And now, onto Dionysos! Let’s call to mind Semele’s child (that lady of renown)

Just as they were once, manifest on a spar of sand near the salt-sown sea

That stuck out over the waves. He looked (for all the world) as a young man,

Fresh-faced, a mane of curls stirred by the wind,

Dark and voluminous, a cloak around toned shoulders,

Crimson-purple-red. Then out of nowhere, men emerged from a galley-ship—

Pirates. They surged forth out of the wine-dark sea,

A group of Tyrsenians. Something evil was with them—a destiny, an idea, a push.

Catching sight of the youth, they signaled to each other, and pounced straightaway,

clapped hands on him, took him aboard their ship, pleased with themselves—

They’d caught a prince (so they thought), a child of a Zeus-beloved king!

It would be a good idea to bind him, tight and fast.

 

But the ropes refused to hold them--the willow-strips recoiled

From his hands and feet. The youth sat unmoved, dark eyes dancing in a smile.

Only the helmsman had a clue, and quickly blurted out

To his friends: “Are you insane? Who is this god you’ve taken prisoner?

There’s power here, the ship (master-crafted or no) cannot hold them.

He’s probably Zeus! Or Apollo of the Silver Bow, or Poseidon!

No man, no mortal, that’s for sure.

We’ve got a god here, a dweller-upon-Olympus!

Come on, catch and release, back onto the sodden sand,

right now! Don’t put your hands on them, you’ll just

Make him angry, they might whip up a hurricane or a windstorm!” 

End quote—but the captain laid into him with a tongue-lashing:

 

“Are you insane? The wind’s a fine one, see? Take care of the ropes

And get us underway. I want every sail taut. As for that one, leave him for the men.

I’m thinking he’s on his way to Egypt, or Cyprus,

Or maybe the Hyperboreans, beyond them, who knows: no matter what,

We’ll make him talk, and he’ll lead us right to his friends

And all their holdings, and his family too, since the Powers that Be threw him in our laps.”

 

With that declaration, he had the mast set right and the sails drawn up.

The crew stretched the canvas tight, port and starboard, wind filled them—

 

And that’s when the weirdness started happening.

 

Wine was the first, rolling out over the deck in dark streams

With a sweet bouquet, wafting the scent of ambrosia with it.

Awe took hold of each and every sailor.

Next a grapevine burst into life at the top of the sail,

Exploding, consuming, grape-clusters cascading down:

A twist of dark-green ivy embraced the mast,

A riot of flowers and a flush of berries bursting from it.

The lock of every oar was crowned. The onlooking pirates

(finally) gave the helmsman the order to steer for shore—

 

And then there was a lion (the youth, the god, transformed)

Dead center of the bow, and he let out a powerful roar;

Then onto the deck dropped another miracle,

this one a coarse-coated bear, conjured into being.

The bear reared onto its hind legs, waiting to strike,

While the lion stared down from the upper deck,

Head lowered and eyes violent. In fear, the sailors

Beat a retreat to mid-deck and clustered around

The helmsman (the only one with his head on straight)—

But the lion pounced on the captain in a blur

And the sailors, escaping one bitter end,

Lept overboard all at once, the moment they saw him die.

Into the light-dappled sea they went,

And dolphins they became. As for the helmsman,

Dionysos held him back and gave him their blessing. They said:

 

“It’s alright, it’s okay! I like you, really, you’ve made me very happy.

I am Dionysos Loud-Resounding. My mother is Semele,

Kadmos’ daughter, who joined herself with Zeus and bore me.”

 

So glory to the child of Semele, most lovely to lay eyes on!

How could I forget you, and still hope to put down a sweet song?



Original ↓

ἀμφὶ Διώνυσον, Σεμέλης ἐρικυδέος υἱόν,

μνήσομαι, ὡς ἐφάνη παρὰ θῖν᾽ ἁλὸς ἀτρυγέτοιο

ἀκτῇ ἔπι προβλῆτι νεηνίῃ ἀνδρὶ ἐοικώς,

πρωθήβῃ: καλαὶ δὲ περισσείοντο ἔθειραι,

κυάνεαι, φᾶρος δὲ περὶ στιβαροῖς ἔχεν ὤμοις

πορφύρεον: τάχα δ᾽ ἄνδρες ἐυσσέλμου ἀπὸ νηὸς

ληισταὶ προγένοντο θοῶς ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον,

Τυρσηνοί: τοὺς δ᾽ ἦγε κακὸς μόρος: οἳ δὲ ἰδόντες

νεῦσαν ἐς ἀλλήλους, τάχα δ᾽ ἔκθορον. αἶψα δ᾽ ἑλόντες

εἷσαν ἐπὶ σφετέρης νηὸς κεχαρημένοι ἦτορ.

υἱὸν γάρ μιν ἔφαντο διοτρεφέων βασιλήων

εἶναι καὶ δεσμοῖς ἔθελον δεῖν ἀργαλέοισι.

τὸν δ᾽ οὐκ ἴσχανε δεσμά, λύγοι δ᾽ ἀπὸ τηλόσε πῖπτον

χειρῶν ἠδὲ ποδῶν: ὃ δὲ μειδιάων ἐκάθητο

ὄμμασι κυανέοισι: κυβερνήτης δὲ νοήσας

αὐτίκα οἷς ἑτάροισιν ἐκέκλετο φώνησέν τε:

δαιμόνιοι, τίνα τόνδε θεὸν δεσμεύεθ᾽ ἑλόντες,

καρτερόν; οὐδὲ φέρειν δύναταί μιν νηῦς εὐεργής.

ἢ γὰρ Ζεὺς ὅδε γ᾽ ἐστὶν ἢ ἀργυρότοξος Ἀπόλλων

ἠὲ Ποσειδάων: ἐπεὶ οὐ θνητοῖσι βροτοῖσιν

εἴκελος, ἀλλὰ θεοῖς, οἳ Ὀλύμπια δώματ᾽ ἔχουσιν.

ἀλλ᾽ ἄγετ᾽, αὐτὸν ἀφῶμεν ἐπ᾽ ἠπείροιο μελαίνης

αὐτίκα: μηδ᾽ ἐπὶ χεῖρας ἰάλλετε, μή τι χολωθεὶς

ὄρσῃ ἔπ᾽ ἀργαλέους τ᾽ ἀνέμους καὶ λαίλαπα πολλήν. 

Ὣς φάτο: τὸν δ᾽ ἀρχὸς στυγερῷ ἠνίπαπε μύθῳ:

 

δαιμόνι᾽, οὖρον ὅρα, ἅμα δ᾽ ἱστίον ἕλκεο νηὸς

σύμπανθ᾽ ὅπλα λαβών: ὅδε δ᾽ αὖτ᾽ ἄνδρεσσι μελήσει.

ἔλπομαι, ἢ Αἴγυπτον ἀφίξεται ἢ ὅ γε Κύπρον

ἢ ἐς Ὑπερβορέους ἢ ἑκαστέρω: ἐς δὲ τελευτὴν

ἔκ ποτ᾽ ἐρεῖ αὐτοῦ τε φίλους καὶ κτήματα πάντα

οὕς τε κασιγνήτους, ἐπεὶ ἡμῖν ἔμβαλε δαίμων.

 

ὣς εἰπὼν ἱστόν τε καὶ ἱστίον ἕλκετο νηός.

ἔμπνευσεν δ᾽ ἄνεμος μέσον ἱστίον: ἀμφὶ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ὅπλα

καττάνυσαν: τάχα δέ σφιν ἐφαίνετο θαυματὰ ἔργα.

 

οἶνος μὲν πρώτιστα θοὴν ἀνὰ νῆα μέλαιναν

ἡδύποτος κελάρυζ᾽ εὐώδης, ὤρνυτο δ᾽ ὀδμὴ

ἀμβροσίη: ναύτας δὲ τάφος λάβε πάντας ἰδόντας.

αὐτίκα δ᾽ ἀκρότατον παρὰ ἱστίον ἐξετανύσθη

ἄμπελος ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα, κατεκρημνῶντο δὲ πολλοὶ

βότρυες: ἀμφ᾽ ἱστὸν δὲ μέλας εἱλίσσετο κισσός,

ἄνθεσι τηλεθάων, χαρίεις δ᾽ ἐπὶ καρπὸς ὀρώρει:

πάντες δὲ σκαλμοὶ στεφάνους ἔχον: οἳ δὲ ἰδόντες,

νῆ᾽ ἤδη τότ᾽ ἔπειτα κυβερνήτην ἐκέλευον

γῇ πελάαν: ὃ δ᾽ ἄρα σφι λέων γένετ᾽ ἔνδοθι νηὸς

δεινὸς ἐπ᾽ ἀκροτάτης, μέγα δ᾽ ἔβραχεν, ἐν δ᾽ ἄρα μέσσῃ

ἄρκτον ἐποίησεν λασιαύχενα, σήματα φαίνων:

ἂν δ᾽ ἔστη μεμαυῖα: λέων δ᾽ ἐπὶ σέλματος ἄκρου

δεινὸν ὑπόδρα ἰδών: οἳ δ᾽ ἐς πρύμνην ἐφόβηθεν,

ἀμφὶ κυβερνήτην δὲ σαόφρονα θυμὸν ἔχοντα

ἔσταν ἄρ᾽ ἐκπληγέντες: ὃ δ᾽ ἐξαπίνης ἐπορούσας

ἀρχὸν ἕλ᾽, οἳ δὲ θύραζε κακὸν μόρον ἐξαλύοντες

πάντες ὁμῶς πήδησαν, ἐπεὶ ἴδον, εἰς ἅλα δῖαν,

δελφῖνες δ᾽ ἐγένοντο: κυβερνήτην δ᾽ ἐλεήσας

ἔσχεθε καί μιν ἔθηκε πανόλβιον εἶπέ τε μῦθον:

 

θάρσει, δῖε κάτωρ, τῷ ἐμῷ κεχαρισμένε θυμῷ:

εἰμὶ δ᾽ ἐγὼ Διόνυσος ἐρίβρομος, ὃν τέκε μήτηρ

Καδμηὶς Σεμέλη Διὸς ἐν φιλότητι μιγεῖσα.

 

χαῖρε, τέκος Σεμέλης εὐώπιδος: οὐδέ πη ἔστι

σεῖό γε ληθόμενον γλυκερὴν κοσμῆσαι ἀοιδήν.

Translator's Note

The Homeric Hymn to Dionysos (Hymn 7) nestles itself squarely between the surviving lengthy narrative hymns in hexameter (to Demeter, Apollo, Hermes and Aphrodite, along with fragments of an even longer narrative hymn to Dionysos) and the shorter or fragmentary invocations. The briefer hymns likely served as introductions or warm-up acts for lengthier epic recitation, while the narrative hymns potentially served as either prologues or as events in their own right. This Hymn to Dionysus (there are two others to the god in the collection, Hymns 1 and 26) is among the lengthier of the shorter hymns at 59 lines, followed closely by the Hymn to Pan (49), both of which pale in comparison to even the shortest of Hymns 2-6 (Hymn 6, To Aphrodite, 290 lines). Though the body of work carries the name of Homer, the individual dates of composition range all through the Archaic, Early Classical, and even Hellenistic periods.

The Homeric Hymns were and are living, sung-and-spoken creatures; I have striven in this translation to walk the line between formality and spontaneity, which honors the double-address (to divine and mortal listeners) occurring when the singer launches in—this is a conversation between singer and sung-about in the same breath, same word, same note as it is a performance before a mortal audience. How should the speaker keep the god’s interest and their audience’s? What kind of rhythm would the particular god want their story told in? Aphrodite is not Apollo is not Hermes is not Athena is not Dionysos.

And it is Dionysos that this hymn sings of and sings to, and (at least a sliver of) Dionysos’ godhead it seeks to hold, a notoriously thorny task for a god of contradictions, ambiguity, and elusiveness (especially in this story and the larger motif it presents, where the god is both smiling, passive youth and snarling lion, victim and avenger).

To that end, I have paid special attention to scaffolding the internal ‘stage directions’ of the text, providing a framework on which a modern performer might hang their breath, their vocal variety, and the emotion they infuse into the word, since I have departed from hexameter and hope to give a contemporary performer some guard rails in its absence. As such, this translation attempts to depict a give and take between staccato and legato, allowing Dionysiac sumptuousness to exist alongside Dionysiac violence, the sharpness of epiphany with the sensual drama of the epiphanic god. My use of punctuation is to this purpose: exclamation points, em dashes, parentheticals that range from single words to half-lines and back again, as in the break between lines 6-7 (“τάχα δ᾽ ἄνδρες ἐυσσέλμου ἀπὸ νηὸς/ληισταὶ”, “Then out of nowhere, men emerged from a galley-ship—/Pirates.”). I hope to honor both the original word order and the sense of suspense with the inclusion of the em dash; the most dangerous word is reserved for last, kept back until the next line of verse and highlighted for best use by a contemporary performer.

An alternate intention with parentheticals is an attempt on my part to capture an element of this hymn that has the potential to go unnoticed amidst the miracles: humor. There are no surprises in this hymn; the singer knows their verses well and foreshadows their ending with a touch of fiendish joy regarding the pirates’ “κακὸς μόρος”, rendered by me as “something evil…a destiny, an idea, a push” (8). Dionysos is an equal partner in this conspiratorial joy and I have striven to capture the playful nudging of the fourth wall by both god and narrator, the textual equivalent of a knowing look shot towards the camera, as exhibited when the pirates identify their quarry at line 10 in the Greek: “υἱὸν γάρ μιν ἔφαντο διοτρεφέων βασιλήων”, rendered by me as “They’d caught a prince (so they thought), a child of a Zeus-beloved king!”.

I make it a custom of using both ‘he’ and ‘they’ for Dionysos in translation, a practice that I believe creates at least a partial mirroring of the god’s gender-non-conforming aspects; in this translation, the pirates perceive ‘he’, the clear-eyed helmsman and the narrator both ‘he’ and ‘they’. Though there is some acknowledgement of the strange youth possessing something other than traditional masculinity (as the captain indicates with his comment of ὅδε δ᾽ αὖτ᾽ ἄνδρεσσι μελήσει, “leave him for the men” (27), a phrase that obliquely casts aspersions of femininity at both helmsman and prisoner-god), I believe the choice to have a split-perception of the god’s pronouns captures the varying abilities to perceive his/their true nature.

 

Selected Bibliography:

Beaulieu, Marie-Claire. 2016. “Dionysus and the Sea.” The Sea in the Greek Imagination. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.

Evelyn-White, Hugh G., translator. 1914. “VII. – To Dionysus.” Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica. Harvard University Press.

Jameson, Michael. 1993. “The Asexuality of Dionysus.” Masks of Dionysus, edited by C. Faraone and T. H. Carpenter, Ithaca (NY)-London. Cornell University Press: 44-64.

Prauscello, Lucia. 2007. “‘Dionysiac’ Ambiguity: HomHymn 7.27: ὄδε δ' αὖτ' ἄνδρεσσι μελήσει.” Materiali e discussioni per l’analisi dei testi classici, No. 28: 209-216.

Rayor, Diane. 2014. The Homeric Hymns: A Translation, with Introduction and Notes. Updated edition, University of California Press.


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