Sunday, August 24, 2008

Homeric Hymn 20: To Hephestus

Here's my hackneyed translation of the Homeric Hymn 20: To Hephaestus. The Greek text can be viewed here, at the Perseus site. If you don't have a Greek font, like SPIonic installed, I think you can still view the text in just plain Unicode.

Of Hephaestus, famously skilled, sweetly sing Muse,
who, with grey-eyed Athena, taught men to use
their shining art upon the Earth, men who used
to dwell in hill caves, like animals reduced.
But now, the shining skill having been learned through
Hephaestus, famous for his art, years renew
easily for men, at ease in their dwellings.
But, be gracious, Hephaestus; give us earnings
and most excellent virtue.

The translation is not completely literal; I translated some things as adverbs when they weren't, and in the 4th last line I translate sense, not words.

I think the last 2 lines are the most interesting. The poet has said that Hephaestus, along with Athena, gave men the "shining art". This, presumably, was a rather gracious measure, from men's point of view, on the part of Hephaestus. However, there is apparently a concern that Hephaestus will not continue to be gracious; there is some concern about a change of heart. Thus, the poet asks him to "be gracious"; the will of the gods was a rather shifty and thus the poet asks for graciousness. All that Hephaestus did does not necessarily entail his continuing to be well disposed towards the human race. These last two lines bring out a nice contrast between the graciousness of Hephaestus and Athena in giving men the "shining skill", and the ever-lurking possibility that his attitude could shift at any time. The poet can appreciate all men have, but is also aware of the transitory nature of all men have. Incidentally, this is a common theme in archaic lyric poetry; it's rather pessimistic stuff.

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