Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"He Splits My Skull, Not in a Friendly Way"

At Millard Fillmore's Bathtub, Tim Paganos noted a few days ago that the poet A.E. Housman had translated the works of an extremely obscure Roman poet, Marcus Manilius.

In fact, Housman was an accomplished classical scholar. However, at least among students who have taken a Greek course or two, Housman is probably best known for his hilarious send-up of Athenian tragedy. Most sample from the beginning, but here's a taste from the end:
ERIPHYLE (within): O, I am smitten with a hatchet's jaw;
And that in deed and not in word alone.

CHORUS: I thought I heard a sound within the house
Unlike the voice of one that jumps for joy.

ERIPHYLE: He splits my skull, not in a friendly way,
Once more: he purposes to kill me dead.

CHORUS: I would not be reputed rash, but yet
I doubt if all be gay within the house.

ERIPHYLE: O! O! another stroke! that makes the third.
He stabs me to the heart against my wish.

CHORUS: If that be so, thy state of health is poor;
But thine arithmetic is quite correct.

Take my word for it: except perhaps for the over-the-top last line, Housman's ear for Athenian tragedy is uncanny.

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