Adam’s Notebook
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Adam’s Notebook

Idiolinguistic Translation from the Greek Classics

That’s not a very euphonious or attractive title for a blogpost, I know. The truth is, I’m not sure what to call what I’m attempting here. Perhaps you can suggest a better name for it.

For what? Well: I was reading an anthology (The Penguin Book of Greek Verse) that translated choice portions of Homer, Hesiod, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Hellenistic poets, New Testament, early Christian writings and so on, right up to modern-day Greek poetry, all into the same contemporary-idiom English. That’s fine as far as getting at the meaning goes, of course; but it inevitably flattens and erases our sense of the poetry. Because of course the Greek of Homer is two and a half thousand years older than the Greek of Seferis — as different linguistically as Old English is from blog-speak. ‘What would an anthology look like,’ I thought to myself, ‘that translated Homer into Old English, Hesiod into Chaucerian English, the Attic tragedians into Shakespearian English, Hellenistic poets into the idiom of the metaphysicals (or maybe into 18th-century English) and so on?’ It would be a curious and absorbing task to generate so much text; but would the result be worthwhile in any sense?

One way to find out is actually to do it. So here, to begin with, are the opening fifty lines of the Iliad in Anglo Saxon.

Ábylgnesse æðelinges Achilleses, sing þu gyden,
Maegan mága Peleuses þæt mannmyrringe gewrecen
Hildewulfas an héape tō Hades forsendede
Ábær Achaeanum weáan al unárímede
Hereréafa hunda ond þá herefuglas beadwe;
Þus Goddes geþoht gefullforðed wæs
þā Agamemnon æðelcyning þā rόfan Achilles
scearp sundrodedon wǣron ádæledon in sacum.

Hwilc god gielda brōhton on geador
Þǣra twa gára gúðrincas sæccan geornlich?
Hit wǣs hyse Latones ond híehþe God;
séocnes he sendede in hine strong irre
ond Þe folc hie forfóron sē fela ácwælon.
Be Atreuses æðeling dede æpsenys æt Chryse,
Túnpréost Troyan. Cóm tilan to Achaeanum
Ond to him scipum swiftum unlíesan swéte dóhter.
Geþingsceat goldes ábær, ond godeswriða Apollan
Habbede in hande, Þe god hnæppaþ from feorwege
On ān gefýstlaþ gullisc. Gebæd he Þe Achaeanas
Ond Þe twa telgan Atreuses, teoha dryhtenweardas:
‘Atreuses æðelinges! ond oþres Achaeanes bangebeorgen
Be goddes ásitteaþ Alympian áhýðedest þu al Troyan
Ond æthwurfen earda æfter! Ac mīn fréobearn ábirmē,
Þige þis þanc weoroidlean in áre þrýþ-líc Apollan!’

Swā hréopon ælfaru Achaeanes geÁtan þis héah æweweard
Geþicgan þis greát geþingsceat; gíet Agamemnon geunblissede,
Ac ágénsendede he him ond ábéonn him áforlic:
‘Betst þu bēo ne here bī þǣm hóle bátas,
Ealda, ne nū ne náwa, ofnime þē stæf nīwgoldfyld
Ond þē wræd gedwolgod weorne on þē andwlitan.
Hīe ic ne nyllað aheorde onealde hīe in mīn hám
Æt Argos al feorþéode! ic þe ágend!
Onstepee hie ombeht mīn oft aet lám, ond
Fūs in forligerbedd! Ne fýsest mīn irre!
Greme mē no: gǣst-þu, gif þu wille tō géanhwierfan.’

Swā he sægde óht slæhtede þē ealdan
éaðmódede ond ēodon; on his eft-sið
bi swinsunglic sǣ al in sálnesse.
Ánfald þē ealda ábæd ac æðel Apollan
godbearn geboren to hwítloces Letoan:
‘Heorcne, heofondéma! hláford bogan seolfrenes
Chrysen ond Cillan bewacende cynehláford Tenedosan
If ealltæw ic hréfede hearge þīn, Sminthiane,
Ac gebær þu bernelác bulena ond gætenua,
Andsware mīn orlegsceaft æfne bén mīn:
Ásende arwan ac sé attorsceaða Danaanum’.

Swā ábæd he: Apollo andswarede him líhting.
Ágrýndede from Alympe wiþ ánhýdig stræde
háthiertede in heortan hangelle on sculdran
flánboga ond bogefódder. Ábrasledon þe flánas
eāc þe gealg godde ēodon cóm nihtbealu.
Settede bī scipum: scéat he ān arwe,
Þréalic ond þéowwracu wæs hire flyhtdyn þurh.
Forma hradendlic hundas he hearmde forman
manþwæree múlas ac æfter menn —
wið stingende sceaftum slæhtedon, befylledon.
Á áburnon ádas ásprungenra.

That’s Homer, or something like him. How about Hesiod’s Theogony? Well, here I turn it into early Middle English, modelled very roughly on the language of Laȝamon’s Brut with a splash of Piers Plowman. This is a bit of a cheat: scholars don’t know exactly when Homer composed, or Hesiod either, but they tend to assume they were more-or-less contemporaneous, ‘8th-7th Centuries BC’. That covers a lot of ground. For my purposes I’ve decided to believe that Homer is late 9th and Hesiod mid 7th-C, and to render the former into a 9th/10th-Century English and the latter in a sort of 12th-Century-ish idiom. In actuality the Greek of Homer and Hesiod is not so different from one another as the English of Beowulf and Brut; but I’m cutting myself some slack.

Heesiod, his Þeogonie

Fram þeo Muses of hiȝe hooly Helcon swoote mæidens þeir muȝik
Let ūsic begin, whan þei frolic on flotte feete atte þeo fontaine
Of Croenos his son, and clanse þeir comly careynes in Permeȝes
Or in Stedes-Springen or Olmaeuȝe, and mak þeir swoote steppes
In daunce devout wiþ deintie feet, dowelyng ypon hiȝe Helcon.
Þens þei ariȝe and go aboute at niȝt, synging in armonye
Þorow an þicke myst, wiþ þryving towches aprayȝe of troned God,
And of hiȝe Hera, Hargoȝes queene, and hir shooen of gold,
And Goddes dohter Aþene of þe glad eeyen, and glisnande Apolo,
And Artemis armèd wiþ arrowes, and aglich Posidonne who shakeþ al arthe,
And þankworþ Þemise, and Þryes-gladd Afrodyte cwic-glenten,
And Hebe hed goldfaȝen, and hevened Dione, Leyto and Hiapete,
And Cronos þe craftig counsailer, Heeliuȝe and Heos, and comlych Seleyn
Arthe anan, Occean almiȝtig, and asshenblacke Niȝt,
Al þe deaþless and hali wiȝts wa wondres ay ævere.

Ac on ane daie þei Heesiod ytauȝt ane aþel armonye
Þewhyl he sheaphierde was of sheep yspradde on hooly Helcon,
Þes sustren to me sæden, singers of Alympus, Æȝis Goddes seede:
“Sheaphierdes of þeo wyldren, wofyl men, meere wombes
Wotte we þeo wei to spende fals wyckednesse as trow
Bot wotte we yf we wille yt to spende trow witnesses among.”

Swulche declarèd þeo defte voysed dohters of drede God
And þei ypluckt and past me ane pole of lorrer puyre
Mervayl to me, that moȝt ane maȝt godlic to muȝik
And prayȝe in phalmes yf past and swulche wil comme
Ybad me blowe of þeo blysfol goddess, aeternal and blyþe
Þei syng to selven of selven atte start and ende.

But wens þis writelinge? Comst þu, in womann wyse
Wiþ Muses wo mak gladnes micel in miȝhtig Goddes brest
In prayȝe Alympus of past afore and swulche anan to com,
Wiþ voys þat vorseyde was virtue in al wiȝhtes.
Unweryng floeþ þeo facound fayryȝe þeir lippes fram
Gladd ys hire fader hooly hus, God þeo felle-þunorer
In licnes of ane lilly þeir lossom voys lyȝteþ from Alympus
Soundeþ ofer snaw and faleþ a swogh þro þeo deþless stedes;
And þei in prayȝe þeir ondying voys oloft an orisoun:
Of þeo hali godes, hu þei were hewen of Erth and hende Heven,
And þeir goddechilder, giferes of good þings to þeo grete.
Þan feir Muses forsang of þeo Faþer of goddes and men, ȝeos yclept.
Þeo mayster, meast mervaylous of goddes and al yn miȝt.
And þei wayl in þis wyse of mortal wiȝts and wodwos geant
And Goddes heorte is gladened in gaynlich Alympus
Atourned he wiþ þeo Æȝis, bi his dohters, Muses of Alympus.

Sappho? If (in my notional timeline, at any rate) Hesiod’s 7th-century Greek maps onto an early Middle-English idiom, then Sappho’s 6th-century lyrics ought to be renderable into a kind of Chaucerese without doing too much violence to the time-scales. Here I do this for the only one of her poems to have survived complete: the ‘Hymn to Aphrodite’. Three parts to this blogpost: the cod-Chaucer of the poem itself; a literal English prose translation of the Greek stanza by stanza and finally, as an added bonus, the Greek itself. (If you’re interested, here’s a modern English translation by Edwin Marion Cox).

Glytering-troned and dethlesse Afrodytte,
Gods dowhter, wunder-wicche, on me haf pitee,
Let passe me, queene, thes agonie and thole,
Grinde not my soule.

Wheneer byfor thou hast mi hearkenéd —
And ploumbed the distans heering that I said,
And heeding, thou hast com, and left behand
Godes golden land,

In chaar moste flete bi wingéd steedes drawn,
Upon the skye al dark afore the dawn,
Throgh hevenes hy and wide espace in glyde
Doun to erthside;

Than soonest com thou blessedest ladie,
With contenance devyne and asketh me
Asmile, what wo anonder me did falle,
That I thee calle?

What in my leesting hertes maddenesse
Who now most feele my ane besechenesse?
Who is it most thir own hertsease ago
For wreyed Sapfo?

For yif she fleeth, fresshly shal she folowe,
Today turn giftes, yet offreth them tomorwe,
She chues nat love, yet loving shal her chues
Thogh she eschewes.

Com then, I preye, gyf me an ende to grief,
Remoeven care o godess if thou leef,
What I moste coveite an it be provyde,
Thou at my syde!

I quite like that one, if I’m honest. And below is a translation of Pindar’s ‘First Olympian’ in a Wyatt-y, or Spenser-ish English. I’m heading towards doing Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides as Marlowe, Shakespeare and Jonson; but these Pindaric odes can’t really be rendered into the Elizabethan English that the actual Pindar’s chronological position would indicate (hence the rather mealy-mouthed ‘Late Tudor’ of the blogpost title, there). Actually he was a couple of years younger than Aeschylus. But my justification for a rather more antiquated idiom is that Pindar’s Greek harks back to epic language, overlaid upon a rather artificially formal Doric, in a way not true of the Attic tragedians. Not that this is a precise analogy, any more than translation is an exact art.

To be honest, it proved harder to write this one than the others. I’m not sure why. I’m afraid the result is more hit-and-miss than the earlier ones, as well. Too much of this lives up to C S Lewis’s famous dismissal of Tudor poetry as Literature’s ‘Drab Age’. Though there are few lines I like, and a couple I like a lot. That said, and if I’m honest, I’ve never been the world’s biggest fan of Pindar in the first place. Genius and all that; but, whew! Here’s the Project Perseus translation of the relevant Greek.

Strophe A

Natures croun is water, and golde most bryght
In gentil gleame that goeth throw the nyght
Is of wealthe best;
Yet, o mine breast,
If ye would sing of mannes contest wunne
No heigher wot ye than the shyning sunne
The Sport Alympic that in peake of skye doth wone.
Thence cometh hymn of gloried prayse
That loudly singeth Crounos sonne,
An wrapt what wysest poet saies:
Yon holie hearthe of Hieronne.

Antistrophe A

For Hieronne ist who rules in Sicilye
By sceptre holdynge lawe in right degree
At vertues prime
Renowned in rime.
That hospyte banquet heareth choysest quyre
Reach thou from doun its peg the Doric lyre
If Pizan splendour and Phrencus dooest thee inspyre!
And swetest thoghts besyde Alphurse
As runnynge stede that noght can tyre
He needeth not the pricking spurrs
To winne the race for Suracke squire.

Epode A

His glory shineth most in the citye
That Lydian Pelopps first had founded, hee
Whom erthe’s great holder Poseydon loved moost;
Whan Clothoo tooke him out the pure cauldrone
And shyning ivry capped his shouldebone.
Yet wondres throng the world, and what is troost
Maie haply wear the garb of glitterynge lies
That leede men not to goode, but otherwys.

Strophe B

And Grayce, who fashyons gentil things for menn
Confers esteeme and streyen to set eyen
All force of faithe
Agaynste meschief,
But daies to com are witnesses most wise.
Semely it is the god to well apprize
To ward of blame. Tantalouses sonne, I thee surmize
Quete other than how menn saie thus:
Thy father summonéd all deityes
To feasten with his Siseyfus
The Trydent god took thee as prize.

Antistrophe B

His minde quite overthrowen by lustes neede
He bore thee far awaie on golden steede
To high paleuse;
Of honourde Zeus,
To which at after time cam Ganemayde
To lye with Zeus as thou wast layde;
But thou evanishéd, thy mother left dismayed
Some envyous man then proved the lyer
And thou wert slitt by knif, he sayd:
And chopped and boiled upon the fire
And thy choys limbes to victuals mayd.

Epode B

Mann most not clepe the goddes canniball
I do not so! lest evil-spekers fall.
If ere a mortall wyte was honouréd
Then Tantalous was hee: but unfit leude
He felle from hight to ruin and to grede.
A heavie stone was balaunced ore his head
And hee it yearnynge ay to throst awaie
So strays he stil from joies festivitye.

Strophe C

Thus neverendynge was his life of toile
Fourthe labor efter third did hym embroile:
That, thief, he baar
Ambrossiar
And goddes nectar swete that they him fed
To purger death and mak him god instead:
If any think to fool goddes, be he better led!
Tantale they banishéd below
A beard dounynge his mortal hed;
And as his youth begann to grow
Bethoght him of the marryage bed.

Antistrophe C

Hee thought to win mensk Hippodaimes hande
From father hir, lord of the Pisan lande
He beacht the sea
And calléd hee
In darknesse unto Poseydon the grete
Who cam and sait the mortall at his feet.
Sayd he: ‘if ever gifts of Cyprus semed you swete
Swerf Oenomaiouses spear!
And mak my chaariot most flete,
Let me to Royalness apere
Forteenth, yet suitor the moste mete.

Epode C

Bot highest prize dar fitte no coward wight
We all dye: why sitt cherlishe in the night?
In this contest I pledge to stande ful bold.
May you holp my acheve!” And so he spake
And naver framéd words as oathe to breke.
The god him gafe an chaariot of gold
And winged steedes that never wearyéd
And thuswise fixéd honor to his sted.

Strophe D

And thus hee Oenomaious overcame
And marryéd the maiden to his name
And had sixe sonne
Het glorie wonne:
That now he wonne an holie funerall
And resteth by the holie Alphurse fal
Were to his tombe ful manie visitants doe cal
Here shyneth blessynge from aferr
That by his fame Alympicall
At Pelopps racing courses there
By foot and hand are tested al.

Antistrophe D

A winner who has wonnge the conteste palme
Enioyes for al his life a honyed calme
As such renowned
He most be cronwed.
With horse hymne sunge in the Aeolyane straine
This ist a thinge no rival can obtaine
Of knowledge wonne by beautie and by maine
Adornd with gloried foldes of song
Ambitions watched by godde aine
Heiron, thy prosper to prolonge
And I to hymne thee soone againe.

Epode D

Thy chaariot let spede to victory stille
And I sing helpynge song on Crounos Hill
For me the Muse suplies hir mightyest speare.
Som men excel in this and som in that
But limmit hight for man is kinges stat.
Do nat ye lok beyond the godds frontere!
May thou walke hih thy wholest life along
And I be blesst with souch to stande among.

So to Aeschylus, rendering him into Elizabethan English. This is the opening speech of the Agamemnon: possibly the single most translated-into-English chunk of any Attic tragedy (possibly the most translated piece of Ancient Greek tout court. Here are a dozen or so samples compared). I have no qualms about adding to that heap; I just wonder whether my Marlovian pastiche is rich enough.

[Here the Curtaines draw, there is discovered the House of Atreus in Argos, and one Watchman]

WATCHMAN:
Heaunely Gods! Set me from labours free!
A twelfmonth haue I languishéd, awatch,
Upon my elbows piuote, on the roof
Of Atreus High Palace, like some dog.
Too well I ken the radiant shapes of starres,
Nightes blazing Emperie, that leades the host
Of yce brighte winter and of summer too.
I know theyr rising and theyr setting times.
And soo I watch, and wait the signal pyre,
Whose burning here will tell us Troye is ashes!

My commander is my mistress, news-agogg:
Her wommans body seales up a man’s heart.
For her I lye here, restlesse all the night,
My dripping bed unuisited by dreames.
Fear my couch companion, pricking me,
For all my wish deuout to close my eyes.
I singe my dittie to beguile the time,
And keep me from the sink of Morpheus.
But aye and always teares distil mine eyes,
For how this hous is falln, onse so great.
If this night only could entice our toil.
O, let the fire of fortune light our darke!

[He seeth the bright beacon shyning in the offe]

Ho! Ho! Most welcome, beames of fire
That splitst the night as Eeos doth the day!
Let daunce all Argos in civilitie,
And marketh joy in this good victorye!

I’ll rowse with shouting Agamemnones wife,
And when she quit her bed, will wake the house
Greet signal fire with hallowed huylaboo.
If Troy hath fallen, as these flames vouchsafe
None shall be primer to the daunce than I.
I mingle luck with noble master mine,
The dies haue caste thrice sicxes in my game!

Depryue me not my kinge and his return,
His glad hand gryping mine. As for the rest,
I’ll speake not, cattle stands fast on my tonge.
House! Had you speech, what storyes you gan tell!
My words march out in triumph to the trow:
Yon others, memory’s a blank for ye.

[Exit]

Which brings me to: Sophocles in Shakespearian English. Writing pastiche Shakespeare is both too easy and much, much too hard. It’s too easy in the sense that anyone can do it, as ten thousand examples prove. But it’s much too hard, because — well, obviously: setting yourself the challenge of writing as well as Shakespeare is setting yourself up to fail.

Shakespeare may be the wrong analogue for Sophocles actually. He certainly has the grandeur of the Greek, and his plays have the force and fame of the Oedipus Tyrannus and Antigone. But Shakespeare is primarily, of course, distinguished by the extraordinary range and liveliness of his characters, and in that he’s closer to Euripides (who was criticised in his own day for writing ‘lifelike’, aka common, individuals into his art). By ‘closer to’ I mean ‘surpasses in every way’; but Euripides is still the best fit amongst the Attic crowd in that regard. I certainly don’t want to be misled by a mere co-incidence of birthdays: that Shakespeare (b. 1565) and Middleton (1580) happen to have approximately the same generational gap as Sophocles (b. 496 BC) and Euripides (b. 480). Of course, that counts for little — especially as Marlowe was only one year older than Shakespeare and died young, where Aeschylus was two decades or more older than Sophocles and lived to be almost a hundred.

At any rate, I’ve split the difference here, and translated the scene from the middle of the Antigone (where Creon orders Antigone off to be buried alive) into a blank verse too bland to be called properly Shakespearian, but Elizabethan enough to keep it relevant to this project.

[Enter CREON, GUARDS, ALCESTIS, shee weeping full]

CREON
Know ye that Songes and shreeking afore death
Would neuer sease if they auerted it?
Begonne with her — away! And when ye haue
Fidelous to my word, inclosed her fast
Within her chaumbered Graue, lett her alone:
It is her forlorn choyse to die inside
Or liue her buried life in such a home.
Prystine our hands in handelling this maide.
And only this is certaine, as for us:
Shee soon shall lose her pleasaunce in the Light.

ANTIGONE
Tombe and bridal-bower sunk in Rock!
Prison Infinite I enter as abode
And all the perishéd are brickd within
Where gracious Persephon receiues the dead!
So now Ile wander in the marrowd stone
At last, and armed in simple miserie,
Dischargd before my purs of life is spent.
But I clasp Good Hope to my breast, and pray
I may find Father welcome, Mother kinde,
And kisse againe my Brothers lippes sweet;
For at your deathe I washd and dressd you al
And poored down honie wine upon your graues
In apt Lybation. Polynisces mine
It is in sufferance such I now must goe.
And yet I honourd thee, as wise muste deem.
I woud not, had I been bereft of childe,
Would not had husband mowldered in strong death
Would not haue done thus in the lawes despyte
And sturrd the citie with my insolence.
What law, ye ask, is Warrant for my worde?
One Husband lost, another might be found,
Child browke of life, another might be borne.
But Father Mother mine in Hades hidd
From whens could other Brother bloome to life?
Such was the law I held in honore firste
But Creon claimed me guilty of graue faulte,
And saies my outrage choake the ayre with shame
O Brother mine! And now he leads me thus
A captiff in his hands; no bridall bed,
No bridal songe for me, no marriage ioy,
No portion in the nurture of children;
But thus, forlorn of friends, unhappy one,
I go aliue into the Vaults of death.
What law of heauen haue I trampled on?
What power the gods to help me in this caue?
What ally darst to stand aside me, when
By pyetie I earne unpyous name?
If such as this giues pleasure to the gods
When I haue faced my doom, I shall goe on
To know in what it is my sin indwels.
But if the sin is with my iudges — ay!
May they endure no fuller euil thann
They haue heere meted wrongfully to me.

CHORUS
The same wilde tempest vexes still the soul
Of this most storm compeled maiden.

CREON
For this her guards shall rew their snayl slowness!

ANTIGONE
Ah me! that word hath brought me near to death.

CREON
Ile cheere thee with no hope that this thy doom
Is torrent to avert as you your fate.

ANTIGONE
O citie of my fathers! Theban land!
O gods, the eldest of our race! — I am led hence
Now, now — they tarry not! Behold me here
Ye noblemen of Thebes, I am the last,
Last daughter of the house of your great kings,
See what I suffer here, and see from whom,
Because I feared to floute the fear of Heauen!
[Exeunt ANTIGONE and her guards.]

And finally, of the great three, Euripides. I was undecided between Jonson or Middleton as the better prototype for an Elizabethan translation of Euripides. Jonson’s classical tragedies are probably too stiff for my purposes here (Euripides, whatever other faults he may have, is rarely stiff); but we shouldn’t be distracted by that — it’s not as a classicist, but as a contemporary writer of drama that we should take him, and Volpone has some of the verve and healthy cynicism of the Euripidean muse. But then again Medea (from which I’ve excerpted the most famous, or notorious, scene, below) is a much more Jacobean piece of work: violent in a disturbing way, monstrous and fascinated by monstrosity. So Middleton it is; for this one, at any rate.

JASON
O haste, ye slaues, and loose the bolts,
Undoe the fastenings, that I may see
Vision of doubled woe, my murderd sons
And her, whose blood in vengeance I shal shed.

[Medea appeareth in middest aire, aboue, on a chariot drawn by draggons; the childrens bodyes by her.]

MEDEA
Why rattle at those doors and trie to loose
Their bolts, in quest of corpses and their murderess?
Let such toil goe. If thou wouldst aught with mee
Saie on, man: saie whatere thy tonge can shape.
But neuer shalt thou lay a hand on mee,
So swift the draggons of the sun, my father’s sire,
Wil carrye mee from grasping hand of foes.

JASON.
O cursed woman! Thourte abhorred worste
By gods, by al mankind, and moste by mee
As neuer woman was revyled before,
Who hadst the stomach so to stabbe thy babes,
And thou their mother, leauing mee undone
Mee childless; blacke sin perpetrate by thee.
And still thou gazest upon Sunne and Earth
Still wide yourn eyes and after deeds like these
Impious. Foullest curses spit at thee.
I now perceve what I then failed to see
The day I brought thee, pregnant with thy doom,
From thy barbarian home to dwell in Greace,
Traitress to thy sire and to thy lande
The borne hat nurtured thee. On mee the gods
Haue turnd the curse that dogged ones thy steps,
For thou didst slay thy brother at his hearth
Before thou euer cam’st aboard our ship
And weyted Argo down with pitchest sinne.
Such was prenticeship of thy life’s crime;
Then didst thou wed with mee, bore mee sons
But onlie so to glutt thy passion’s lust,
Thou now hast murderde of them al in blood.
Not one amongst the wiues of Greace eer had
Attempted such grimm deeds before this day.
Yet I chose thee before them al as wife,
Joyning close to mee my hardest foe as doom:
No woman, but a lioness slach-clawed
More fierce than Tyrren Scylla in her soule.
But with reproaches heaped a thousandfold
I cannot wound thee, for thy soul is brass.
Die die vyle witch thy babees slaughterer
Whilst I remain to mourn my luckless fate,
I neuer shal agayne take wife into my bedd
I neuer shal agayne haue children bred
And reared to say the last rytes at my tombe.
I haue lost them.

MEDEA.
To this thy speech I could make long retort,
But Father Zeus knows well al I haue done
For thee, and how thou hast repayd my loue.
Thou wert not priuileged to scorn my loue
And lead a life of ioy in mocking mee,
Nor was thy royal bride nor Creon, hee
Who gaue thee second wife, to chase mee out
In beggary from this lande and rew it not.
Wherefore, if thou wilt speake, call mee a lyonesse,
Saie I am Scylla from the Tyrren land;
For I at leaste haue wrung thy mannes heart.

One last sojourn in the Elizabethan idiom, for the most famous scene from Aristophanes’ Frogs. After all, everybody knows how hilarious Elizabethan and Jacobean comedies are, right?

DIONYSIS
Pull oar, he saieth! How? Put to what shifts, as poor sea-saylors be oft-times? Neither open ocean nor close battaile has euer embroiled me. Dost thou account me Salamis-seaman? Sirrah, dost think me oar puller?

CHARON
Tut sirrah, no more flaundering. See how facile is the strike, how easie al. Come now, and hearken to the songs yon oar shal stirre i’the pot with their guideing motion.

DIONYSIS
Whose songs bee these?

CHARON
The swansong of the froggs; nay whyte as egg the Frogg Swans. How close they do resemble Swans you soon shall see. Such charms!

DIONYSIS
Giue me but word.

CHARON
I, marry, sir, Ile marle you.

[Enter FROGGS from both flankes of the stage, to daunce about the boat, and sing]

FROGGS
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
We children o’the lea and the bubbld spring
In harmony
Do sing,
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Oh doe we lifte our voices throgh the crackes
And loudely our sweet song cutt-axe, cutt-axe
In honour of Ioue’s son Dionyse
And of the marshes hard by Mountains Nyse
The song we sang most choppily
When the swag-head drunkards rold
When murraind on the marche did lye
And broke ope eury winepot they did hold.
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe

DIONYSIS
Cut axe al daie, youle cleaue my arse in twain.

FROGGS:
So sing we brake eggs, brake eggs againe

DIONYSIS
Go void: Ile haue ye purged if ye go onn.

FROGGS
And yet is cutt-axe, cutt-axe stil our song.

DIONYSIS
Brake eggs, brake eggs, Ile brake ye with this oar.
To Hades with ye, troble me no more.

FROGGS
O can you take aprysal of us now?
Hearken!
The Muses, plaiers of the charming lyre,
Adore us: ours a song that cannot tyre.
Pan, with horned feet and gladsom reed
Harp-strucke Apollo, loue us for our brede
That we growe instruements within our pond
And coniure musick with our rustic wand.
Thus
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe

DIONYSIS
I, I, my fundamentes al of blysters the size of gooses-O, and soone Ile burst my dish, I prithee. Ye are rogues, sirrahs, who deserue nothing so much as — — —

FROGGS

Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe

DIONYSIS
What grating prating race is here! Be silent.

FROGGS.
Wele not backetrack, not we batraches.
Wele sing yet louder.
We loue to ruminate a sunny daie,
Through marsh and reed and where the mitdges plaie
Of our owne songs enamoured,
With eache descending siluer note we shed
And when Ioue sendeth raine upon our hed
We diue
Aliue
Into deep watter
And sing, and sing,
Notes cras and flatter
And al brakeing
Our froggishe chorussing.

DIONYSIS, FROGGS:
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe

DIONYSIS
Thou hast infected me with song.

FROGGS
Contagion is oure musicks idiom.

DIONYSIS
It will be worse for me if I keep at oare. My arse will brake asunder on this benche. O! O!

DIONYSIS, FROGGS:
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe

DIONYSIS
Prithee scream until your throtes are bags.
Go on as loudly as you wishe. I care not.

FROGGS
I so we shall! cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Wele go on, loud as throte will let us
The liuelong daie
DIONYSIS, FROGGS:
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe
Brake eggs, eggs, eggs, cutt-axe, cutt-axe

DIONYSIS
Come come, I doe surpasse you at this game.

FROGGS
By no meanes so.

[Exeunt FROGGS seuerally]

DIONYSIS
Mine the axe to chop up riuall song.
I am surpassing musickal. How lowd
Ile screame and hollow, bellow all the daie.
Until I brake your eggs! Am I alone?

After that, I started to run into redundancy issues. It is, of course, easy enough to find later Greek authors translated into the idiom of the 18th-, 19th and 20th centuries (by English writers working in those centuries), rendering the necessity of my pastiche less pressing. I had a go — you’ll find it at the end of this link — at an early eighteenth-century idiom Theocritus, and could easily enough write a Victorian prose version of Lucian of Samosata, and a twentieth-century chunk of New Testament. But that’s probably enough for now.

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