Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Celebrate Ancient Epic Gay Poetry! Homer's "The Iliad"

I know it might sound dusty and boring to read an epic poem that was written back sometime around 850 B.C., but read this bit about the passion Achilles had for his lover Patroclus...

from The Iliad

Thus like the rage of fire the combat burns,
And now it rises, now it sinks by turns.
Meanwhile, where Hellespont's broad waters flow,
Stood Nestor's son, the messenger of woe:
There sat Achilles, shaded by his sails,
On hoisted yards extended to the gales;
Pensive he sat; for all that fate design'd
Rose in sad prospect to his boding mind.
Thus to his soul he said: 'Ah! what constrains
The Greeks, late victors, now to quit the plains?
Is this the day, which heaven so long ago
Ordain'd, to sink me with the weight of woe?
(So Thetis warn'd;) when by a Trojan hand
The bravest of the Myrmidonian band
Should lose the light! Fulfilled is that decree;
Fallen is the warrior, and Patroclus he!
In vain I charged him soon to quit the plain,
And warn'd to shun Hectorean force in vain!'

Thus while he thinks, Antilochus appears,
And tells the melancholy tale with tears.
'Sad tidings, son of Peleus! thou must hear;
And wretched I, the unwilling messenger!
Dead is Patroclus! For his corse they fight;
His naked corse: his arms are Hector's right.'

A sudden horror shot through all the chief,
And wrapp'd his senses in the cloud of grief;
Cast on the ground, with furious hands he spread
The scorching ashes o'er his graceful head;
His purple garments, and his golden hairs,
These he deforms with dust, and these he tears;
On the hard soil his groaning breast he threw,
And roll'd and grovell'd, as to earth he grew.
The virgin captives, with disorder'd charms,
(Won by his own, or by Patroclus' arms,)
Rush'd from the tents with cries; and gathering round,
Beat their white breasts, and fainted on the ground:
While Nestor's son sustains a manlier part,
And mourns the warrior with a warrior's heart;
Hangs on his arms, amidst his frantic woe,
And oft prevents the meditated blow.

[XVIII: 1-40]

He, deeply groaning - 'To this cureless grief,
Not even the Thunderer's favour brings relief.
Patroclus - Ah! - say, goddess, can I boast
A pleasure now? revenge itself is lost;
Patroclus, loved of all my martial train,
Beyond mankind, beyond myself, is slain!
Lost are those arms the gods themselves bestow'd
On Peleus; Hector bears the glorious load.
Cursed be that day, when all the powers above
Thy charms submitted to a mortal love;
O hadst thou still, a sister of the main,
Pursued the pleasures of the watery reign;
And happier Peleus, less ambitious, led
A mortal beauty to his equal bed!
Ere the sad fruit of thy unhappy womb
Had caused such sorrows past, and woes to come.
For soon, alas! that wretched offspring slain,
New woes, new sorrows, shall create again.
'Tis not in fate the alternate now to give;
Patroclus dead, Achilles hates to live.
Let me revenge it on proud Hector's heart,
Let his last spirit smoke upon my dart;
On these conditions will I breathe: till then,
I blush to walk among the race of men.'

[XVIII: 99-122]

Anyone who says rhyming can only be silly, like "Dr. Seuss," should take note of how amazingly powerful this is! And try reading it out loud...

This translation of Homer's "The Illiad" was by Alexander Pope and I found it on page 197-198 of "Gay Love Poetry" edited by Neil Powell.


Anonymous said...

in putting it into rhyme, and in rendering it to an english meter, pope does little justice to the homer.

j. e. robinson

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

do you have a better (more true to the Homer) translation of this section?
would you share it with us? - it would be fascinating to read it!

Anonymous said...

unfortunately, the translation i have is the lattimore. it is true to the dactylic hexameter homer used (far from the meter used by pope) and, likethe original homer, it does not rhyme. it is a translation in the public domain, but it plays down the homoeroticism. the most recent translation, by prof. feagles, meets the homeric standards as to meter and subject, but it is a copyrighted translation and, from what i understand, is not available for your website without the permission--in writing--of the translator.

j. e. robinson