And with the breeze and frost


that he gives off, Eridanus


will turn their tears to stone


and receive the falling pieces


beneath the surface.


Through the sparkling water


he will lead them away


to the barbarians in Ocean—


the ambers of the poplar.

Original ↓


…αὔραις γὰρ καὶ κρυμοῖς, οὓς ἀναδίδωσι, λιθουργήσει καὶ πεσόντα ὑποδέξεται καὶ διὰ φαιδροῦ τοῦ ὕδατος ἀπάξει τοῖς ἐν Ὠκεανῷ βαρβάροις τὰ τῶν αἰγείρων ψήγματα.

Translator's Note

I translated this text in class, as part of Prof. Steven Hijman’s ekphrasis seminar at the University of Alberta in 2002 and have revised it a few times over the years. Ekphrasis is a genre that features literary descriptions of works of visual art, real or imaginary, and is found in the earliest Greek texts, such as the description of the shield of Achilles in Iliad Book 18, which occupies about one percent of the entire epic.

I was struck by the poetic phrasing and motion of this passage in a speech by Philostratus where he praises a painting of Phaethon, the son of the sun god Helios. Phaethon has been recklessly driving his father’s chariot through the sky, disturbing the order of the universe, and has now lost control and is falling to his death. His sisters, the Heliad nymphs, in mourning are transforming into poplar trees and their tears are the golden sap of the poplar. The quick succession of dramatic actions taken by the river Eridanus and the postponement of the word ‘ambers’ to the end of the sentence inspired this translation where I broke up the original prose into poetic lines. Beyond the moment captured in the painting, Eridanus uses his breezes and frost to turn the sap of the poplar trees into pieces of the gemstone amber, to catch them in his stream, and to carry them to remote peoples living at the edge of the earth. Breaking the sentence up into a series of poetic lines imitates and graphically represents the river transforming sap into pieces of amber.

Kevin Solez


In the Classroom