ON THE HOMER TRANSLATIONS OF HOBBES AND POPE

 

According to Prof. Miklós Péti of Károli Gáspár University in Budapest, writing in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review for 2009.06.10, Thomas Hobbes' Homer translations "have not been able to stand the test of time". He says that "the first look into Hobbes' Homer has for the majority of readers quickly proved to be the last".  Its verse is so "drab" that Alexander Pope rightly disdained it as "too mean for criticism".  It will scarcely "be allotted the same significance and attention as the great historical versions (Chapman's or Pope's translations) have duly received."

 

I find these statements astonishing.  These things are partly a matter of taste, so I would be glad not to get into a polemic.  But I feel I should confess that I myself prefer Hobbes, for his superior accuracy, for his tauter and nakeder English, and for his sturdier, more muscular, more musical verse.  (By "muscular" I mean that when reading Hobbes, I imagine the poet on his feet , moving; whereas Pope is always sitting immobile at a desk.)

 

The accuracy is due to the fact that Hobbes, though often very careless, or free, at least knew Greek incomparably better than almost anyone else; and he savored it more. You can often notice him subtly miming even the word order.  The other two traits are partly, as I said, a matter of taste.  What to some may seem bald to me seems laconic and vivid.  He is specially good in speeches and soliloquies; for he had the rare talent (which Homer himself had wonderfully, but Chapman or Pope not at all) of attaching all his periods to what Robert Frost used to call "live sentence sounds".  That is, he imagines tones and rhythms that men and women, in moments of passion or deep thought, do actually use; whereas Pope or Chapman efface them with  the sing-song, the odious tick-tock, of rhymed couplets.  I give one brief example, that of Odysseus praying to the unknown god of the river, at Odyssey 5, 443 ff.:

 

      CHAPMAN:

The flood he knew, and thus in heart implores:
      "King of this river, hear! Whatever name
Makes thee invok'd, to thee I humbly frame
My flight from Neptune's furies. Reverend is
To all the ever-living Deities
What erring man soever seeks their aid.
To thy both flood and knees a man dismay'd
With varied suff'rance sues. Yield then some rest
To him that is thy suppliant profess'd."
      This, though but spoke in thought, the Godhead heard (etc.)

 

      HOBBES:

And here Ulysses thought fit to go in.

And in his mind unto the River spake:

     "Hear me, O king, from Neptune’s rage I fly,

And of a man distress’d some pity take,

That at your knee and stream here prostrate lie;

Th’ immortal Gods their suppliants respect,

When they before them humbly lay their want;

Whate’er your name be, do not me neglect

That am afflicted, and your suppliant.""

     This said, the stream stood still and sav’d the man.

 

      POPE:

To this calm port the glad Ulysses press'd,

And hail'd the river, and its god address'd:

     "Whoe'er thou art, before whose stream unknown

I bend, a suppliant at thy watery throne,

Hear, azure king! nor let me fly in vain

To thee from Neptune and the raging main

Heaven hears and pities hapless men like me,

For sacred even to gods is misery:

Let then thy waters give the weary rest,

And save a suppliant, and a man distress'd."

     He pray'd, and straight the gentle stream subsides,

Detains the rushing current of his tides.


Each version has a touch of charm, e.g. Chapman's "What erring man soever seeks their aid", and Pope's "azure King".  But after all, at a terrible moment like this, no man, woman or child says "Whatever frame / makes thee invok'd, to thee I humbly frame / My flight from Neptune's furies" etc.  Still less did anyone ever pray, "Whoe'er thou art, before whose stream unknown / I bend a suppliant at thy watery throne" etc.  Instead we'd say like Hobbes, "Hear me, O king, from Neptune's rage I fly" etc.  And for the prayer's result, Hobbes' laconic, "This said, the stream stood still and sav'd the man" catches the magical rapidity and quietness it has in Homer. 

 

His rhyme-scheme of ABBA CDDC etc. is a far apter thing for Homer than couplets.  It is not immobile, self-conscious, self-conceited (traits utterly alien to Homer) but keeps forming unobtrusive mobile stanzas, that expand or contract, so to speak, to any needed length.  As Coleridge said, "the ears of these couplet-writers might be charged with having short memories, that could not retain the harmony of whole passages", and Hobbes' subtler "stanzas" can.  Also they enable him at will to make chains of rough rhymes, which a couplet-writer would not dare and which some may dislike, but which I love (e.g. below, 433 ff. "wit... puts... spit... cuts...")

 

He has of course poetic vices.  Now and then he omits a detail he should have kept, or impoverishes an image (e.g. the 'brand of fire' in 488, below), or writes a verse that is indeed bald and mean etc.  But such lapses are rare; and I, at least, far prefer any of them to that worst vice of self-conscious, overwrought verse, into which he alone hardly ever falls. His chief fault is a far too frequent inversion of natural word order (as e.g. above "do not me neglect"). One senses that he does that almost always from pure carelessness and a need for rhyme; so although without excusing it, one forgives it.

 

But I only wanted to say, briefly, what I think are my reasons for liking Hobbes best, not to persuade anyone else to like him. So that you may decide for yourself, I here juxtapose Hobbes' and Pope's versions of Odyssey 5.262-293.  (I would gladly have included Chapman, whom I prefer to Pope, but for three the table is not wide enough, and Pope is more famous!) I chose this passage just because it happens to be one that we translated once ourselves, in a U.D. Homer class.  That version is online at http://udallasclassics.org/studenttranslations.html, and if you don't know Greek, you can use it to see Homer's own lineation (for we made it one of our rules to retain that).

 

The line numbers are those of the Greek.  But since Homer's Odyssey Book V has 493 verses, Hobbes's version of it 468 verses, and Pope's 636 verses, I could not put the translations 'parallel' (so that you can compare them closely) without stopping every 10 lines or so, so as to let the idler, Pope, finish his digressions!  Thus the Hobbes column is full of large blank spaces.  This is a bit unfair to him, because it breaks up his tightly woven verse (often in mid-stanza), but the gain seemed greater than the cost.

 

Thomas Hobbes (1675)

 

Alexander Pope (1725-6)

 

Four days in making of the raft he spent;

When he had done, and all his work had wrought,

Upon the fifth the nymph away him sent.

But first she bath’d him, and with clothes array’d,

Fine and perfum’d. Then wine of pleasant taste

One goat-skin full upon the raft she laid,

And one of water, greater, by it plac’d;

And sweetmeats, and good flesh of ev’ry kind.

And after he his sails had hoist and spread,

She fill’d them with a warm and cheerful wind.

 

Then he astern sat down and governed,

And on Bootes look’d, and Pleiades,

And on the Bear, which people call the Wain,

Which dogs Orion rising from the seas,

But she herself ne’er dives into the main.

This Bear she bade him leave on the left hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then sev’nteen days he sail’d, on th’ 18th day

He came in sight of the Phśacian land,

In that part where it nearest to him lay,

Which look’d as ’twere upon the sea a skin.

But now by Neptune, who returning was,

Ulysses’ raft from Solymi was seen,

For o’er those mountains Neptune was to pass;

Who, wounded at the sight, with anger keen,

 

 

 

 

 

Thus said unto himself: "What, what, I find,

While I in Ethiopia have been,

The Gods about this man have chang’d their mind.

The isle Phśacia is near at hand,

In which he destin’d is himself to save.

But yet, I think, before he be on land,

He struggle shall with many a lusty wave."

 

 

Then with his trident he the sea enraged,

And made a night of clouds the sea upon,

And ’gainst Ulysses all the Winds engaged,

And from their quarters they came out each one,

Eurus, and Notus, Zephyr, Boreas,

Each one a mighty wave against him rolled.

And then Ulysses’ heart near broken was,

And with himself, himself he thus condoled.

 

Ah me, what will become of me at last!

I fear the nymph Calypso all this knew,

Who told me then that as I homeward pass’d

I should meet danger. Now I find it true.

With what thick clouds Jove cover’d has the sky!

In what a tumult is the sea! And how

On ev’ry side the winds the water ply

And storm! My death, I see, is certain now.

Thrice, four times, Argives, happy were you, who

For Agamemnon’s sake were slain. Would I

At Troy in battle my life lost had too,

I’ th’ show’r of spears about Achilles’ body;

Then had I had a noble funeral,

And great among the Greeks had been my fame.

But now a wretched death will me befal,

For ever will unheard of be my name.

 

 

 

 

 

This said, he dash’d was ’gainst a point of land,

Which with great force whirled the raft about.

And then the rudder flew out of his hand;

And he into the water was cast out.

Of divers winds then followed one great blast,

And sail and tackle o’er-board far off bears,

And in the middle breaks in two the mast,

While he was in the sea o’er head and ears;

At last he rais’d his head above the pickle,

(His heavy clothes awhile had hindered him),

Then from his hair into his mouth did trickle

The brine, which he spits out, and falls to swim.

And when he had his raft recovered,

And plac’d himself i’ th’ midst, then both together

The wind uncertainly them carried

From place to place, now hither and now thither;

Just as the wind in harvest blows pease-straw

Upon the plain field whilst it holds together;

So on the sea without a certain law

Ulysses’ raft was driven by the weather.

 

 

 

In this distress by Ino he was seen,

A sea-nymph and immortal she was then,

Though woman, Cadmus’ daughter, she had been.

And now in figure of a water-hen

She sat upon the raft and to him spake.

 

What meaneth Neptune that he hates you so?

Do what he can your life he shall not take;

Do what I bid you. Off your garments throw,

And quit the raft; and to Phśacia

Swim with your hands, & there you shall find rest.

For so it is ordain’d by fatal law.

Here, take this scarf; apply it to your breast,

And fear not death. But when you come to land

Throw’t in the sea as far off as you can,

Then turn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       This said, she put it in his hand,

And diving there alone she left the man.

Ulysses grieving to himself then says,

 

 

 

 

"What is it now I am advis’d unto!

Ah me! Some other God now me betrays

To quit my raft. I know what I will do.

For since my refuge is so near at hand,

Such counsel I will not too soon obey;

But do what does with greatest reason stand.

Upon my raft I mean so long to stay

As it shall hold together and be one.

But when the wind has broken it in pieces

I’ll swim; since better counsel I have none."

 

 

 

While with himself consulting was Ulysses,

Neptune with wind the water sets upright

Into a high and formidable wave,

And threw it on the raft with all his might,

Which all the parts thereof asunder drave.

Just as the wind scatters a cock of hay,

So scatter’d was Ulysses’ raft of trees;

Whilst he on one of them astride did stay,

And of his garments there himself he frees.

Then Ino’s scarf applies he to his breast,

And on the troubled sea himself he laid

With open arms. To swim he now thought best.

Which Neptune seeing, thus unto him said:

 

 

 

 

"Go wander now upon the sea in woe,

And do not make account that this is all."

 

 

 

 

 

This said, away to Ćgć did he go,

Where many men that need him on him call.

When he was gone Pallas the winds did lay,

All but a lusty gale of Boreas,

And broke the waves before him all the way,

That to Phśacia he might safely pass.

 

 

 

 

 

Two nights and days perpetual he swam,

And was of drowning all the while afraid.

But when the morning of the third day came,

The air was calm, and all the winds allay’d.

And now unto the isle he was so nigh,

That from a high wave he could see the shore,

 

 

 

 

 

And glad he was. As when about to die,

Lien has a man long time by sickness sore,

Is by the Gods recover’d suddenly,

Glad are his children; so Ulysses was

To see the so-much wish’d-for land so nigh,

And thither made what haste he could to pass.

 

 

 

When he was gotten so near to the shore

That one might hear another when he calls,

Torn by the rocks he heard the water roar.

(Loud is the sea when on hard rocks it falls.)

There neither haven was nor place to land,

But upright banks and cliffs and brows of stone.

And everywhere too deep it was to stand.

And now again quite was his courage gone,

And speaking to himself he said: "Ah me,

 

 

This is the island. Jove has brought me to’t,

That what must help me only I might see,

But not upon it ever set my foot.

There is no landing here. Rocks high and steep,

And unaccessible are all about.

The sea below so rugged is and deep,

That from it there will be no getting out.

If I should try, some mighty wave, I fear,

Against some rugged rock will carry me,

And make me find but woful landing there,

Amongst so many sharp stones as there be.

But if I swim along the coast to find

Some port or beach, though stormy, to land on,

I fear I shall again by some great wind

Far off from shore into the sea be blown;

And there by some great fish devoured be

(For many such are fed by Amphitrite)

Which Neptune may command to swallow me;

For well I am acquainted with his spite."               

 

  While he thus doubted, came a mighty wave

That cast him to the bank amongst sharp stones.

But for the counsel Pallas to him gave,

He torn his skin and broken had his bones.

A rocher with his arms he then embrac’d,            

And held it till the wave roll’d back again;

And thought the danger of it now was past,

But then the same wave bore him to the main.

As looks a polypus when he is dragg’d

From out his hole, stuck full of stone & sands;

So, when Ulysses left his hold, were shagg’d

With broken skin all over both his hands.

And now, had not Athena giv’n him wit,

He perish’d had. For up his head he puts

Above the briny sea, and having spit,     

He with his stretched arms the water cuts,

And swam along the shore; but kept his eye

Continually upon the land, to see

If any landing place he could espy.

 

 

At last before a river’s mouth came he;   

And knew it was a river’s mouth. For there

Within the land smooth water might be seen,

And ’twixt the rocks a pause there did appear;

And here Ulysses thought fit to go in.

And in his mind unto the River spake:

 

Hear me, O king, from Neptune’s rage I fly,

And of a man distress’d some pity take,

That at your knee and stream here prostrate lie;

Th’ immortal Gods their suppliants respect,

When they before them humbly lay their want;

Whate’er your name be, do not me neglect

That am afflicted, and your suppliant.

 

 

This said, the stream stood still and sav’d the man.

But weary were his knees and arms, and brine

Abundance from his mouth and nostrils ran,

And all his body swell’d was. And in fine,

Speechless and breathless was he, like one dead.

But when he came unto himself again,

The scarf he to the stream delivered,

Which carried it again into the main.

And Ino took it then into her hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then on a bulrush-bed himself he laid,

And, glad he had escaped, kiss’d the land.

But fearing still, unto himself he said,

 

 

 

"Ah me, what will become of me at length!

For in the river if I spend the night,

So much already wasted is my strength,

With frost and dew I shall be killed quite.

If up the hill I go into the wood,

And in some thicket there lie warm and sleep,

I fear I shall for beasts and fowls be food."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At last concludes into some wood to creep.

A wood there was unto the river nigh;

Two thickets in it were; of olive one,

The other was of Phylia close by,

So twin’d they were together that nor sun

Nor wind nor rain to th’ ground could find a way.

Between them of dry leaves a bed made he,

And over head and ears there close he lay;

For leaves there were enough for two or three,

To keep them warm although cold weather ’twere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As when a man takes up a brand of fire

In country-house, few neighbours dwelling near,

To warm himself withal if need require;

So buried in dry leaves Ulysses lay.

And then Athena closed up his eyes

With sound and gentle sleep to take away

Sad thoughts suggested by his miseries.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

265

 

 

 

 

 

269

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

278

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

286

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

291

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

288

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

313

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

333

 

 

 

 

 

339

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

351

 

 

 

 

 

 

356

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

365

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

377

 

 

 

 

 

 

380

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

388

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

394

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

400

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

408

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

424

 

 

 

 

 

430

 

 

 

 

 

436

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

441

 

 

 

 

 

 

445

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

451

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

463

 

 

 

 

 

465

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

474

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

488

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four days were pass'd, and now the work complete,
Shone the fifth morn, when from her sacred seat
The nymph dismiss'd him (odorous garments given),
And bathed in fragrant oils that breathed of heaven:
Then fill'd two goatskins with her hands divine,
With water one, and one with sable wine:
Of every kind, provisions heaved aboard;
And the full decks with copious viands stored.
The goddess, last, a gentle breeze supplies,
To curl old Ocean, and to warm the skies.

And now, rejoicing in the prosperous gales,
With beating heart Ulysses spreads his sails;
Placed at the helm he sate, and mark'd the skies,
Nor closed in sleep his ever-watchful eyes.
There view'd the Pleiads, and the Northern Team,
And great Orion's more refulgent beam.
To which, around the axle of the sky,
The Bear, revolving, points his golden eye:
Who shines exalted on the ethereal plain,
Nor bathes his blazing forehead in the main.
Far on the left those radiant fires to keep
The nymph directed, as he sail'd the deep.

Full seventeen nights he cut the foaming way:
The distant land appear'd the following day:
Then swell'd to sight Phaeacia's dusky coast,
And woody mountains, half in vapours lost;
That lay before him indistinct and vast,
Like a broad shield amid the watery waste.
But him, thus voyaging the deeps below,
From far, on Solyme's aerial brow,
The king of ocean saw, and seeing burn'd
(From AEthiopia's happy climes return'd);
The raging monarch shook his azure head,
And thus in secret to his soul he said:

"Heavens! how uncertain are the powers on high!
Is then reversed the sentence of the sky,
In one man's favour; while a distant guest
I shared secure the Aethiopian feast?
Behold how near Phoenecia's land he draws;
The land affix'd by Fate's eternal laws
To end his toils. Is then our anger vain?
No; if this sceptre yet commands the main."

He spoke, and high the forky trident hurl'd,
Rolls clouds on clouds, and stirs the watery world,
At once the face of earth and sea deforms,
Swells all the winds, and rouses all the storms.
Down rushed the night: east, west, together roar;
And south and north roll mountains to the shore.
Then shook the hero, to despair resign'd,
And question'd thus his yet unconquer'd mind;

"Wretch that I am! what farther fates attend
This life of toils, and what my destined end?
Too well, alas! the island goddess knew
On the black sea what perils should ensue.
New horrors now this destined head inclose;
Untill'd is yet the measure of my woes;
With what a cloud the brows of heaven are crown'd;
What raging winds! what roaring waters round!
'Tis Jove himself the swelling tempest rears;
Death, present death, on every side appears.
Happy! thrice happy! who, in battle slain,
Press'd in Atrides' cause the Trojan plain!
Oh! had I died before that well-fought wall!
Had some distinguish'd day renown'd my fall
(Such as was that when showers of javelins fled
From conquering Troy around Achilles dead),
All Greece had paid me solemn funerals then,
And spread my glory with the sons of men.
A shameful fate now hides my hapless head,
Unwept, unnoted, and for ever dead!"

A mighty wave rush'd o'er him as he spoke,
The raft is cover'd, and the mast is broke;
Swept from the deck and from the rudder torn,
Far on the swelling surge the chief was borne;
While by the howling tempest rent in twain
Flew sail and sail-yards rattling o'er the main.
Long-press'd, he heaved beneath the weighty wave,
Clogg'd by the cumbrous vest Calypso gave;
At length, emerging, from his nostrils wide
And gushing mouth effused the briny tide;
E'en then not mindless of his last retreat,
He seized the raft, and leap'd into his seat,
Strong with the fear of death. In rolling flood,
Now here, now there, impell'd the floating wood
As when a heap of gather'd thorns is cast,
Now to, now fro, before the autumnal blast;
Together clung, it rolls around the field;
So roll'd the float, and so its texture held:
And now the south, and now the north, bear sway,
And now the east the foamy floods obey,
And now the west wind whirls it o'er the sea.
The wandering chief with toils on toils oppress'd,

Leucothea saw, and pity touch'd her breast.
(Herself a mortal once, of Cadmus' strain,
But now an azure sister of the main)
Swift as a sea-mew springing from the flood,
All radiant on the raft the goddess stood;
Then thus address'd him:

                                 'Thou whom heav'n decrees
To Neptune's wrath, stern tyrant of the seas!
(Unequal contest!) not his rage and power,
Great as he is, such virtue shall devour.
What I suggest, thy wisdom will perform:
Forsake thy float, and leave it to the storm;
Strip off thy garments; Neptune's fury brave
With naked strength, and plunge into the wave.
To reach Phaeacia all thy nerves extend,
There Fate decrees thy miseries shall end.
This heavenly scarf beneath thy bosom bind,
And live; give all thy terrors to the wind.
Soon as thy arms the happy shore shall gain,
Return the gift, and cast it in the main:
Observe my orders, and with heed obey,
Cast it far off, and turn thy eyes away."

With that, her hand the sacred veil bestows,
Then down the deeps she dived from whence she rose;
A moment snatch'd the shining form away,
And all was covered with the curling sea.
Struck with amaze, yet still to doubt inclined,
He stands suspended, and explores his mind:

"What shall I do? unhappy me! who knows
But other gods intend me other woes?
Whoe'er thou art, I shall not blindly join
Thy pleaded reason, but consult with mine:
For scarce in ken appears that distant isle
Thy voice foretells me shall conclude my toil.
Thus then I judge: while yet the planks sustain
The wild waves' fury, here I fix'd remain:
But, when their texture to the tempest yields,
I launch adventurous on the liquid fields,
Join to the help of gods the strength of man,
And take this method, since the best I can."

While thus his thoughts an anxious council hold,
The raging god a watery mountain roll'd;
Like a black sheet the whelming billows spread,
Burst o'er the float, and thunder'd on his head.
Planks, beams, disparted fly; the scatter'd wood
Rolls diverse, and in fragments strews the flood.
So the rude Boreas, o'er the field new-shorn,
Tosses and drives the scatter'd heaps of corn.
And now a single beam the chief bestrides:
There poised a while above the bounding tides,
His limbs discumbers of the clinging vest,
And binds the sacred cincture round his breast:
Then prone an ocean in a moment flung,
Stretch'd wide his eager arms, and shot the seas along.
All naked now, on heaving billows laid,
Stern Neptune eyed him, and contemptuous said:

"Go, learn'd in woes, and other foes essay!
Go, wander helpless on the watery way;
Thus, thus find out the destined shore, and then
(If Jove ordains it) mix with happier men.
Whate'er thy fate, the ills our wrath could raise
Shall last remember'd in thy best of days."

This said, his sea-green steeds divide the foam,
And reach high Aegae and the towery dome.
Now scarce withdrawn the fierce earth-shaking power,
Jove's daughter Pallas watch'd the favouring hour.
Back to their caves she bade the winds to fly;
And hush'd the blustering brethren of the sky.
The drier blasts alone of Boreas away,
And bear him soft on broken waves away;
With gentle force impelling to that shore,
Where fate has destined he shall toil no more.

And now, two nights, and now two days were pass'd,
Since wide he wander'd on the watery waste;
Heaved on the surge with intermitting breath,
And hourly panting in the arms of death.
The third fair morn now blazed upon the main;
Then glassy smooth lay all the liquid plain;
The winds were hush'd, the billows scarcely curl'd,
And a dead silence still'd the watery world;
When lifted on a ridgy wave he spies
The land at distance, and with sharpen'd eyes.

As pious children joy with vast delight
When a loved sire revives before their sight
(Who, lingering along, has call'd on death in vain,
Fix'd by some demon to his bed of pain,
Till heaven by miracle his life restore);
So joys Ulysses at the appearing shore;
And sees (and labours onward as he sees)
The rising forests, and the tufted trees.

And now, as near approaching as the sound
Of human voice the listening ear may wound,
Amidst the rocks he heard a hollow roar
Of murmuring surges breaking on the shore;
Nor peaceful port was there, nor winding bay,
To shield the vessel from the rolling sea,
But cliffs and shaggy shores, a dreadful sight!
All rough with rocks, with foamy billows white.
Fear seized his slacken'd limbs and beating heart,
As thus he communed with his soul apart;

"Ah me! when, o'er a length of waters toss'd,
These eyes at last behold the unhoped-for coast,
No port receives me from the angry main,
But the loud deeps demand me back again.
Above, sharp rocks forbid access; around
Roar the wild waves; beneath, is sea profound!
No footing sure affords the faithless sand,
To stem too rapid, and too deep to stand.
If here I enter, my efforts are vain,
Dash'd on the cliffs, or heaved into the main;
Or round the island if my course I bend,
Where the ports open, or the shores descend,
Back to the seas the rolling surge may sweep,
And bury all my hopes beneath the deep.
Or some enormous whale the god may send
(For many such an Amphitrite attend);
Too well the turns of mortal chance I know,
And hate relentless of my heavenly foe."

 

While thus he thought, a monstrous wave upbore
The chief, and dash'd him on the craggy shore;
Torn was his skin, nor had the ribs been whole,
But Instant Pallas enter'd in his soul.
Close to the cliff with both his hands he clung,
And stuck adherent, and suspended hung;
Till the huge surge roll'd off; then backward sweep
The refluent tides, and plunge him in the deep.
As when the polypus, from forth his cave*
Torn with full force, reluctant beats the wave,
His ragged claws are stuck with stones and sands;
So the rough rock had shagg'd Ulysses hands,
And now had perish'd, whelm'd beneath the main,
The unhappy man; e'en fate had been in vain;
But all-subduing Pallas lent her power,
And prudence saved him in the needful hour.
Beyond the beating surge his course he bore,
(A wider circle, but in sight of shore),
With longing eyes, observing, to survey
Some smooth ascent, or safe sequester'd bay.

Between the parting rocks at length he spied
A failing stream with gentler waters glide;
Where to the seas the shelving shore declined,
And form'd a bay impervious to the wind.
To this calm port the glad Ulysses press'd,
And hail'd the river, and its god address'd:

"Whoe'er thou art, before whose stream unknown
I bend, a suppliant at thy watery throne,
Hear, azure king! nor let me fly in vain
To thee from Neptune and the raging main
Heaven hears and pities hapless men like me,
For sacred even to gods is misery:
Let then thy waters give the weary rest,
And save a suppliant, and a man distress'd."

He pray'd, and straight the gentle stream subsides,
Detains the rushing current of his tides, -
Before the wanderer smooths the watery way,
And soft receives him from the rolling sea.
That moment, fainting as he touch'd the shore,
He dropp'd his sinewy arms: his knees no more
Perform'd their office, or his weight upheld:
His swoln heart heaved; his bloated body swell'd:
From mouth and nose the briny torrent ran;
And lost in lassitude lay all the man,
Deprived of voice, of motion, and of breath;
The soul scarce waking in the arms of death.
Soon as warm life its wonted office found,
The mindful chief Leucothea's scarf unbound;
Observant of her word, he turn'd aside
HIs head, and cast it on the rolling tide.
Behind him far, upon the purple waves,
The waters waft it, and the nymph receives.

Now parting from the stream, Ulysses found
A mossy bank with pliant rushes crown'd;
The bank he press'd, and gently kiss'd the ground;
Where on the flowery herb as soft he lay,
Thus to his soul the sage began to say:

"What will ye next ordain, ye powers on high!
And yet, ah yet, what fates are we to try?
Here by the stream, if I the night out-wear,
Thus spent already, how shall nature bear
The dews descending, and nocturnal air;
Or chilly vapours breathing from the flood
When morning rises?--If I take the wood,
And in thick shelter of innumerous boughs
Enjoy the comfort gentle sleep allows;
Though fenced from cold, & though my toil be pass'd,
What savage beasts may wander in the waste?
Perhaps I yet may fall a bloody prey
To prowling bears, or lions in the way."

Thus long debating in himself he stood:
At length he took the passage to the wood,
Whose shady horrors on a rising brow
Waved high, and frown'd upon the stream below.
There grew two olives, closest of the grove,
With roots entwined, the branches interwove;
Alike their leaves, but not alike they smiled
With sister-fruits; one fertile, one was wild.
Nor here the sun's meridian rays had power,
Nor wind sharp-piercing, nor the rushing shower;
The verdant arch so close its texture kept:
Beneath this covert great Ulysses crept.
Of gather'd leaves an ample bed he made
(Thick strewn by tempest through the bowery shade);
Where three at least might winter's cold defy,
Though Boreas raged along the inclement sky.
This store with joy the patient hero found,
And, sunk amidst them, heap'd the leaves around.

As some poor peasant, fated to reside
Remote from neighbours in a forest wide,
Studious to save what human wants require,
In embers heap'd, preserves the seeds of fire:
Hid in dry foliage thus Ulysses lies,
Till Pallas pour'd soft slumbers on his eyes;
And golden dreams (the gift of sweet repose)
Lull'd all his cares, and banish'd all his woes.

 

 

 

*436 ff. 'As when the Polypus' etc.  In this passage Pope plainly purloins from Hobbes.  But notice also how much mere 'filler' Pope inserts, and how fatuous it is.  Elsewhere, using iron self-control, I refrain from pointing to it; here I underlined it.  You get closer to the Greek by just erasing what in Pope I underlined.  So e.g. where Hobbes has just,

 
And now, had not Athena giv’n him wit,

He perish’d had.


 (thus omitting δύστηνος ὑπὲρ μόρον and γλαυκῶπις, but otherwise accurate), and Pope,

 
And now had perish'd, whelm'd beneath the main,

The unhappy man; e'en fate had been in vain;

But all-subduing Pallas lent her power,

And prudence saved him in the needful hour.

 
what Homer has is just,

 
ἔνθα κε δὴ δύστηνος ὑπὲρ μόρον ὤλετ᾽ Ὀδυσσεύς,

εἰ μὴ ἐπιφροσύνην δῶκε γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη.

 
I.e. "And there he would have perished, wretched beyond his lot, / had not grey-eyed Athena given him wit".  Hobbes perhaps should not have omitted the two epithets; but that' is hard to say, because he thus catches Homer's swiftness.  Of those same two epithets Pope misinterprets one (i.e. "e'en fate had been in vain" -- but ὑπὲρ μόρον merely modifies the adjective) and ineptly changes the other: "all-subduing" = γλαυκῶπις.  Faugh!

 

 

*               *               *

POSTSCRIPT: Coleridge on Hobbes'Translation

After writing all the above, I discovered two good remarks about Hobbes' translation by S. T. Coleridge, both of which seem worth quoting here, because Coleridge is often misrepresented as having disliked this translation.  The date of both remarks is apparently 1818.  The first is from The Friend, Essay IV ad fin., and is in the form of a footnote correcting a disdainful remark in the essay (The Friend, ed. by H. N. Coleridge; London: William Pickering, 1837, p. 35 note = The Friend, London: Edward Moxon & Co., 1863, p. 28 note); the second is from Letters, conversations, and recollections of S. T. Coleridge (Harper & Brothers: NY 1836, p. 203); it is said to be from notes to "a course of lectures" delivered in 1818:

At the time I wrote this essay [i.e. The Friend, Essay IV], and indeed till the present month, December, 1818, I had never seen Hobbes' translation of the Odyssey, which, I now find, is by no means to be spoken of contemptuously.  It is doubtless as much too ballad-like, as the later versions [i.e. those of Pope, Dryden, et al.] are too epic; but still, on the whole, it leaves a much truer impression of the original [than those do].

Hobbes' Odyssey... homely as it is throughout, and too often vulgar, scarcely falls below the point more than the other translators strain above it. In easy flow of narration Hobbes has few rivals; and his metre in alternate rhyme is so smooth (negatively smooth, I mean), so lithe,without bone or muscle, that you soon forget that it is metre, and read on with the same kind and degree of interest as if it were a volume of the Arabian Nights.

Of course he is right about the homeliness, the occasional vulgarity, etc.  But what matters most is which translation one enjoys the most; so I am glad to notice that, like me, Coleridge read none of them for pleasure except that of Hobbes!

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