Thursday, February 09, 2012

Theodorides's Epigram (and Diverse Tangentially Related Matters)

A shipwrecked sailor, buried on this coast,
Bids you set sail.
Full many a gallant bark, when we were lost,
Weathered the gale.

-- Theodorides, trans. H. Wellesley (from the Greek Anthology)
I saw this in William James's Pragmatism, chapter 8, where it is quoted and ascribed simply to The Greek Anthology. (An 1895 volume called Selections from the Greek Anthology is online here; this epigram is on p. 275). The Greek Anthology ascribes it to Theodorides, and credits the translator.

In the notes to the Penguin edition of James, Giles Gunn refers to the author as "Theodorides of Syracuse", adding that he "wrote towards the end of the third century B.C.", although Gunn downgrades him from the author to the reported one, saying that the epigram is "ascribed to" him. Poor Theodorides does not come up in the first page of Google results for a search on Theodorides, and does not even seem to have a Wikipedia page in English. (Here's one in French.)

Here's an alternate translation:
Shipwrecked I; but be none scared by my ill-starred lot;
Other ships sailed the sea with mine, and suffered not.
-- from this web site, and a few others, although none that I found credit a translator.

I must say that poor Theodorides of Syracuse seems sadly underrepresented on the web.

The translator, interestingly, does somewhat better. H. Wellesley seems to be Rev. Henry Wellesley, D.D. (1794 - 1866), principal of New Inn Hall, Oxford, editor & translator of a volume called Anthologia Polyglotta: A Selection of Versions in Various Languages Chiefly From the Greek Anthology (London, 1849), available in full at the link. The link before that is to a genealogy site from which I got his dates; it, in turn, seems to be citing this W. H. Auden-focused genealogy site on which Rev. Wellesley turns up.* From those two sites, both just lists of facts, you get a sketchy but none-the-less real picture of his life: he was ordained at Oxford at age 28, married at 40; and was the father of four children (one of whom died at birth). He became a Doctor of Divinity at age 51, the same year he was made principal of New Inn Hall, Oxford (the latter, at least, because of his uncle, the Duke of Wellington, who was the chancellor of the university). He died at age 71.

Wellesley's translation of Theodorides is in his Anthologyia Polyglotta, at page 300, along with two Latin translations (one by Samuel Johnson (!)), a German translation, and the Greek original. Interestingly, Wellesley seems to have organized his book by subject and theme, so that on the very next page he reproduces a nearly identical epigram by Leonidas of Tarentum, also from the 3rd century B.C.E., who is also well represented in The Greek Anthology (with over a hundred poems, according to Wikipedia). Here's Wellesley's translation of the Leonidas:
Fearless set sail from this wreck'd seaman's grave.
We perish'd: others safely rode the wave.
And here's a second English translation, which Wellesley attributes to one W. Sheperd:
Loose from my tomb thy hawser: though I died
Shipwreck'd, my comrades 'scaped the raging tide.
Those two English epigrams read simply as alternate translations of Theodorides -- indeed, at first that's what I thought they were. But the Greek Wellesley gives is (even to this non-Greek reader's eye) different. So I suppose that either two versions of a common poem have come down to us, or it was a common sentiment in 3rd century B.C.E. Greece. (Click through for French, Latin and Italian translations, plus the original.)

Take heart, Henry Wellesley! Your work lives on: though you died, it has, so far, weathered the gale.

Update: An anonymous source, who agreed to be described as "one familiar with the President's thinking on the issue", sent in the following literal translation of the Theodorides:
I am a shipwrecked man's tomb; but you, sail! For even as we
Perished, the surviving ships traversed the sea.

* Wellesley is on an Auden-focused genealogical site for the single most distant relationship I have ever had reason to contemplate: Wellesley's sister's great-grandaughter's husband's second wife was the granddaughter of Auden's aunt (by marriage's) brother's son's wife's great-aunt's husband's brother. I swear to God I didn't just make that up (although I might well have gotten something wrong there -- it isn't the easiest chart to put into words!); in fact, it took some effort to extract that from the site, so I hope you appreciate it.

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