The gracious prose and fine scholarship Félix Buffière (1914-2004) laid before me in his study of the evolution of the meaning(s) of the Homeric poems, Les mythes d'Homère et la pensée grecque, sent me scrambling for his other works. To my pleased surprise I found he had also translated poems from the Greek Anthology, the collection of ancient Greek poems discussed in my recent review of three books of English translations from that anthology. Since the translations in those three books represent only a small fraction of the Greek Anthology and, where possible, I now like to see more than one translation of the same poem, I ordered his scarce Le fil d'Ariane (1990) through interlibrary loan, and the University of Ottawa was kind enough to respond. Their sacrifice was not all too great, though, since the book hadn't been checked out since 1993.(!) Further proof, as if there were any need for it, that I read obscure books... So be it.
Buffière chose to render the rather complicated hexameter form of the original Greek poems into the classic French alexandrine, which, he admits, is generally too short to translate a quatrain into a quatrain. So, where necessary, he broke the French form and ran over. Naturally, this is quite a different approach to the original poems than the other three translators chose. (And I illustrated in that earlier review the degree to which the translations of those three diverged from each other.) How well does it come out? Judge for yourself:
Si vers toi, Archonis, je suis, de mon plein gré,
venu après l'orgie, fais-moi mille reproches!
mais si c'est malgré moi, calme un peu ces transports!
Or le vin et l'amour m'ont contraint: l'un tirait,
l'autre m'interdisait...de calmer ces transports!
Sur place, sans crier aucun nom, j'ai baisé
le montant. C'est un crime? Alors j'avoue mon crime.
- Callimachus (ca. 305-240 BCE)
I don't know how well he succeeded with that ploy. In the next, it would appear that if a woman had a dark complexion she was supposed to be less attractive.(*) Our next poet throws this idea back into their faces.
Mes yeux sont prisonniers de Didyme: je fonds
comme cire à la flamme en la voyant si belle.
Vous dites qu'elle est noire? Et les charbons aussi:
mais quand on les allume, ils ont l'éclat des roses.
- Asclepiades (ca. 320 BCE)
Last, a touching appeal to Charon, who steered the boat ferrying the dead across the River Styx into Hades, to lend a young boy a hand...
Sur l'eau de ce marais encombré de roseaux,
rameur qui vers l'Hadès conduis la grande barque
terme de nos douleurs, au fils de Kinyras,
quand il mettra le pied sur l'échelle de bord,
tends la main, noir Charon, et prends-le: cet enfant
avec ses sandales trébuche
et ses pieds nus ont peur du sable de la rive.
- Zonas of Sardis (???)
Buffière organizes his book into themes such as amoureuses qui tourmentent and les beaux adolescents aux charmes fragiles, placing poems with corresponding themes into the corresponding sections. He also supplies background information about the poets and poems. Now, can I find a copy of this for myself that I can actually afford?
(*) This was not racism, but classism: only the women of the lower classes had to work out of doors and therefore had dark skins.