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
4.Vendettas end among the gods.
Serenity's against the odds.
But weave and anguish is your thread.
Agido's light I sing instead,
Which is the sun's, and she our sun;
They shine, we cannot tell which one.
And yet I must not praise her so:
One lovelier than Agido
Must have first praise. Choirmaster, she,
Dazzling as when a stallion, he
Runs beside his stateliest mare,
Outshines us all, O no compare!
A race-horse, she, a champion blood
Long-tailed Paphlagonian stud.
5. See how her hair, so thick, so bold,
A long mane of Venetian gold,
Flowers around her silver face.
What figured image can I place
That Hagesikhora shall stand
As if you touched her with your hand?
I'll keep the horse. Then Agido,
Less beautiful, but scarcely so,
A Colassaian filly seems,
Behind her runs and like her gleams
In the Ibenian races. Or
A Pleiades of doves they are,
Or Sirius rising to light
The honeydark sweet summer night.
6. Hold O Sidonian red our wall.
With wrists snakebound we stand or fall.
Our golden, written serpents stare,
Lydian bright bands bind our hair.
We stand, contending, jeweled girls,
Unarmed except by Nanno's curls.
Armed with but our violet eyes,
Ainesimbrota's beauty vies,
That Philylla loves, and Thyakis,
Damareta and Astaphis,
Wianthemis the randy, too,
Klesithera, Areta who
Is like a god, but silver-heeled
Hagesikhora is our shield.
7. Is Hagesikhora our own,
So elegant of anklebone?
As faithful as to Agido!
The gods we could not honor so
But that, O gods, you love her too.
What you mean humankind to do
She does, and brings perfection home,
While I, who sing by metronome,
Ordinary and unaloof,
Hoot like an owl in the roof.
When on Aoti's A we pitch
How flat the Doric counterstitch
O Hagesikhora, unless
You join the ringing loveliness.
Read Guy Davenport's Introduction to Alkman, or compare his Version I 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.