Shrews – Brief Poems by Palladas

sf18-145-5s1bPalladas was a 4th-century AD Greek poet and teacher of literature who lived in Alexandria, in Egypt. A melancholy man, he was one of  the last of the purely pagan poets in a world losing  its battle against Christianity. He lived through the anti-pagan riots led by Bishop Theophilos. All that is known about him has been deduced from his 151 epigrams preserved in the Greek Anthology. (Another twenty-three appear in that collection under his name, but his authorship is suspect.) His poems, imbued with a melancholic pessimism and a fierce satirical quality, describe the persona of a pagan schoolteacher who taught Homer and the like to children, an Alexandrian grammarian resigned to life in a Christian city. He had, it would seem, an unhappy marriage; he was dismissed from his job in his old age; he was poor and the success of Christianity made him bitter. Kenneth Rexroth captures his sharp, satirical tongue in a brief poem that is just slightly too long to tweet:

I have sworn ten thousand times
To make no more epigrams.
Every ass is my enemy now.
But when I look at your face,
The old sickness overcomes me.

Palladas’s poems were collected in The Palatine Anthology, a Byzantine assembly of some 4,000 poems spanning the 7th century BC to the 6th AD.  One is reputed to be the source of the old English proverb here’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip. Another, designated HER GLORIOUS HOUR by Willis Barnstone (below), was used by Prosper Mérimée as the epigraph to  his novella, Carmen. Today the poems owe their popularity to  Tony Harrison whose Palladas: Poems, first published in 1975,  introduced this pagan poet, with his Swiftian sensibility (saeva indignatio) to a contemporary audience. His selection, most of which are, unfortunately, too long to be tweeted, skilfully recreates the bitter wit which he describes as ‘the authentic snarl of a man trapped physically in poverty and persecution, and metaphysically in a deep sense of the futile’. As he writes in his preface, ‘Palladas…is generally regarded as the last poet of Paganism, and it is in this role that I have sought to present a consistent dramatic personality…His are the last hopeless blasts of the old Hellenistic world, giving way reluctantly, but without much resistance, before the cataclysm of Christianity.”

Of all the translations included below, my own favourite is that of Robin Skelton. Should you wish to nominate your own, please fill in the comment box beneath this post.

 

 

Shrews

 

Brief Poems by Palladas

σκηνὴ πᾶς ὁ βίος καὶ παίγνιον· ἢ μάθε παίζειν
  τὴν σπουδὴν μεταθεὶς, ἢ φέρε τὰς ὀδύνας.

 

All life is a stage and a game: either learn to play it, laying by seriousness, or bear its pains.

J. W. Mackail

***

All life is a stage and a play: either learn to play laying your gravity aside, or bear with life’s pains.

W. R. Paton

***

The world’s a stage, and life’s a toy:
dress up and play your part;
Put every serious thought away—
Or risk a broken heart.

E. R. Dodds

***

Life’s a performance. Either join in
lightheartedly, or thole the pain.

Tony Harrison

***

This life a theatre we well may call,
Where every actor must perform with art,
Or laugh it through, and make a farce of all,
Or learn to bear with grace his tragic part.

Robert Bland

***

Life’s a game – learn to play
but don’t get too serious…
“Ouch! – That hurts!”

Tom Mandel

 

Shrews

 

Πάντες τῷ θανάτῳ τηρούμεθα καὶ τρεφόμεσθα,
    ὡς ἀγέλη χοίρων σφαζομένων ἀλόγως.

 

We are all kept and fed for death, like a herd of swine to be slain without reason.

W. R. Paton

***

THE SLAUGHTER-HOUSE

We all are watched and fed for Death as a herd of swine butchered wantonly.

J. W. Mackail

***

THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE

We are all watched over and foddered for death
like a herd of pigs absurdly butchered.

Willis Barnstone

***

Death feeds us up, keeps an eye on our weight
and herds us like pigs though the abattoir gate.

Tony Harrison

***

Shepherded for death I move ahead
to slaughter with my well-fed herd.

Tom Mandel

 

Shrews

 

Γραμματικοῦ θυγάτηρ ἔτεκεν φιλότητι μιγεῖσα
παιδίον ἀρσενικόν, θηλυκόν, οὐδέτερον.

 

A grammarian’s daughter, having known a man, gave birth to a child which was masculine, feminine, and neuter.

W. R. Paton

***

The grammarian’s daughter,
having declined with a man,
gave birth to children — masculine,
feminine, and neuter.

Peter Jay

***

HERITAGE

A grammarian’s daughter made love with a man,
and the poor creature gave birth to a child
who was, in orderly sequence:
masculine, feminine, & neuter.

Willis Barnstone

***

A grammarian’s daughter had a man
then bore a child m. f. & n.

Tony Harrison

***

The grammarian’s daughter

Got mixed up with love,
Had a kid masculine,
Feminine, neuter.

Timothy Mallon

***
The grammarian’s daughter
having yielded to a suitor
begot a child born masculine
and feminine and neuter.

George Szirtes

***

AN EPIGRAM OF PALLADAS
REVEALED IN HEADLINES
Grammarian’s daughter
Yields to tutor!
Begats child masculine
Feminine and neuter!

George Szirtes

 

Shrews

Γῆς ἐπέβην γυμνός, γυμνός θ’ ὑπὸ γαῖαν ἄπειμι·
  καὶ τί μάτην μοχθῶ, γυμνὸν ὁρῶν τὸ τέλος;

 

Naked I alighted on the earth and naked shall I go beneath it. Why do I toil in vain, seeing the end is nakedness?

W. R. Paton

***

Naked to earth was I brought–
Naked to earth I descend.
Why should I labor for naught,
Seeing how naked the end?

William M. Hardinge

***

Naked I entered at my birth;
Naked I hie me back to earth:
Why then should I so anxious be?
Since naked still the end I see.

J. W. Burgon

***

Born naked. Buried naked. So why fuss?
All life leads to that first nakedness.

Tony Harrison

***

Born unclothed
I’ll leave here naked too
Tell me why I work like a dog
to reach that bare-assed day?

Tom Mandel

 

Shrews

 

Πᾶσα γυνὴ χόλος ἐστίν· ἔχει δ᾽ δύω ὥρας,
       τὴν μίαν ἐν θαλάμῳ, τὴν μίαν ἐν θανάτῳ.

 

Every woman is a source of annoyance,
But she has two good seasons,
The one in her bridal chamber
And the other when she is dead.

W. R. Paton

***

A woman is a maddening creature
and gives pleasure twice at most,
once when she gives up her virture,
once when she gives up the ghost.

Robin Skelton

***

HER GLORIOUS HOUR

A woman will gnaw at your bile
yet she has two good seasons:
one, in her bridal bed;
two, when she is dead.

Willis Barnstone

***

women all
cause   rue

but can be nice
on   occasional

moments two
to   be   precise

in     bed

& dead

Tony Harrison

***

A wife will always anger you, but brings
two gifts: her first love and last gasp.

Adrian White

***

Women?
Unripe irritants.
When they Spring into the bedroom,
Or Fall into the grave,
Then they are in season…

Mark Ynys-Mon

 

Shrews

 

LINKS

Tony Harrison’s selection of the epigrams, Palladas: Poems.

 

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One thought on “Shrews – Brief Poems by Palladas

  1. Pingback: Zeg-Zeg – Brief Poems by Tony Harrison | Brief Poems

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