Thursday 8 October 2015

Happy National Poetry Day!

I learned this morning that this is also World Octopus or Cephalopod Day, so here is an octopus from a reconstruction of Nestor's Palace in Homer's 'sandy Pylos' in the western Peloponnese. We visited this remarkable site five years ago. Over 1000 Linear B tablets came to light on this place alone.

And now for a little poetry. Alexander Pope may not be in vogue these days, but his rhymed version of The Odyssey gives a flavour of the storyline in the old epic (and it is a version that is out of copyright). What follows (in blue) are three excerpts from Pope, concerning the arrival of Odysseus' son, Telemachus, at Nestor's Palace. Telemachus is anxious for news of his father, who left his island home of Ithaka to fight in the Trojan War. Nestor is making animal sacrifices on the beach when his visitor arrives. 

Reconstruction of Nestor's Palace floor in the Chora Museum - octopus motif

Now on the coast of Pyle the vessel falls,

Before old Neleus’ venerable walls.

There, suppliant to the Monarch of the Flood,

At nine green theatres the Pylians stood.

Each held five hundred (a deputed train),

At each, nine oxen on the sand lay slain ...

Reconstruction of the Megaron floor in Nestor's Palace, Museum at Chora

Full for the port the Ithacensians stand,

And furl their sails, and issue on the land.

Telemachus already press’d the shore . . .

The Throne Room, with a huge central hearth

The youth of Pylos, some on pointed wood,

Transfix’d the fragments, some prepared the food:

In friendly throngs they gather to embrace
Their unknown guests, and at the banquet place.

Pisistratus was first to grasp their hands,

And spread soft hides upon the yellow sands;

Along the shore th’ illustrious pair he led,

Where Nestor sate with youthful Thrasymed.

from Alexander Pope's version of The Odyssey Book III. You can read the whole chapter here

Reconstruction of Nestor's Palace

Nestor's Palace - as it is now

  • If I was suggesting a good modern translation of The Odyssey, it would be the one by Richard Lattimore
  • You might be interested in Adam Nicolson's book, The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters, which I have just started to read.
  • And, of course, the poem, 'Ithaka' by Cavafy is one of my all time favourites. 
  • More octopuses! John Pinsent (1922-1995), a Classical scholar and Reader in Greek at Liverpool University, wrote a study called 'The Iconography of Octopuses: a First Typology' (BICS 25, 1978) about the development of octopus representations in late Mycenaean vase painting. I remember him giving a fascinating lecture on the subject in Newcastle when we were undergraduates. 

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