Tartarus Theogany lines 715-819


The Theogany of Hesiod is a long poem in dactylic Hexameters about the origin of the gods and the battles between the first gods, The Titans and the later Olympians led by Zeus. I have translated a section that describes Tartarus where Zeus bound the Titans. I did so, because it was relevant to certain research I was doing on the underworld in various cultures and it was fun.

I like Hesiod. He doesn't have the dramatic powers of Homer, but he is capable of some real beauty. The hymn to the Muses at the beginiing of the Theogany, which I have translated elsewhere, is quite arresting, as are the story of Aphrodite's birth from the sea foam among other passages. I also like his sense of the poetic line. He often has a delicate balance in the line, elements and words arranged in ways that give them power and sometimes irony.

The passage I have translated here has a rhetorical structure based on the word "there." There are where the Titans are bound. There are where Hades and Persephone have their houses. Etc. The hundred or so lines offer a view of what there is in Tartarous. Tartarus is here held to be under the disk of the earth, just as the sky is above the disk. It is surrounded by Ocean which is a stream that encircles the disk. Later it says that 9/10ths of Ocean's waters go into circling the earth and 1/10 goes into the river styx. This somewhat contradicts the earlier statements, but one of the features of archaic poetry is a total disregard for what we would call consistency and logic. Or rather, they work from a mythic logic in which things can have many forms simultaneously.

Another interesting aspect of the structure of this passage, is the twinning or doubling of images and words. It starts at the beginning with "just as it would take an anvil 10 days to fall from the sky to earh so it would take 10 days for an anvil to fall from eath to Tartarus." Other more subtle twinnings are how sleep moves over the earth vs how death moves over the earth, and many others.

For this translation, I have tried to stay as close to the Greek as possible, even keeping the word order when it wouldn't result in an unreadable mess.

I have also included a version of the translation into Iambic pentameter. Many believe that since Greek poetry was strictly metrical, translations should reflect that fact by also being metrical. Greek meters do not translated directly into English meters. The Greek metric was based on the duration or lenght of the syllable. Long and short. The main poetic line for epic was dactylic hexameter. long, short, short, repeated six times. Spondees, two long syllables, were allowed as substitution for certain feet. The trouble is English vowels do not fall neatly into long and short. Every vowel has a variety of sounds and lengths. In English we use stress and unstressed syllables. As such the Dactylic hexameter is essentiall undoable in English. The usual substitution is iambic pentameter. The iambic pentameter is nothing like the Greek meter. The thinking is that it holds an analagous place in English poetry to what the dactylic hexameter held in Greek poetry. It is the meter of Shakespear and Milton, after all. The translation into iambic pentameter involves a lot of comprises with the Greek text. You can read my version and see if you prefer it to the more literal translation or not. Also I should note that my iambics could be better, but I have other projects more pressing.

Next up, soon, will be a translation from the Iambic of Callimachus.