You are currently viewing calamity and joy are in perpetual motion
Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Hall of Stars, 1791.

Language: Ancient Greek
Poet: Sophokles
Translator: Phillip Dupesovski
Region: Ancient Greece

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calamity and joy are in perpetual motion

A choral ode from Sophokles’ tragedy The Women of Trachis, translated from Ancient Greek by Phillip Dupesovski

        The following choral ode is extracted from Sophokles’ tragedy The Women of Trachis (c. 450-25 BC). It occurs near the beginning of the play, marking the entrance of the chorus on stage. Prior to this address, Deianeira monologues the travails of her life: the fear of being a young girl and entering the contract of marriage, and the fear, now, of the whereabouts of her husband Herakles as he struggles through his labours around the Peloponnese and beyond. The rest of the play will connect Deianeira and Herakles once again, but the irreparable mental damage caused by their geographical and temporal distance will weigh on the bodies of these two lovers, catastrophe rising through the tension.

Sophokles was born in Kolonos, a village near Athens, around 497-6 BC. He wrote over 120 plays throughout the course of his life, only seven of which survive in their totality.

Phillip Dupesovski is a PhD candidate in Classics at the University of Sydney. His fiction and translation have appeared in Cordite Poetry Review, Firmament, Philament, and Ancient Exchanges.

πάροδος

ὃν αἰόλα νὺξ ἐναριζομένα
τίκτει κατευνάζει τε φλογιζόμενον,
Ἅλιον, Ἅλιον αἰτῶ
τοῦτο καρῦξαι, τὸν Ἀλκμή-
νας, πόθι μοι πόθι παῖς
ναίει ποτ᾽, ὦ λαμπρᾷ στεροπᾷ φλεγέθων,
ἢ ποντίας αὐλῶνος ἢ
δισσαῖσιν ἀπείροις κλιθείς,
εἴπ᾽, ὦ κρατιστεύων κατ᾽ ὄμμα.

ποθουμένᾳ γὰρ φρενὶ πυνθάνομαι
τὰν ἀμφινεικῆ Δηιάνειραν ἀεί,
οἷά τιν᾽ ἄθλιον ὄρνιν,
οὔποτ᾽ εὐνάζειν ἀδακρύ-
των βλεφάρων πόθον, ἀλλ᾽
εὔμναστον ἀνδρὸς δεῖμα τρέφουσαν ὁδοῦ
ἐνθυμίοις εὐναῖς ἀναν-
δρώτοισι τρύχεσθαι, κακὰν
δύστανον ἐλπίζουσαν αἶσαν.

πολλὰ γὰρ ὥστ᾽ ἀκάμαντος
ἢ νότου ἢ βορέα τις
κύματ᾽ ἂν εὐρέι πόντῳ
βάντ᾽ ἐπιόντα τ᾽ ἴδοι·
οὕτω δὲ τὸν Καδμογενῆ
στρέφει, τὸ δ᾽ αὔξει βιότου
πολύπονον ὥσπερ πέλαγος
Κρήσιον· ἀλλά τις θεῶν
αἰὲν ἀναμπλάκητον Ἅι-
δα σφε δόμων ἐρύκει.

ὧν ἐπιμεμφομένας αἰ-
δοῖα μέν, ἀντία δ᾽ οἴσω·
φαμὶ γὰρ οὐκ ἀποτρύειν
ἐλπίδα τὰν ἀγαθὰν
χρῆναί σ᾽· ἀνάλγητα γὰρ οὐδ᾽
ὁ πάντα κραίνων βασιλεὺς
ἐπέβαλε θνατοῖς Κρονίδας·
ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ πῆμα καὶ χαρὰ
πᾶσι κυκλοῦσιν, οἷον Ἄρ-
κτου στροφάδες κέλευθοι.

μένει γὰρ οὔτ᾽ αἰόλα
νὺξ βροτοῖσιν οὔτε κῆ-
ρες οὔτε πλοῦτος, ἀλλ᾽ ἄφαρ
βέβακε, τῷ δ᾽ ἐπέρχεται
χαίρειν τε καὶ στέρεσθαι.
ἃ καὶ σὲ τὰν ἄνασσαν ἐλπίσιν λέγω
τάδ᾽ αἰὲν ἴσχειν· ἐπεὶ τίς ὧδε
τέκνοισι Ζῆν᾽ ἄβουλον εἶδεν;

Ode to Helios and Craving

Night takes her cloak off after the graveyard shift,
and gives birth to you in pangs of fire.
Helios, I’m begging you, give
me the news:
where the hell is Alkmene’s child?
Burning god of blitzing lamplight,
is he leaning on the grooves of the sea or on
land?
Tell me, lord of the highest panopticon.

I’ve heard that Deianeira in her heart
is always craving him.
Like that miserable bird
which never sleeps,
her eyes are fresh full of tears,
craving. And now
the mind-etched anxiety for her husband is metastasising.
Consumed by the thought of a widowed bed,
expecting a horrible, shitty destiny.

As when the wind and the waves
attack the flat field of the sea,
Herakles is being flung off course.
His suitcase of agony and glory is exceeding its limit.
But there is a god out there who keeps him,
unceasingly,
from entering the house of Hades.

[To Deianeira] I hear your complaints,
and you know I respect you,
but I’m here to offer an alternative:
don’t let whatever’s in your head
wear you out.
Zeus who accomplishes everything
for mortals hurls at us a life of pain.
But calamity and joy
are in perpetual motion for everyone,
rotating like the constellation of the bear.

Starry nights,
stalkers, wealth:
none of these things stay around forever. No,
they’re erased, all of a sudden,
and then joy and grief will visit someone else.
Let these words always
hold back your anxiety.
When has Zeus ever been neglectful of his children?