aleator classicus

Reading at Random in Classical Literature

Coluthus, The Rape of Helen, 1-16

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Coluthus is a late and rather obscure epic poet from Egypt. The 1911 Britannica was not impressed by his surviving poem on the rape of Helen: ‘dull and tasteless, devoid of imagination, a poor imitation of Homer, and has little to recommend it except its harmonious versification’. Here’s the opening, in which the poet asks the Muses to recount the story of the Judgement of Paris.

νύμφαι Τρωιάδες, ποταμοῦ Ξάνθοιο γενέθλη,
αἳ πλοκάμων κρήδεμνα καὶ ἱερὰ παίγνια χειρῶν
πολλάκι πατρῴῃσιν ἐπὶ ψαμάθοισι λιποῦσαι
ἐς χορὸν Ἰδαίῃσιν ἐπεντύνασθε χορείαις,
δεῦτε, θεμιστοπόλοιο νοήματα μηλοβοτῆρος
εἴπατέ μοι, κελάδοντος ἀπορνύμεναι ποταμοῖο,
ἐξ ὀρέων πόθεν ἦλθεν ἀήθεα πόντον ἐλαύνων
ἀγνώσσων ἁλὸς ἔργα; τί δὲ χρέος ἔπλετο νηῶν
ἀρχεκάκων, ἵνα πόντον ὁμοῦ καὶ γαῖαν ὀρίνῃ
βουκόλος; ὠγυγίη δὲ τίς ἔπλετο νείκεος ἀρχή,
ὄφρα καὶ ἀθανάτοισι θεμιστεύσωσι νομῆες;
τίς δὲ δικασπολίη; πόθεν ἔκλυεν οὔνομα νύμφης
Ἀργείης; αὐταὶ γὰρ ἐθηήσασθε μολοῦσαι
Ἰδαίης τρικάρηνον ὑπὸ πρηῶνα Φαλάκρης
καὶ Πάριν οἰοπόλοισιν ἐφεδριόωντα θοώκοις
καὶ Χαρίτων βασίλειαν ἀγαλλομένην Ἀφροδίτην.

Nymphs of Troy, offspring of river Xanthus, you who often leave your tresses’ veils and your hands’ holy playthings on your father’s sands and ready yourselves for the dance on the dancing-floors of Ida, bestir yourselves from the resounding river and come hither: tell me the thoughts of the shepherd-judge. Whence did he come from the mountains, sailing the unfamiliar deep, though ignorant of the works of the sea? What was the object of the ships which began the trouble, that a cowherd could rouse heaven and earth together? What was the quarrel’s original cause, that let herdsmen gave judgements to immortals? What was the judgement? Where did he hear the name of the maiden from Argos? For you yourselves came to behold, beneath the three-peaked promontory of Idaean Phalacra, both Paris sitting on his shepherd’s seat and the Queen of the Graces, exultant Aphrodite.

Written by aleatorclassicus

February 5, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Coluthus

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