Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Michael Choniates: To Athens

Here is a short poem I've translated by Michael Choniates, the brother of twelfth century historian Niketas Choniates, directed towards Athens in his day.


On its, that is the city of Athens, archetypal narration.

Eros wrote of legendary Athens of old
singing of the shadows and relieving himself
of his burning desire. “Alas! I was not still there
as to look upon this, that famous city, which
Time innumerable and long lasting concealed
beneath the depths of oblivion, while I feel
fully the ailment of lovers, who in want of
the real appearances of their desired look on
pictures of them aiming to sooth the flame of their loves.
How misfortunate am I, a new Ixion, who
is in love with Athens as he was with Hera,
mistakenly coupling with a false image. Fi!
What it is that I do feel, do say, and do write.
Living at Athens, I see Athens not Athens,
I see only here sorry ash and empty bliss.
Where now are your revered features, wretched city?
All of it is gone and confined to but stories,
the suits, the judges, the benches, the votes, the laws,
the full compelling addresses of its speakers,
the counsels, the celebrations and victories
of the infantry together with the navy,
the various Muse, the might of words
The entire glory of Athens has been lost;
one would see not even a trace at all slight of them.
Let me be forgiven if unable to see
the famous city of the Athenians,
I set down this written image of it."

This poem is a good example of the medieval theme of cities now past in their glory such as other medieval examples of Rome. I find it rather bizarre Choniates chose Eros to pine after Athens. Anyone have an idea why?

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