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Alkman: A Hymn to Artemis of the Strict Observance
For a Chorus of Spartan Girls Dressed as Doves
To Sing at Dawn on the Feast of the Plow

Translation copyright 1995 Guy Davenport; all rights reserved.

Republished from 7 Greeks (New Directions, 1995) with permission

Version I

1.

[                                                            ]
[                                                            ]
[                                                            ]
[                                                            ]
[                                                            ]
[                                                            ]
[                                                            ]
[               ] Polydeukes.
I cannot find Lykaithos among the dead
Enarsphoros and with him the fast runner Thebros
[                                             ] the violent
[                                             ] the helmeted
And Euteikhes and the lord of lands Areios
[                     ] mightiest of men half gods.

2.

[                                             ] the hunter
[                              ] the great and Eurytos
[                                 ] blind tumult
[                                    ] most brave
[                     ] we shall [not] go across
[                               ] Destiny and Providence
[    ] the oldest of all the gods
[              ] force goes barefoot
A wild heart must not crowd divinity
Nor rush upon Aphrodite hot to marry
[                              ] Wanassa, nor any
[                               ] Porkos' daughter
[                   ] Graces from the house of Zeus
[                   ] eyes all love in their looking

3.

[                              ] Fate
[                                  ] to friends
[                              ] gave gifts
[                                         ]
[               ] destroyed youth
[                              ]
[                              ]
[          ] left, the one by an arrow
[                    ] marble millstone
[                      ] to Hades
[                             ] they
[                     ] are unforgotten
Who suffered the evil their own hands made.

4.

And there is the vengeance of the gods.
He is a happy man who can weave his days,
No trouble upon the loom.
And I, I sing of Agido,
Of her light. She is like the sun
To which she makes our prayers,
The witness of its radiance.
Yet I can neither praise her nor blame her
Till I have sung of another,
Sung of our choirmaster,
Who stands among us as in a pasture
One splendid stallion
Paws the meadow, a champion racer,
A horse that runs in dreams.

5.

Imagine her if you can. Her hair,
As gold as a Venetian mane,
Flowers around her silver eyes.
What can I say to make you see?
She is Hagesikhora and
Agido, almost, almost as beautiful,
Is a Kolaxaian filly running behind her
In the races at Ibeno.
A Pleiades of doves they are
Contending at dawn before the altar of Artemis
For the honor of offering the sacred plow
Which we have brought to the goddess.
They are the white star Sirius rising
In the honey and spice of a summer night.

6.

Neither abundance of purple
Can defend us with its glory,
Nor golden snakes engraved with eyes and scales,
Nor bonnets from Lydia and brooches,
Nor our sweet violet eyes.
Nor can Nanno's hair, Areta's goddess face,
Thylakis nor Kleësithera,
Nor Ainesimbrota to whom we cry
Let Astaphis be ours,
Let Philylla look our way sometimes,
Damareta and the lovely Wianthemis,

Keep back defeat unless
Hagesikhora alone, our love,
Be our victory's shield.

7.

And she is, she is our own,
The splendid-ankled Hagesikhora!
With Agido, by whose side she lingers,
She honors the rites with her beauty.
Accept her prayers O gods,
For she is your handiwork,
Perfect of her kind.
And I, I, O Choirmaster,
Am but an ordinary girl.
I hoot like an owl in the roof.
I long to worship the goddess of the dawn
Whose gift is peace. For Hagesikhora
We sing, for her we virgin girls
Make our lovely harmonies.

8.

To the swift trace-horse
So [                                             ]
[                              ] to the pilot
And the ship [                                 ]
More melodious than the Sirens
For they are goddesses. There are ten
Of us, eleven of them [                     ]
Sings [                   ] upon the Yellow River
The swan. And she of the lovely yellow hair
[                                                ]
[                                                ]
[                                                ]
[                                                ]
[                                                ].

Read Guy Davenport's Introduction to Alkman, or compare his Version II of this poem


Permission is hereby granted to distribute for classroom use, provided that both Guy Davenport, 7 Greeks (New Directions, 1995) and Diotima are identified in any such use. Other uses not authorized in writing by the translator or in accord with fair use policy are expressly prohibited.

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