret their choices.

But suddenly they began to see miraculous apparitions. First of all, wine gushed out over the dark swift ship, sweet-tasting and fragrant, and there rose a smell ambrosial, and the sailors were all seized with astonishment as they saw it. Then along the top of the sail there spread a vine in both directions, hung with many grape clusters. About the mast dark ivy was winding, all flowering, and pretty berries were out on it; and all the tholes were decorated with garlands. When they saw this, then they did start calling on the helmsman to take the ship to land. But the god became a lion in the ship, a terrible lion in the bows, and he roared loud; and amidships he made a shaggy-maned bear, to signal his power. Up it reared in fury, while the lion at the top of the deck stood glaring fearsomely. They fled to the stern, and about the prudent-hearted helmsman they halted in terror. Without warning the lion sprang forward and seized the captain. The others all leapt out into the sea when they saw it, to avoid an ill doom, and they turned into dolphins

τάχα δέ σφιν ἐφαίνετο θαυματὰ ἔργα·
οἶνος μὲν πρώτιστα θοὴν ἀνὰ νῆα μέλαιναν
ἡδύποτος κελάρυξ᾿ εὐώδης, ὤρνυτο δ᾿ ὀδμή
ἀμβροσίη· ναύτας δὲ τάφος λάβε πάντας ἰδόντας·
αὐτίκα δ᾿ ἀκρότατον παρὰ ἱστίον ἐξετανύσθη
ἄμπελος ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα, κατεκρμνῶντο δὲ πολλοί
βότρυες· ἀμφ᾿ ἱστὸν δὲ μέλας εἱλίσσετο κισσός
ἄνθεσι τηλεθάων, χαρίεις δ᾿ ἐπὶ καρπὸς ὀρώρει·
πάντες δὲ σκαλμοὶ στεφάνους ἔχον. οἳ δὲ ἰδόντες
νῆ᾿ ἤδη τότ᾿ ἔπειτα κυβερνήτην ἐκέλευον
γῆι πελάαν· ὃ δ᾿ ἄρα σφι λέων γένετ᾿ ἔνδοθι νηός
δεινὸς ἐπ᾿ ἀκροτάτης, μέγα δ᾿ ἔβραχεν· ἐν δ᾿ ἄρα μέσσηι
ἄρκτον ἐποίησεν λασιαύχενα, σήματα φαίνων·
ἂν δ᾿ ἔστη μεμαυῖα, λέων δ᾿ ἐπὶ σέλματος ἄκρου
δεινὸν ὑπόδρα ἰδών· οἳ δ᾿ ἐς πρύμνην ἐφόβηθεν,
ἀμφὶ κυβερνήτην δὲ σαόφρονα θυμὸν ἔχοντα
ἔσταν ἄρ᾿ ἐκπληγέντες. ὃ δ᾿ ἐξαπίνης ἐπορούσας
ἀρχὸν ἕλ᾿· οἳ δὲ θύραζε κακὸν μόρον ἐξαλύοντες
πάντες ὁμῶς πήδησαν, ἐπεὶ ἴδον, εἰς ἅλα δῖαν,
δελφῖνες δ᾿ ἐγένοντο.

A son resourceful and cunning, a robber, a rustler of cattle, a bringer of dreams, a night watcher, a gate-lurker

From the Homeric Hymn to Hermes (lines 13-19), birth and initial character sketch of Hermes.

And she gave birth to a son resourceful and cunning, a robber, a rustler of cattle, a bringer of dreams, a night watcher, a gate-lurker, who was soon to display deeds of renown among the immortal gods: born in the morning, by midday he was playing the lyre, and in the evening he stole the cattle of far-shooting Apollo—on the fourth of the month, the day the lady Maia bore him.

καὶ τότ᾿ ἐγείνατο παῖδα πολύτροπον, αἱμυλομήτην,
ληϊστῆρ᾿, ἐλατῆρα βοῶν, ἡγήτορ᾿ ὀνείρων,
νυκτὸς ὀπωπητῆρα, πυληδόκον, ὃς τάχ᾿ ἔμελλεν
ἀμφανέειν κλυτὰ ἔργα μετ᾿ ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσιν·
ἠῶιος γεγονὼς μέσωι ἤματι ἐγκιθάριζεν,
ἑσπέριος βοῦς κλέψεν ἑκηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος,
τετράδι τῆι προτέρηι, τῆι μιν τέκε πότνια Μαῖα.

In English the picture from the final three lines (‘born in the morning…’) is probably the more memorable element, but in Greek the specific descriptors are at least equally attention catching.

  • πολύτροπον is famously the opening modifier of Odysseus in The Odyssey but where most accept that it there carries an intentional ambiguity – hitting both ‘much-turned/much-wandering’ and ‘turning many ways/wily’ – the sense here, given what follows, seems to tilt toward the second, more negative meaning.
  • αἱμυλομήτην is a compound of αἱμύλος – ‘wily, wheedling’ and used mostly of words (see Hesiod Works and Days 374) – and a form of μητίω – ‘have in mind, think on.’ This is the word’s only appearance, but it is close in form and sense to the more common ἀγκυλομήτης (‘of crooked counsel’) used in Homer of Kronos and in Hesiod of Prometheus.
  • ληϊστήρ is ‘robber’ or (because it appears in the Odyssey in a seafaring context) ‘pirate’. But in every other use I can think of (Od. 3.73 and a series of echoes in later books) it’s employed as part of a question from one character to another (‘are you a pirate?’) and always elicits a denial of some kind. This is the only Homeric instance I can remember where it’s used as a flat, unquestioned description by the narrating voice.
  • ἡγήτωρ ὀνείρων – rendered here as ‘bringer of dreams’ – is built on ἡγήτωρ, a frequent Homeric word meaning ‘leader’ and elsewhere used in a martial context. ‘Bringer’ comes closer to the etymology of the based verb but might lose a background image of Hermes as not just bringing but marshalling dreams.
  • νυκτὸς ὀπωπητῆρα – ‘a night watcher’ – ὀπωπητήρ appears only here but is generally taken as equivalent to equally rare ὀπτήρ – ‘spy, scout’.
  • πυληδόκον – another word that only appears here, a compound of πύλη – ‘gate’ – and δοκεύω – ‘watch closely’. It would seem obviously connected to a thieving function but there could also be a hint of Hermes’ roles in passing to/from the underworld, πύλη also possibly invoking the frequent periphrasis πύλαι Ἀΐδαο – ‘gates of Hades’.

A matter of business

From Maupassant’s Le Diable (The Devil – French online here, English here). I sat down to read La Horla for Halloween and rediscovered how rich the rest of the collection is – Clochette especially is surprisingly close in feel to his mentor Flaubert’s Un Coeur Simple (A Simple Heart). This one is very different – a small masterpiece of the old peasant farce, something that could equally well be the basis of a Boccaccio tale but never pulled off with the same verve.

A woman employed to watch over the dying has agreed with a farmer to accept a lump sum instead of her normal daily wage, each party thereby hoping to steal a bargain on the other. Finding that the farmer’s mother isn’t dying as quickly as hoped, she improvises.

She came at daybreak, and found Honore eating his soup, which he had made himself before going to work, and the sick-nurse asked him: “Well, is your mother dead?” “She is rather better, on the contrary,” he replied, with a sly look out of the corner of his eyes. And he went out.

La Rapet, seized with anxiety, went up to the dying woman, who remained in the same state, lethargic and impassive, with her eyes open and her hands clutching the counterpane. The nurse perceived that this might go on thus for two days, four days, eight days, and her avaricious mind was seized with fear, while she was furious at the sly fellow who had tricked her, and at the woman who would not die.

Nevertheless, she began to work, and waited, looking intently at the wrinkled face of Mother Bontemps. When Honore returned to breakfast he seemed quite satisfied and even in a bantering humor. He was decidedly getting in his wheat under very favorable circumstances.

La Rapet was becoming exasperated; every minute now seemed to her so much time and money stolen from her. She felt a mad inclination to take this old woman, this, headstrong old fool, this obstinate old wretch, and to stop that short, rapid breath, which was robbing her of her time and money, by squeezing her throat a little. But then she reflected on the danger of doing so, and other thoughts came into her head; so she went up to the bed and said: “Have you ever seen the Devil?” Mother Bontemps murmured: “No.”

Then the sick-nurse began to talk and to tell her tales which were likely to terrify the weak mind of the dying woman. Some minutes before one dies the Devil appears, she said, to all who are in the death throes. He has a broom in his hand, a saucepan on his head, and he utters loud cries. When anybody sees him, all is over, and that person has only a few moments longer to live. She then enumerated all those to whom the Devil had appeared that year: Josephine Loisel, Eulalie Ratier, Sophie Padaknau, Seraphine Grospied.

Mother Bontemps, who had at last become disturbed in mind, moved about, wrung her hands, and tried to turn her head to look toward the end of the room. Suddenly La Rapet disappeared at the foot of the bed. She took a sheet out of the cupboard and wrapped herself up in it; she put the iron saucepan on her head, so that its three short bent feet rose up like horns, and she took a broom in her right hand and a tin pail in her left, which she threw up suddenly, so that it might fall to the ground noisily.

When it came down, it certainly made a terrible noise. Then, climbing upon a chair, the nurse lifted up the curtain which hung at the bottom of the bed, and showed herself, gesticulating and uttering shrill cries into the iron saucepan which covered her face, while she menaced the old peasant woman, who was nearly dead, with her broom.

Terrified, with an insane expression on her face, the dying woman made a superhuman effort to get up and escape; she even got her shoulders and chest out of bed; then she fell back with a deep sigh. All was over, and La Rapet calmly put everything back into its place; the broom into the corner by the cupboard the sheet inside it, the saucepan on the hearth, the pail on the floor, and the chair against the wall. Then, with professional movements, she closed the dead woman’s large eyes, put a plate on the bed and poured some holy water into it, placing in it the twig of boxwood that had been nailed to the chest of drawers, and kneeling down, she fervently repeated the prayers for the dead, which she knew by heart, as a matter of business.

Elle arriva, en effet, au jour levant.

Honoré, avant de se rendre aux terres, mangeait sa soupe, qu’il avait faite lui-même.

La garde demanda :

— Eh ben, vot’mé a-t-all’ passé ?

Il répondit, avec un pli malin au coin des yeux :

— All’va plutôt mieux.

Et il s’en alla.

La Rapet, saisie d’inquiétude, s’approcha de l’agonisante, qui demeurait dans le même état, oppressée et impassible, l’œil ouvert et les mains crispées sur sa couverture.

Et la garde comprit que cela pouvait durer deux jours, quatre jours, huit jours ainsi ; et une épouvante étreignit son cœur d’avare, tandis qu’une colère furieuse la soulevait contre ce finaud qui l’avait jouée et contre cette femme qui ne mourait pas.

Elle se mit au travail néanmoins et attendit, le regard fixé sur la face ridée de la mère Bontemps.

Honoré revint pour déjeuner ; il semblait content, presque goguenard ; puis il repartit. Il rentrait son blé, décidément, dans des conditions excellentes.

La Rapet s’exaspérait ; chaque minute écoulée lui semblait, maintenant, du temps volé, de l’argent volé. Elle avait envie, une envie folle de prendre par le cou cette vieille bourrique, cette vieille têtue, cette vieille obstinée, et d’arrêter, en serrant un peu, ce petit souffle rapide qui lui volait son temps et son argent.

Puis elle réfléchit au danger ; et, d’autres idées lui passant par la tête, elle se rapprocha du lit.

Elle demanda :

— Vos avez-t-il déjà vu l’Diable ?

La mère Bontemps murmura :

— Non.

Alors la garde se mit à causer, à lui conter des histoires pour terroriser son âme débile de mourante.

Quelques minutes avant qu’on expirât, le Diable apparaissait, disait-elle, à tous les agonisants. Il avait un balai à la main, une marmite sur la tête, et il poussait de grands cris. Quand on l’avait vu, c’était fini, on n’en avait plus que pour peu d’instants. Et elle énumérait tous ceux à qui le Diable était apparu devant elle, cette année-là : Joséphin Loisel, Eulalie Ratier, Sophie Padagnau, Séraphine Grospied.

La mère Bontemps, émue enfin, s’agitait, remuait les mains, essayait de tourner la tête pour regarder au fond de la chambre.

Soudain la Rapet disparut au pied du lit. Dans l’armoire, elle prit un drap et s’enveloppa dedans ; elle se coiffa de la marmite, dont les trois pieds courts et courbés se dressaient ainsi que trois cornes ; elle saisit un balai de sa main droite, et, de la main gauche, un seau de fer-blanc, qu’elle jeta brusquement en l’air pour qu’il retombât avec bruit.

Il fit, en heurtant le sol, un fracas épouvantable ; alors, grimpée sur une chaise, la garde souleva le rideau qui pendait au bout du lit, et elle apparut, gesticulant, poussant des clameurs aiguës au fond du pot de fer qui lui cachait la face, et menaçant de son balai, comme un diable de guignol, la vieille paysanne à bout de vie.

Éperdue, le regard fou, la mourante fit un effort surhumain pour se soulever et s’enfuir ; elle sortit même de sa couche ses épaules et sa poitrine ; puis elle retomba avec un grand soupir. C’était fini.

Et la Rapet, tranquillement, remit en place tous les objets, le balai au coin de l’armoire, le drap dedans, la marmite sur le foyer, le seau sur la planche et la chaise contre le mur. Puis, avec les gestes professionnels, elle ferma les yeux énormes de la morte, posa sur le lit une assiette, versa dedans l’eau du bénitier, y trempa le buis cloué sur la commode et, s’agenouillant, se mit à réciter avec ferveur les prières des trépassés qu’elle savait par cœur, par métier.