An image of a soundless voice
February 15, 2013 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Only two works of Nonnus of Panopolis (fl. AD 400), arguably the last great poet of the Homeric tradition, survive complete. The first is his Dionysiaca, ostensibly an account of the adventures of Dionysus but embracing everything that touches chaos and fire and sound, "the longest surviving poem from classical antiquity and one of the most entertaining, outrageous and vivid epics ever conceived west of the Ganges." The second is the Metabole kata Ioannou [PDF]. It's a paraphrase of the Gospel of John into the idiom of Homer.
posted by Iridic (9 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I read "Homeric" as "Homoerotic" which gives you an idea where my mind is these days.
posted by SPUTNIK at 10:26 AM on February 15, 2013

Neither pasture nor wild beasts were spared. Rawravening bears made a meal for the jaws of Typhaon’s bear-heads; tawny bodies of chest-bristling lions were swallowed by the gaping jaws of his own lion-heads; his snaky throats devoured the cold shapes of earthfed serpents; birds of the air, flying through untrodden space, there met neighbours to gulp them down their throats – he found the eagle in his home, and that was the food he relished most, because it is called the Bird of Zeus. He ate up the plowing ox, and had no pity when he saw the galled neck bloody from the yoke-straps.

Now that is poetry! Plus, it would have made a much better script for Clash of the Titans than the one they used.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:39 AM on February 15, 2013

A few more excerpts from Barrett's modern translation of the Dionysiaca.
posted by Iridic at 11:18 AM on February 15, 2013

Is Barrett's the preferred translation?
posted by Squid Voltaire at 12:50 PM on February 15, 2013

As of 2011 (the date of those excerpts), Barrett's translation was a work in progress. I can't find any more recent news; hopefully he's continued the project in quiet. He's likely to be working for a long time, as the Dyonysiaca is nearly half as long again as the Iliad.

The only other Nonnus translation in town is the Loeb edition by W.H.D. Rouse (linked above), which is seventy years old, only one third complete, and marred by ungenerous editing and commentary. (The poem's digressiveness and hallucinogenic density make for an uneasy fit with traditional notions of Greek austerity, and until the last half of the 20th century most classicists ignored Nonnus when they didn't abuse him.)

As far as preferred translation, that's up to you. For comparison's sake, here's Rouse
...then spreading his row of rumble-rattling throats, he yelled as his warcry the cries of all wild beasts together: the snakes that grew from him waved over his leopards’ heads, licked the grim lions’ manes, girdled with their curly tails spiral-wise round the bulls’ horns, mingled the shooting poison of their long thin tongues with the foam-spittle of the boars.
next to Barrett:
Typhoeus opened wide his row of cavernous throats
and let loose a battle-shriek that was every cry
from every creature of the wild sounded at once.
Snakes waved over the faces of leopards
and licked the bristling manes of lions
as they braided their spiraling tails
into a crown around the horns of bulls.
The poison that darted from their long tongues
mingled with the foam on their cheeks.

All were fused and grown together.
posted by Iridic at 1:21 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rawravening bears

posted by hattifattener at 3:25 PM on February 15, 2013

This is relevant to my interests. I was just paying my dues to Dionysus.
posted by ersatz at 4:13 PM on February 15, 2013

Thanks for posting this, Iridic. I don't think I've ever heard of this writer or his work. It sounds like the kind of thing Borges would have at least insulted in an essay. For some reason, the tone reminds me of the ottava-rima epics of the early modern period.

And with that comment, I hope I've reached Peak Lit Douche.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:54 PM on February 15, 2013

Excellent. Thanks for posting this, Iridic.
posted by homunculus at 5:43 PM on February 16, 2013

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