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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The strength of fate

THE STRENGTH OF FATE (from "Alcestis")
by: Euripides
      N heaven-high musings and many,
      Far-seeking and deep debate,
      Of strong things find I not any
      That is as the strength of Fate.
      Help nor healing is told
      In soothsayings uttered of old,
      In the Thracian runes, the verses
      Engraven of Orpheus' pen;
      No balm of virtue to save
      Apollo aforetime gave,
      Who stayeth with tender mercies
      The plagues of the children of men.
      She hath not her habitation
      In temples that hands have wrought;
      Him that bringeth oblation,
      Behold, she heedeth him naught.
      Be thou not wroth with us more,
      O mistress, than heretofore;
      For what God willeth soever,
      That thou bringest to be;
      Thou breakest in sunder the brand
      Far forged in the Iron Land;
      Thine heart is cruel, and never
      Came pity anigh unto thee.
      Thee, too, O King, hath she taken
      And bound in her tenfold chain;
      Yet faint not, neither complain:
      The dead thou wilt no awaken
      For all thy weeping again.
      They perish, whom gods begot;
      The night releaseth them not.
      Beloved was she that died
      And dear shall ever abide,
      For this was the queen among women,
      Admetus, that lay by thy side.
      Not as the multitude lowly
      Asleep in their sepulchres,
      Not as their grave be hers,
      But like as the gods held holy,
      The worship of wayfarers.
      Yea, all that travel the way
      Far off shall see it and say,
      Lo, erst for her lord she died,
      To-day she sitteth enskied;
      Hail, lady, be gracious to usward;
      That always her honor abide.

      Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Greek and Roman love poetry, from the Greek poet Sappho and her erotic descriptions of romance on Lesbos, to the love-hate poems of the Roman writer Catullus. The source of many of the images and metaphors of love that have survived in literature through the centuries. We begin with the words of Sappho, known as the Tenth Muse and one of the great love poets of Ancient Greece:
      “Love, bittersweet and inescapable,
      creeps up on me and grabs me once again”
      Such heartfelt imploring by Sappho and other writers led poetry away from the great epics of Homer and towards a very personal expression of emotion. These outpourings would have been sung at intimate gatherings, accompanied by the lyre and plenty of wine. The style fell out of fashion only to be revived first in Alexandria in the third Century BC and again by the Roman poets starting in the 50s BC. Catullus and his peers developed the form, employing powerful metaphors of war and slavery to express their devotion to their Beloved – as well as the ill treatment they invariably received at her hands!
      So why did Greek poetry move away from heroic narratives and turn to love in the 6th Century BC? How did the Romans transform the genre? And what effect did the sexual politics of the day have on the form?
      With Nick Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Classics at Royal Holloway, University of London; Edith Hall, Professor of Classics and Drama at Royal Holloway, University of London; Maria Wyke, Professor of Latin at University College London.

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