Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shield Of Achilles

From Book 18 lines 478-608 of the Iliad this is one of the first examples (in western poetry anyway) of Ekphrasis. The detailed description of a work of art. I have not attempted to recreate the rhythm of Homer, but I flatter myself that I have captured the rapid changes of topic and point of view, I have also tried to capture some of the clear sounding literalness of Homer.

First of all he fashioned a shield, large and strong,
Elaborate in all ways, about the rim he set threefold
Glittering shining metal. He made a strap of studded silver.
Five layers of metal for the shield. The surface
Covered with decorations from his knowing mind.

He wrought the land, the heavens and the oceans,
The restless blazing sun, the moon waxing full.
The constellations encircling the heavens.
The Pleiades, the Hyades, strong Orion,
The Great Bear, also called by some the wagon.
Who twists around the one spot, watching Orion.
Alone, he does not bath the stream of Oceanus.

Two fair cities he made, swelling well spoken ones.
In the first city there were weddings and banquets,
The young wives from out of chambers with torches
Blazing were lead the streets, while wedding songs
Aroused the young men. Dancers spinning around,
Flutes and lyres loud playing. And the older
Women stood marveling beside doorways.
People gathered together, for a quarrel
Had risen. Two arguing over blood price.
A man had died. The killer to the crowd
Offering to pay. While a relative
Of the victim refused to accept money.
Both sides desiring to hear a judgement,
The partisans of the two divided.
Marshals held back both sides. And the judges
Sat in a circle, on smoothly polished stones.
Heralds passing the speaking staffs around
As each judge, clearly speaking, took his turn.
The joined pair, accused and accuser, in turns
Pushed to plead their case and hear the judgement.
And in the middle two gold talents to pay
The old one who most just spoke his judgement.

All around the second city were camped armies
In flashing armour. Divided in thought,
Some to sack the city, some to heap up the wealth
And take half of all the lovely city contained.
The citizens were not these plans persuaded,
In secret they armed themselves and planned ambush.
Setting their beloved wives and young children
To guard the walls, alongside old men pressed by age.
The citizens moused away to set the ambush.
In the van Ares and spear holding Athena,
Clad all in gold. Dressed all in golden clothes.
Beautiful and dreadful, armoured as fitting Gods.
The gods stood aloof, the people in the shadows.
They marched out searching out a likely ambush place.
By the river, the drinking spot of thirsty beasts.
There they crouched, having covered their flashing bronze.
They sent two look outs to keep watch on the host,
Quiet watching for sheep and twisted horn cattle.
Soon the beasts came into view, with two herdsmen,
Playing flutes to cheer themselves, the trap unseen.
Upon seeing the sheep they at once sprang their trap.
Surrounding, they cut off the herds of cattle,
The flocks of fair white sheep. Both herdsmen they killed.
The army heard the sounds of battle near their herds,
Ending debate, at once they rushed to their horses.
Mounting high-stepping horses, they quickly reached
Their foes and engaged in battle by the river banks,
Each side throwing bronze tipped spears at the other.
Eris and Kudoimos battle joined with Keros,
One man supporting a newly wounded man,
Another unwounded, another having died.
Through the pressing din, Eris by feet claiming.
Her garments painted red with the blood of men.
Coming together in battle the enemies
Fought over the corpses, dragging them away.

He set a fallow field, soft, rich, fertile,
Wide, thrice-ploughed. Many ploughmen worked the land.
Draught teams turning, working, driving back and forth.
Turning about once reaching the boundary.
And pressed into their hands cups of honey sweet wine
Were given, quick the men would turn, cutting furrows,
Aiming for the fallow field, deep soil to reach.
The field growing black, as if having been ploughed,
In truth golden. A wondrous shield had been made.

And he set the private land of the king. Workers
Holding sharp sickles in their hands were cutting
Swathes of corn along the lines of reaping.
One after another falling to the ground.
Sheaf-binders were bundling up the corn,
Three binders working, while behind children
Picked off the ground, with bent arms, the fallen bundles
Carrying without pause. The king stood silent
Amid the labourers, holding his sceptre,
Along the reaping line, happy of heart.
Attendants stood apart, under the oak tree,
Having sacrificed a great ox they were
Busy preparing a feast. The women workers,
The main meal of the day for the field hands,
They were preparing, sprinkling the white barley.

He set a great vineyard, heavy with clustered grapes,
Beautiful and golden. Purple black grapes
All around there were, supported by vine poles
Right around of silver. A drainage ditch
Fenced the vineyard, blue corn flower enamel.
Right around the vineyard a fence of tin
He hammered out. A path without turnings
Leading to the vineyard, where the bearers
Would walk when they were harvesting the vineyard.
Young women and young men, innocent at heart
Carrying wicker baskets of honey sweet fruit.
Amidst the fruit carriers a youth played
A clear toned lyre, sweetly he played his tune
Singing clear with his delicate young boy voice,
All together beating time with raised voice and
Dancing, frolicking feet, following his song.

He made a herd of cattle with straight horns.
Golden cattle he made of tin, lowing
They hastened out of the farmyard towards the pasture
Aside a murmuring river, with waving reeds.
Golden herdsmen were together with the cattle,
Nine swift footed dogs followed the four herdsmen.
Two fearful lions terrible blocked the way,
Holding their mouth a loud bellowing bull.
The lions were dragging the bull away
The herdsmen, strong and vigorous were following.
The two lions having torn open the thick hide
Were greedily feeding on dark blood and entrails,
The herdsmen in vain urging the nimble dogs
To attack the lions. The dogs were avoiding
Bites of the lions. Barking keeping out of reach.

In the large pasture he made, the famous
Injured one, lovely glen full of white fleeced sheep,
A homestead, with huts for shepherds and pens for sheep.

A dancing place he made, from his brain and arm,
Just like the one, long ago in wide street Knossos,
Built by Daedalus for fair haired Ariadne.
There young men and cattle bringing young women
Were dancing with each other, wrist hand holding.
Some of the women wearing fine linen, the men
In tunics softly shimmering olive oiled
And the women beautiful garlands wearing,
The men wore golden daggers in silver baldrics.
They used to wheel about with skilful steps,
Very smoothly, like the potter throwing.
Crouching at work smoothing the clay with testing palm
How it would spin, new running lines one another.
Sweet companies tumbling. A crowd gathering
In enjoyment. Two acrobats the middle
Of the happy crowd, singing and dancing
Leading the festive crowd in cries joyful.

He set the great stream, spirit of Oceanus
Along the edge of the shield, large and strong.

After he had made the shield, large and strong
He made a breastplate brighter than the sun's fire.
He made a helmet, strong and protecting the temple,
Beautifully wrought. Upon he set a golden crest.
Next he made leggings of soft pliant tin.
After his hard toil he took all the armour
Presenting it to the mother of Achilles.
Like the hawk she sprung from snowy Olympus
Bearing the flashing armour of Hephaestus.

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