Thursday, March 19, 2009

Great God! I'd rather be a Pagan.

Twelve years ago, I was living in Santa Fe and learning Homeric Greek from Clyde Pharr's Homeric Greek: A Book for Beginners. It's funny what sticks with you. I can still recite the opening lines of the Iliad, and have used it to scare away telemarketers:

("Can I speak to the lady of the house?"

"Menin aeide, thea."

"Um... is Ms Sawyer there?"

"Peleiadeo Achileos/ oulomenen, he muri' Achaiois alge' etheken/ pollas d' iphthimous psuchas Aidi proiapsen/ heroon, autous de heloria teuche kunessin/ oionoisi te pasi, Dios d' eteleieto boule!"

"I'll call back").

But really, not all that much has survived the intervening decade plus. This morning, however, I was jolted by a comment on my last post into a half-remembered footnote in Pharr's Lesson XXIII (the subjunctive mode of verbs). The note refers to line 45 in Book One of the Iliad, in which Apollo strides down from mount Olympus, "and his coming was like the night." Pharr writes,

"It is none less than the mighty god himself who is now before unto the night, both in swiftness of coming and in the awful gloom and dread which night brings to primitive peoples who have no adequate lighting facilities."

I'm not sure why I have to cross my fingers before I can fall asleep. Lying in bed at night, the shadow of a tree cast sharp against the wall by the neighbor's security lights, I know that I have nothing to fear from what little dark surrounds me. But something of that "awful gloom and dread" lingers in the real and irrational fears that crowd around my sleepless head.


tom said...


Re. those real and irrational fears, gotcha. The older one gets, the more irrational yet, oddly, at the same time, the more real. Yegads. Rx major finger-crossing.

From the cobwebby memory annals of the 1950s, and 8 a.m.Greek classes to which one wended one's way through ice and snow, nostrils grimly frozen shut, there returns this knock-knock joke:


Who's there?


Menin who?

Menin aeida thea, Achilleos (&c.).

Curiously, it seems somewhat less hilarious now then it did fifty-some years ago. Alas, it is not the only thing. However your blog is always good for a pleasant giggle, and the nice imaginary sensation of warm fur upon one's lap (or at least in one's environs).

(That came out sounding a bit "funny," but oh well--just put it down to The Old.)

momeester said...

the world is too much with us.
Wordsworth died April 23, 1850.

Nora said...

Shakespeare and Wordsworth died on my birthday? I'm dangerous

jdg said...

Love it.