The Greek Anthology;And Other Ancient Epigrams: A Selection in Modern Verse Translations (Classics) Paperback – 26 Mar 1981
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A comprehensive collection of Greek poems written between the seventh century B.C. and the tenth century A.D.
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This is the famous collection of some 4,000 poems assembled by Byzantine scholars nearly a thousand years ago.
The poems, drawn from all over the Greek-speaking world, range from the seventh century BC through to the renaissance of Greek culture in Byzantium during the sixth century AD. This volume contains about 850 of these poems and is the largest selection ever to be published in verse translation. Arranged chronologically with a brief introduction to each poet, the poems cover every aspect of Greek life--epitaphs, satires, jokes, pastoral epigrams and poems of love and friendship. Over 40 distinguished British and American poets have contributed to the translations.
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Drenched in Mediterranean sunlight & harsh shadows, these poems depict a world where life & death, passion & loss, nobility & satire, are all delineated in bold, clear lines, and seen with an unclouded eye. There doesn't seem to be much self-deception, or comforting but empty illusion, in that world. And if it does start to creep in, it's just as swiftly & scathingly dismissed.
Covering several centuries, translated by a wide range of poets, this collection offers a worldview that never flinches from death, or the unpredictable whims of fate. It is, after all, a world which advised, "Call no man happy until he is dead." At the same time, it embraces the pleasures of life, never confusing sex & love, making room for both without apology or regret.
For the most part, you'll find short, to-the-point epigrams in these pages. The occasional reminder that (for example) only 4 or 5 poems survive of a poet's entire body of work, some of them mere fragments, is sobering. That in itself is testimony to the worldview presented here, one that essentially says, "We cannot choose what we are given, we can only choose how we face it." And the Greeks faced it head-on, without blinking.
Most highly recommended!
Most readers are familiar with the Iliad and the Odyssey, but those epics only give a glimmer of the Greek condition. The lyric and epigrammatic poems of the Anthology shoot straight through to the soul's core; they were written by people who had hopes, dreams, and desires much like yours or mine. There are no immortal heroes here, no mythic exploits of semi-divine characters. These are poems about life, about lust and hunger and death, about prostitutes and priests and priestesses, about drinking and athletics and philosophy. And when the Hellenic gods do appear, they're usually the butt of some joke.
Please note that the Penguin edition is edited. The "about the translators" section is updated, the majority of Peter Jay's poems have been revised, and most importantly the Teddy Hogge translations of Strato have been censored. If you've ever wondered who was more hip, Oxford or Penguin, wonder no more - the Oxford edition contains F-bombs and a host of other X-rated language in Hogge's translations, the majority of which is expunged from the Penguin edition. At first I thought this was due to prudery, but it's possible Hogge himself retooled (so to speak) his translations. Regardless, the Penguin edition lacks the Oxford edition's hardcore punch.
For example, here's the Oxford version of poem 600, Teddy Hogge translating the 2nd Century CE poet Strato. Please note that the "[expletive]" below stands in place of a derogatory term for a part of the female anatomy, a word which begins with "c" and is very popular in England:
A virgin has no subtle [expletive]-control
No basic kissing technique
No natural smell on her flesh
No cool conversation that is seductive
No ingenious look in the eye.
Beginners are even worse, they're all
Frigid behind. Which is not, after all,
Where your hand is supposed to wander.
Compare to the Penguin version of the poem:
Young women have no orifice that grips
No basic knowledge of the kiss
No naturally fragrant body smell
No gay seductive small talk and
No innocent glad eye...even worse
Are learners, who are all
Frigid behind. More to the point, that's not
Where you are meant to stick your roving hand.
The Oxford version has been neutered. It does appear that Hogge attempted to clear up his translation; the last stanzas of the Penguin make a bit more sense than the Oxford. However nothing in the Penguin version can compete with the shock value of the first line of the Oxford version. Poem 610, another Hogge/Strato, is also censored - the last line of the Oxford is "to [F-bomb] all," whereas it's "to bugger all" in the Penguin.
That being said, the Penguin edition doesn't edit anything else, and both it and the Oxford edition contain an F-bomb in poem 615, yet another Hogge translation of Strato, as well as one in poem 705, an Alan Marshfield translation of Rufinus. So this, coupled with the fact that nothing else seems to be edited out of the Penguin edition, makes me guess that Hogge either wanted to revise his earlier translations or that Penguin asked him to tone down the profanity a bit. Because the profanity isn't just removed from Hogge's translations; the entire poems are reworked. But I'm all about the profanity, so I prefer the Oxford edition.
My only other complaint is that not all poems are notated, and there's no way of knowing in the text which of them are. An asterisk appears beside poems which are in hexameter in the original, but this hardly matters for the average reader. No such designation appears for poems which have further information in the Notes section, so you have to keep hunting back and forth through the text. But that's a small price to pay for what is otherwise a book you will treasure forever. It's dumbfounding that this has been out of print for 27 years. Hopefully Penguin will bring it back into circulation.
With collections like this, it's usually better to let the poems speak for themselves than to blather on and on about them. So, here are a few selections which jumped out at me - though unfortunately I'm unable to include my favorite piece in the book, poem 704, an Alan Marshfield translation of Rufinus, as it's an X-rated parody of the Judgment of Paris (and luckily it's the same in both the Oxford and Penguin editions). But be aware these poems below are just a fractional representation; there will no doubt be many, many others which will appeal to you even more.
Poem 301, a Peter Porter translation of Nikarchos:
Take note who stoop,
I am the goat-foot, Pan the Great,
Guardian of this spring,
Reticulator of all falling waters,
Heed my warning!
You may drink as much
As you please and fill your pitcher here
But never dare defile
The crystal issue of the Nymphs by washing
Your filthy feet in it!
If you do so,
Fear my ithyphallic armour,
You shall not speak a word
But submit upon the instant to be buggered -
That's my rigid law!
And if by chance
You're pathetic and like such punishment,
I have another weapon:
My club is harder than my [member] and with it
I'll break your head wide open!
Poem 397, an Andrew Miller translation of Antipater of Thessalonica:
Europa (in Athens) does business
at truly reasonable rates.
You needn't fear interruption
or the gainsaying of whims;
also, she offers irreproachable
sheets, and - in winter -
a coal-fire. This time, Zeus,
come as you are. No bull.
Poem 413, a Fleur Adcock translation of Marcus Aregentarius:
Love is not just a function of the eyes.
Beautiful objects will, of course, inspire
Possessive urges - you need not despise
Your taste. But when insatiable desire
Inflames you for a girl who's out of fashion,
Lacking in glamour - plain, in fact - that fire
Is genuine; that's the authentic passion.
Beauty, though, any critic can admire.
Here's one for all you lovers of the film "300:" Poem 531, a Dudley Fitts translation of Antiphilos:
This cloak of purple, Leonidas, Xerxes gives you
Praising your courage in battle.
"Let Xerxes keep
His gift for traitors. Cover me with my shield:
I want no richer burial."
But you are dead.
Must you hate the Persians even when you are dead?
"Soldier, the love of freedom can not die."
Poem 536, a Peter Porter translation of Lucilius:
Cleombrotus the bruiser
retired from the ring
to an even fiercer arena -
what happens to him at home
makes the Isthmian and Nemean Games
like pillow fights.
His Old Woman's in Olympic Class,
she'd hammer the daylights out of
No wonder Cleombrotus
dreads going home more than he ever
did the ring.
When he gets his wind back
and faces her again, she hits him with
every blow in the book
until he concedes the fight,
then he has to pay for losing by
[pleasuring] her good and hard,
which no sooner done
earns him a second and severer beating
for failing to
Poem 691, an Alan Marshfield translation of Rufinus:
took one glance
and from the roots of their souls
will we take off our clothes
let one bum verdict
it is not nice
to be not nice
Poem 828, a Guy Davenport translation of Agathias, "A Latrine in a Suburb of Smyrna:"
Here the savoury roast and pungent sauce
Have lost their beauty, changed to filth.
Pheasant, herbs ground with the pestle, fish,
Ox-and-garlic hash, with pickled eels,
Are so much dung. In at the mouth,
Out from the belly! Silly enterprise,
To have spent gold for all this dirt.
And finally, Poem 772, a Peter Jay translation of an anonymous epigram (Oxford version):
How was I born? Where from? Why did I come
Here? To leave? How can I learn anything,
Knowing nothing? I was born as nothing,
Shall be again as I was; a nought,
Nothing is humanity. Pour out
The pleasurable flow of wine, the drug
That's antidote to evil.