Monday, October 27, 2014

Horses of Achilles by Constantine P. Cavafy (Two Translations)

Horses of Achilles (Two Translations)

When they saw Patroklos dead
—so brave and strong, so young—
the horses of Achilles began to weep;
their immortal nature was upset deeply
by this work of death they had to look at.
They reared their heads, tossed their long manes,
beat the ground with their hooves, and mourned
Patroklos, seeing him lifeless, destroyed,
now mere flesh only, his spirit gone,
defenseless, without breath,
turned back from life to the great Nothingness.

Zeus saw the tears of those immortal horses and felt sorry.
“At the wedding of Peleus,” he said,
“I should not have acted so thoughtlessly.
Better if we hadn’t given you as a gift,
my unhappy horses. What business did you have down there,
among pathetic human beings, the toys of fate.
You are free of death, you will not get old,
yet ephemeral disasters torment you.
Men have caught you up in their misery.”
But it was for the eternal disaster of death
that those two gallant horses shed their tears. 

(Translated by Edmond Keeley/ Philip Sherard)

When they saw Patroclus had been killed,
               he who’d been so brave, and strong, and young,
               the horses of Achilles began to weep:
               their immortal nature was indignant
               at this work of death, which it now beheld.
They’d shake their heads and toss their flowing manes,
               and with their feet they’d stamp the ground and grieve
    for Patroclus who they knew was lifeless—undone—
    shabby flesh by now—his spirit vanished—
               left without defenses—without breath—
    returned from life unto the great Nothing.

                         Zeus beheld the tears of the immortal
horses and grieved. “At Peleus’s marriage,”
               he said, “I should never have committed such great folly.
               Better never to have given you away, my
               unhappy horses! What business have you down here
with wretched humanity, the plaything of fate.
               You, for whom neither death nor old age lie in wait,
    are oppressed by passing misfortunes. Men have snared you
in their afflictions.”— And yet their tears,
               for the everlasting calamity
    of death, the noble creatures kept on shedding.

(Translated by Daniel Mendelsohn)

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