Friday, December 10, 2010

War's a banker, flesh his gold

While Philip Vellacott's translation of Aeschylus' "Agamemnon" is, by his own admission, not very literal, it is powerful. Having just described the misery of Menelaus after losing Helen, the Chorus of Elders tells of the sorrow - and anger - of the Argive soldiers' families:
Such are the searching sorrows
This royal palace knows,
While through the streets of Argos
Grief yet more grievous grows,
With all our manhood gathered
So far from earth of Hellas;
As in each home unfathered,
Each widowed bed, the whetted
Sword of despair assails
Hearts where all hope has withered
And angry hate prevails.
They sent forth men to battle,
But no such men return;
And home, to claim their welcome,
Come ashes in an urn.

For War’s a banker, flesh his gold.
There by the furnace of Troy’s field,
Where thrust meets thrust, he sits to hold
His scale, and watch the spear-point sway;
And back to waiting homes he sends
Slag from the ore, a little dust
To drain hot tears from hearts of friends;
Good measure, safely stored and sealed
In a convenient jar – the just
Price for the man they sent away.
They praise him through their tears, and say,
"He was a solder!" or, "He died
Nobly, with death on every side!"
And fierce resentment mutters low,
"Yes – for another’s wife!" And so
From grief springs gall, which fear must hide
Let kings and their revenges go!
But under Ilion’s wall the dead,
Heirs of her earth, lie chambered deep;
While she, whose living blood they shed,
Covers her conquerors in sleep.

A nation’s voice, enforced with anger,
Strikes deadly as a public curse.
I wait for word of hidden danger,
And fear lest bad give place to worse.
God marks that man with watchful eyes
Who counts his killed by companies;
And when his luck, his proud success,
Forgets the law of righteousness,
Then the dark Furies launch at length
A counter-blow to crush his strength
And cloud his brightness, till the dim
Pit of oblivion swallows him.
In fame unmeasured, praise too high,
Lies danger: God’s sharp lightnings fly
To stagger mountains. Then, I choose
Wealth that invites no rankling hate;
Neither to lay towns desolate,
Nor wear the chains of those who lose
Freedom and life to war and Fate.
Aeschylus, trans. Philip Vellacott, The Oresteian Trilogy, Penguin: 1964, p. 58-59.

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About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.