Monday, May 14, 2007

Ode to Man

In honor of the newly reconstructed Sophocles poem, Scott Horton has a fine translation of (and commentary on) Sophocles's "Ode to Man," from Antigone:

Many things are formidable, and yet nothing is quite so formidable as man.
Over the gray sea and the storming south wind,
Through the foam and welling of the waves, he makes his perilous way;
The Earth also, highest of the deities, who never shows fatigue, nor exhaustion, nor decay,
Ever he furrows and ploughs, year on year, with his ploughshare, muzzles and horses.

The light-seeking birds of the air he stalks and traps, the wild beasts of the forest, and the salty brood of the sea, he catches with his richly woven net–
He, the cunning one,
And by his arts he achieves mastery of the savage game, of the creatures who wind their way upon the heights, tamed through his wondrous art,
And the defiant steed he bends to his will under the bit.

Speech and wind-driven thoughts and emotions form the foundation upon which he builds the city,
All of this he has taught himself; and to take shelter before the inhospitable torrents of the heavens, and the freeze of the winter sky.
He is prepared for everything; against nothing does he want for protection. Even against once perplexing ailments he has developed an escape.
Only against death has he at last no refuge.

Supplied with cleverness of every imaginable type,
He ventures once towards evil, and then towards good.
If he honors the laws of the land and the right attested by the Gods,
Then may his city prosper. But homeless shall he be if he boorishly debases himself.

–Sophocles, “Antigone,” Chorus (lines 340-380) (S.H. transl. after Hans Jonas)

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