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 Preface         

This pair of folk songs is, without question, a priceless addition to the study of the Ancient Greeks. Previously, only fragments of Ancient Greek music were thought to have survived, all from the Classical Period onwards, none as old as the present text. None of them record secular songs, as opposed to hymns. In fact, no other collection of ‘folk music’ can be said to be extant until a thousand years later.
    The following verses were not composed by professional poets as Homer or Hesiod were, but ordinary men. Due to their providence and their form they are markedly different from the Iliad or the Odyssey. The reader may find himself struck by their difference in tone and ‘commonplace’ nature, however it must be stressed that such works may still possess their own charm.
    The present volume is in translation, for the benefit of the layman, and because of its recent discovery, few liberties have been taken in regards to interpretation. It is hoped that, when the verses are more well known, there will emerge more literary translations that will do justice to these poetic forms.
    The musical notation accompanying the songs, as well as a transcription, can be found in the appendices.

R. G.

 

1.        

A song from the perspective of a maid of Odysseus, twelve of whom play a minor part in the epic. Here the story seems to have been bastardised to include the more common concern of estranged lovers, rather than the more refined themes of the epic.

 

Though it’s all in vain I wish

I wish my love was home again

Ten years at war and three at sea

Seven in the arms of Amphitrite

 

My soldier love has left me

Left me to seek his fortune

Joined his king’s army

To lay siege on Ilios

 

Oh, my love’s hair is yellow like gold

His eyes are blue like the sea

Strong is he in arm and leg

He is the fairest of all the king’s men

 

As soon as his ship had sailed

Then my troubles began

Though leagues away from sea

Still I drowned by the air I breathed

 

For, I went to court to serve my king

At the house of cruel Odysseus

In his absence I served him well

Though he did not know me

 

We were twelve, we maids

Beloved and despised

We were beautiful, we were clever

We fooled everyone, too well

 

Our lady, she modelled virtue

Honest, patient, pliable like clay

So too were we

Even to the beds of strange men.

 

Oh, my love, how I have betrayed you!

Even though it was not my will.

I am no longer yours alone

I was never mine.

___

Here two fragments of the manuscript are damaged by water and have been rendered unreadable. The next stanza takes up the exploits of Odysseus at his return to Ithaca.

___

 

When great Ulixes home he came

Libations in his honour were poured

Wine was poured for every guest

But so was blood, before.

 

He slew every suitor that dwelt in his house;

For they had done great wrong

Though often I despised them

That day I saw them rent apart

 

Though some wept for them

None wept for us

Odysseus’ son kept our bodies whole

No reason for tears

 

High up in the air we hung

 Like beautiful god’s birds we flew

They heeded not our omens

They saw only the rope around our necks

 

Oh, though it’s all in vain I wish

I wish my love were back to me

To save me from my fate

I wish I was a maiden again.

 

 

2.         

 

Quite possibly a drinking song, another instance of the epic hero brought down to suit the uneducated man.

 

Know, friends, that from great Odysseus to his lowliest slave

All men desire two things, in one place are both plentiful

For this reason, the tavern is most profitable of trades.

 

To one tavern did Odysseus’ men arrive

One summer’s day, desiring company, end to thirst

Wine poured freely, women were plentiful

 

But, as night drew on, songs died in throats

Odysseus’ men seemed vanished in air

In their stead pigs drank mead, such was the sailors’ gluttony

 

Men grew still, women screamed, only one moved.

Circe, fairest of working women

Approached the pigs with a courteous bow

 

‘Noble sirs, your troubles are great indeed.

Unhappy beasts you shall remain forever

Unless you hearken unto me.’

 

Eagerly Odysseus and his men listened

For wise seemed her words, comic their plight,

And her beauty inflamed their desire

 

‘Go you to the graveyard outside city gates

Find a funeral vase of stone bearing Perse’s name

Give sacrifice, pour libations, as if for your own mother

 

Then will your pigs’ noses return to men’s snouts

Your pig’s teeth return to men’s fangs

And your pink skin shall bristle with hair

 

Then, return with all speed, for I will await you

For you, Odysseus, I will warm my bed

For I have heard sung your skill.

 

At once, the wine-drunk pigs stumbled into the dark

Heeded not potholes and brambles

Unto which many a man succumbed.

 

But, nearing the grave great Odysseus’ heart grew faint

He heard ghosts’ cries echo, lifeless feet patter

They emptied their flagons as sacrifice, fled quickly away.

 

Alas! The night was ink black, no stars shone

Seafaring Odysseus could not find the way

Resigned, the pigs dropped where they stood, fitfully slept

 

When Dawn’s rosy fingers shone again

The men rose, ten yards away heard and saw

A cat’s mews echoing, a tree’s leaves pattering

 

High noon it was when the pigs returned

Though to men they returned through want of feasting

Shamefaced they came to the tavern

 

But Odysseus strode through the door, though he was as wide

And loudly proclaimed the victory

But all the wine was drunk, and pretty Circe had gone away

 

Companions, now I’ve concluded this my tale

How kittens frighted pig Odysseus 

No man must speak this tale again.

 

This was written as a school assignment to adapt ('textually intervene') the Odyssey. This was the reflection:

 

In my textual intervention I used elements of the original text, and the conceit of found poetry to question the reliability of and discrimination inherent in critical interpretation. Specifically, I expanded on the one-dimensional stories of the maids and Odysseus to suggest other perspectives which may have been present but hadn’t survived.

By using the conceit that the verses were collected from Homeric Greeks, the verses suggest how people other than Homer would have told similar stories. There would have been borrowing between contemporaries; therefore, set phrases like ‘rosy fingered dawn’, ‘libations’, and epithets like ‘cunning Odysseus’ are included. I made efforts to show that the verses are in translation by using nonstandard word order. In English the word order is ‘subject-verb-object’ (SVO), so a sentence like ‘To one tavern did Odysseus’ men arrive’ (OSV) suggests foreign or at least archaic language. Translation is further indicated by unrhymed and uneven lines.

The songs diverge from the Odyssey and use other influences to create a sense of the folk song nature of the verses. I used motifs from other traditions, such as the theme of lovers parted by the sea. A common motif of listing numbers of years is used in the line ‘Ten years at war, and three at sea’.  Both features are used in, for example, broken token songs of the British Isles.

The language of the editor mimics the language of a real editor. As such, the comments deride the ‘bastardisation’ of the ‘epic hero’ and provide no commentary on the actual contents of the songs. The editor is suggested to have, through their biased view, interpreted the missing verses in the first song wrong. They assume that the maid tells the story of Odysseus, rather than her own. They also use non-inclusive language, describing the singers as ‘ordinary men’, even though the first is definitely not a man.

Through creation of a sense of the verses being genuine poetry in translation, the nature of the song ‘collection’ allows juxtaposition. The first song is a tragic story about women, while the second is a frivolous story about men. This challenges dominant interpretations of the Odyssey, where Odysseus’ tale is accepted without question and women’s narratives closely scrutinised. Ultimately, this bias lead to the maids’ execution, and the interpretation of the Odyssey we have today.       

 

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