Thursday, 6 January 2011
On Melanie's shelf I found yesterday a copy of Guy Davenport's translations of Archilochos, with a foreword by Hugh Kenner. This is a beautiful little book, with Davenport's imagist, Poundian translations set against his wonderful black-figure designs of crested hoplites, prancing satyrs and gossiping women.
The preface begins with a perfect, perfect little bit of writing:
Archilochos is the second poet of the West. Before him the archpoet Homer had written the two poems of Europe; never again would one imagination find the power to move two epics to completion and perfection. The clear minds of these archaic, island-dwelling Greeks held a culture that we can know by a few details only, fragment by fragment, a temple, a statue of Apollo with a poem engraved down the thighs, generous vases with designs severely abstract and geometric. They decorated their houses and ships like Florentines and Japanese; they wrote poems like Englishmen of the court of Henry and Elizabeth and James. They dressed like Samurai; all was bronze, terra cotta, painted marble, dyed wool, and banquets. Of the Arcadian Greece of Winckelmann and Walter Pater they were as ignorant as we of the ebony cities of Yoruba and Benin. The scholar poets of the Renaissance, Ambrogio Poliziano and Christopher Marlowe, whose vision of antiquity we have inherited, would have rejected as indecorous this seventh-century world half oriental, half Viking.