War, Adventure, Love: HOMER, SAPPHO


 

SAPPHO
(c.630-c.570 BC)
Hầu như chẳng ai biết gì về cuộc đời Sappho. Thuộc gia đình giầu có ở đảo Island of Lesbos, và hầu như toàn bộ thơ ca của bà bị mất. Chỉ chừng 650 dòng sống sót, dưới dạng tản mạn. Rất được ưa thích, ái mộ, được coi như ngang hàng với Homer. Bà được coi là Nữ Thi Sĩ, 'The Poetess', còn Homer, 'The Poet'.
Thơ của Bà gần gụi chúng ta hơn, so với của Homer. Bà viết đoản thơ trữ tình, short lyrics, không phải sử thi, và đề tài là tình yêu. Đoản khúc thần sầu sau đây, là của cô gái, thương 1 cô bạn, và gần như phát điên, khi thấy cô bạn "thèm" trai lạ.
 
In a poem identified as 'Fragment 31; Sappho watches the
woman she loves talking and laughing with a man, and she goes
into shock. Her heart thumps, her skin seems on fire, she can't
speak, her eyes dim, her ears ring. Trembling, she breaks out in a
cold sweat. It is the first description of the symptoms of passionate
love by a woman in Western literature. 
 
 
CHAPTER 2 
 
War, Adventure, Love
HOMER, SAPPHO 
 
 
Who Homer was, and whether the Homeric epics were the work
of one poet, is not known. They probably date from about 700 sc.
The Iliad is the first surviving war poem. It tells of the battles
fought between Greeks and Trojans in the last few weeks of the
ten-year siege of Troy, ending in the killing of Hector, leader of the
Trojans, by the Greek warrior Achilles.
In its attitude to war the poem is contradictory. It presents war as
both glorious and horrible. Cowardice is despised. Yet the brutality
and futility of war are exposed. This contradiction is reflected in
two contrasting styles that run through the battle scenes. The
warriors address each other in formal, rhetorical terms, like orators.
But they die like slaughtered beasts. A spear crashes into a mouth,
shattering teeth and bones; a youth is plucked from his chariot on a
spear's point, writhing like a hooked fish.
The divided feelings about war that the Iliad registers seem to be
deeply embedded in human nature. Even today, celebrating the glory and lamenting the waste of war go together, as any Remembrance Day ceremony shows. Exposing this rift within us is one thing that gives the Iliad its universality and depth.
Another thing is its portrayal of human feeling. The gods and
goddesses who intervene in the action of the epic — Zeus, Apollo,
Athena, Aphrodite and the rest — are presented as frivolous, malevolent, petty and quarrelsome. The effect is to make the human beings, by contrast, dignified and elevated. They feel real pain and grief, and are capable of heroism, as the gods, being immortal, are not.
One of the most famous scenes in the poem comes in Book 6,
where Hector's wife, Andromache, is weeping as she tries to persuade him not to go out to battle. But Hector replies that he would feel 'deep shame' before the Trojan men and women:
if like a coward I were to shrink aside from the fighting.
He refuses to yield to his wife's pleas, though he knows that he is
fated to die in battle and foresees that Troy will be destroyed along
with his father, King Priam, and all his people.
A nurse is in attendance, holding their little son Astyanax, 'beautiful as a star'. The child screams with terror at the sight of his father's armour and the horse-hair plume nodding fiercely on his helmet, and nestles up against his nurse as if to get away. Hector and Andromache laugh at the sight of the boy's fear, but Hector takes his gleaming helmet off and places it on the ground. Then he takes the child, kisses him, and dandles him in his arms, praying as he does so:
Zeus, and you other immortals, grant that this boy, who is my son,
may be, as I am, preeminent among the Trojans,
great in strength, as I am, and rule strongly over Ilion;
and some day let them say of him: 'He is better by far than his father;
as he comes in from the fighting, and let him kill his enemy
and bring home the blooded spoils, and delight the heart of his
mother.
With that he gives the child to Andromache, who takes him 'to her
fragrant bosom, smiling in her tears'. Hector pities her, strokes her
and speaks comfortingly, telling her that no one can send him
down to Hades before his time comes.
Many thousands of words have been written about this short
scene. It transfers to a family setting the divided reactions to
warfare we noticed in the battle scenes. To us it seems horrible that
Hector should want his little son to grow into a killer and come
back from battle covered in someone else's blood. To pray for this
to happen seems like the action of a brute. But we are made to see
that Hector is not a brute. He loves his child tenderly, and tries to
comfort his wife in her distress. He also foresees that fighting will
not achieve anything. He knows that he and his father and Troy are
doomed. So going back to re-join the battle does not make sense
even on a practical level. It will do no good. Yet we can see why
Hector feels he must do it.
So the Iliad is a tragedy. But the Odyssey, though it is a sort of
sequel to the Iliad, telling of Odysseus' ten-year voyage to reach his
home on the island of Ithaca after the Trojan War, is a totally
different kind of poem. It is an adventure story, and it introduces a
type of fictional character that will appear in countless adventure
stories down the ages. You could call this type the indestructible
hero. Like James Bond or Tolkien's Hobbit — or Alice in Alice in
Wonderland, who is an indestructible heroine — Odysseus survives
every danger, however improbably. So compared to the grim
realism of the Iliad, the Odyssey could be classified as a fantasy.
In the first part of the poem we learn what has happened in
Ithaca while Odysseus has been away. His wife, Penelope, is being
harassed by scores of unruly young men who, believing Odysseus
dead, want to marry her. Odysseus' and Penelope's young son,
Telemachus, cannot control these intrusive suitors and, helped by
the goddess Athena, he sails to the Greek mainland where he learns
that his father is being held captive by a nymph called Calypso who
is in love with him.
The second part of the poem starts with Odysseus still on
Calypso's island. But she finally agrees to let him go, so he builds a
raft and sets off, only to be wrecked by the sea-god Poseidon, who
has a grudge against him.
He swims to the nearest land, crawls ashore caked with salt, and
falls asleep. The sound of girls laughing wakes him, and he
emerges, naked, to find a princess, Nausicaa, and her maids, who
have been washing clothes and are now playing ball. Because of its
erotic charge, this is one of the poem's most famous scenes.
Nausicaa takes him to her parents' palace, where he is welcomed,
and they ask him how he came to be cast up on their island. At this
point Odysseus becomes the narrator, and the story he tells is
weird and wonderful. It reads like a pack of lies dreamed up by a
wily old wanderer who has to find some excuse for taking ten years
to sail home, a distance of some 500 miles.
He left Troy, he says, with twelve ships, and landed on the island
of the Lotus Eaters, who gave his men a kind of super-sedative fruit
that made those who ate it forget their homes and families. Next,
he and his men were captured by a one-eyed, man-eating giant
called Polyphemus, but escaped by blinding him with a sharpened
stake. Next Aeolus, god of the winds, gave Odysseus a leather bag
containing all the winds. But his men foolishly opened it, letting
the winds out, so that their ships were driven back even though
they had already sailed within sight of Ithaca.
After that they sailed into a bay where giant cannibals sank
eleven of their twelve ships by hurling rocks from the cliffs. Only
Odysseus' ship escaped, and reached the island of the goddess
Circe, daughter of the sun god, who turned half his men into swine.
However, the god Hermes gave him a drug that made him immune to Circe's magic, and she told him how to reach the world of the dead on the western edge of the world. There he communed with various ghosts, including Achilles and Agamemnon, his comrades in the Trojan War, and his own mother.
Sailing back to Circe's island he passed the land of the Sirens, who
lure sailors to their destruction on the rocks with their enchanting
music. But he plugged his men's ears with bees' wax, and ordered
them to tie him to the mast so that he heard the Sirens' sing, and
survived. Nearby were a lethal sea-monster-cum-whirlpool called
Charybdis, and another sea-monster with six heads, called Scylla.
Successfully navigating the strait between them, Odysseus reached
an island where, while he was asleep, his men made the bad mistake of killing and eating some cattle sacred to the sun god Helios. As punishment, Zeus sent a storm that wrecked their ship, drowning everyone except Odysseus. He survived by clinging to some driftwood, and then was almost sucked down into Charybdis, but was washed up on Calypso's island, where the narrative of his adventures began.
Nausicaa's parents, having heard his story, help him to get back
to Ithaca. He disguises himself as a beggar, and no one knows him
except his old dog, which dies of joy on seeing him, and his old
housekeeper who recognizes a scar on his leg while she is washing his feet, but does not give him away. Choosing his moment, he reveals himself to his son Telemachus and to two of his former slaves, a swineherd and a cowherd, and together they take a terrible revenge, slaughtering the suitors and strangling twelve maidservants who had betrayed Penelope.
How far we are meant to assume that Odysseus' story is a pack of lies is impossible to say, and pointless to ask. For what the Odyssey does, far more than the Iliad, is open the door to the monsters, phantasms and nameless horrors that live on the far side of logic and reason. Entering this imaginary realm is something poetry has always done, and some of the Odyssey's creatures, such as Scylla and Charybdis and the Sirens, have become almost proverbial, referred to in later poems worldwide. That may mean that Homer was uncannily attuned to humanity's collective unconscious. But it may also be because his writing is so graphic that it stamps itself on the memory. He works through vivid, direct language — Odysseus grinding out Polyphemus' eye with an olive-wood stake, for example, or Scylla grabbing six men from his ship and whirling them in the air, shrieking, or the maidservants strung up by their necks and slowly choking (the first depiction of a hanging in world literature).
Scenes like these are difficult to forget, even when you want to.
Unlike a lot of poetry, Homer's can survive translation into other
languages, partly because of the simplicity, speed and directness of
his narrative technique. There have been many English translations, but the earliest was by George Chapman in 1614. Its most famous reader was the English poet John Keats, who knew no Greek, and whose sonnet - 'Much have I travelled in the realms of gold' - written in 1816, records his wonder on reading Homer in
Chapman's translation.
Sappho (c. 630-c. 570 BO is the only Greek poet apart from
Homer that most people have heard of today. In antiquity critics
referred to her as 'The Poetess' as Homer was 'The Poet'. She was
born on the island of Lesbos (from which we get the word
'Lesbian). Most of her poetry is lost. Apart from one poem - an
'Ode to Aphrodite', in which she asks for the love goddess's help -
only fragments remain.
But enough survives to show why critics were so wild about her.
Her poetry is clear, sensuous and passionate. The loved one is a
ripe, red apple, high on a tree, out of reach. Or she is a mountain
hyacinth, which the shepherds trample on with their clumsy feet,
leaving a purple stain on the earth. In another poem she derides
the Homeric gods for their callousness, and mocks those who
worship them.
In a poem identified as 'Fragment 31; Sappho watches the
woman she loves talking and laughing with a man, and she goes
into shock. Her heart thumps, her skin seems on fire, she can't
speak, her eyes dim, her ears ring. Trembling, she breaks out in a
cold sweat. It is the first description of the symptoms of passionate
love by a woman in Western literature.
A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY
****
SAPPHO
(c.630—c.570 BC)
Almost nothing is known of Sappho's life. She was born into a wealthy family on the island of Lesbos, and almost all her poetry has been lost.
Only about 650 lines survive, mostly consisting of fragments. Her poetry was hugely admired in antiquity, and she seems to have been regarded as the equal of Homer. She was called 'The Poetess', and Homer “The Poet'.
Her work is much closer to our modern idea of poetry than Homer's. She wrote short lyrics, not epics, and her subject was love, not war or adventure. A poem known only as 'Fragment 31' is the first description of passionate love by a woman in Western literature. It describes her shock when she sees her lover talking and laughing with a man. The complex of emotions it expresses is cited as an example of sublimity in On the Sublime, the first surviving literary critical treatise, written in Greek in the first century AD.
This translation is by Mary Barnard.
FRAGMENT 31
He is more than a hero
He is a god in my eyes -
the man who is allowed
to sit beside you - he
who listens intimately
to the sweet murmur of
your voice, the enticing
laughter that makes my own
heartbeat fast. If I meet
you suddenly, I can't
speak - my tongue is broken;
a thin flame runs under
my skin; seeing nothing,
hearing only my own ears
drumming, I drip with sweat;
trembling shakes my body
and I turn paler than
dry grass. At such times
death isn't far from me.
John Carey: “100 Poets” a little anthology
 
 
 
Yêu & Giận
Love & Rage
Nếu nàng bỏ chạy, lát nữa, sẽ đuổi theo mi
Nếu không chấp nhận điều mi cho, sẽ cho mi điều đó
Nếu không yêu mi lúc nẫy, thì lúc này, bây giờ
Dù chẳng muốn
If she flees you now, she will soon pursue you;
if she won't accept what you give, she'll give it;
if she doesn't love you, she'll love you soon now,
even unwilling."
Sappho được coi là Nữ Sĩ, so với Homer, Thi Sĩ. Người đầu tiên viết những dòng thơ sướt mướt tả tình yêu của 1 người phụ nữ Tây Phương: A poem known only as 'Fragment 31' is the first description of passionate love by a woman in Western literature. It describes her shock when she sees her lover talking and laughing with a man. The complex of emotions it expresses is cited as an example of sublimity in On the Sublime, the first surviving literary critical treatise, written in Greek in the first century AD.
Sappho (c. 630—c. 570 BC),
"Artfully Adorned Aphrodite,"
translated by Jim Powell
"WHAT IS it this time," says the overworked deity of love. Aphrodite is a projection or cloak of the lover's rage, transformed into the amused impatience of the goddess.
"Artfully Adorned Aphrodite"
Artfully adorned Aphrodite, deathless
child of Zeus and weaver of wiles I beg you
please don't hurt me, don't overcome my spirit,
goddess, with longing,
but come here, if ever at other moments
hearing these my words from afar you listened
and responded: leaving your father's hose, all
golden, you came then,
hitching up your chariot: lovely sparrows
drew you quickly over the dark earth, whirling
on fine beating wings from the heights of heaven
down through the sky and
instantly arrived—and then O my blessed
goddess with a smile on your deathless face you
asked me what the matter was this time, what I
called you for this time,
what I now most wanted to happen in my
raving heart: "Whom this time should I persuade to
lead you back again to her love? Who now, oh
Sappho, who wrongs you?
If she flees you now, she will soon pursue you;
if she won't accept what you give, she'll give it;
if she doesn't love you, she'll love you soon now,
even unwilling."
Come to me again, and release me from this
want past bearing. All that my heart desires to
happen—make it happen. And stand beside me,
goddess, my ally.
"The Book of Poetry for Hard Times"
edited by Robert Pinsky
 
 
 
 
 

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