Monday, 25 April 2011
κάλλιστον μὲν ἐγὼ λείπω φάος ἠελίοιο,
δεύτερον ἄστρα φαεινὰ σεληναίης τε πρόσωπον
ἠδὲ καὶ ὡραίους σικύους καὶ μῆλα καὶ ὄγχνας
The most beautiful thing I leave behind? Sunlight.
Then the bright stars, the moon's face;
cucumbers in their season, the fruit of appletrees, the pears.
This fragment by the 5th century BC Greek lyric poet Praxilla survives only because the sophist Zenobius quoted it in order to explain the expression 'dafter than Praxilla's Adonis'. In the fragment, the god Adonis is languishing in the underworld, and is asked what he misses most about the world of the living. Sun, moon, and stars, comes the reply---that, and a decent greengrocer.
I have come to the conclusion that this fragment has something sublime about it: an innocence, an immersive joy in quiddity and the quotidian. He doesn't say 'bright gold' or 'an army in array', something patriarchal and aristocratic, but rather fuses cosmic delight with the homely, earthy, and peasantlike. The poignancy of the still life. There's something Adamic here, a great uncorrupted and wondering love.