Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The messenger: Part I

The messenger (Ἄγγελος) who rushes in to describe what happened to Hippolytus begins in prosaic fashion. He first speaks simply and without "art" of  how the banished young man took his leave of his friends at the border of Troezen:
We were scraping and combing the horses' coats near the wave-beaten shore and [1175] weeping at our task. For a messenger had come saying that Hippolytus would no longer dwell in this land, being exiled by you. And he came, singing the same tearful burden, to join us at the shore, and a countless throng [1180] of friends and age-mates at his heels came with him.
Hippolytus finally turns away from the polis to head north, toward Argos and Epidaurus.

The messenger's language heightens as he begins to describe what happened the moment Hippolytus enters the blank terrain beyond the polis of Troezen. Lines 1200-01, describing Zeus's thunder, are richly onomatopoeic and more dramatic. They explode in alliterative b's and br's before shrieking into the terrifying φρικώ

βροντὴ Διὸςβαρὺν βρόμον μεθῆκεφρικώδη κλύειν:
a great noise in the earth, like Zeus's thunder, roared heavily—it made one shudder to hear it.
Further on, there's the "sea-beaten beach" - ἁλιρρόθους (1205) whose rolling r's roar like the sea:

ὀρθὸν δὲ κρᾶτ᾽ ἔστησαν οὖς τ᾽ ἐς οὐρανὸν
ἵπποιπαρ᾽ ἡμῖν δ᾽ ἦν φόβος νεανικὸς
1205πόθεν ποτ᾽ εἴη φθόγγοςἐς δ᾽ ἁλιρρόθους

Here's the first part of the passage:
When we struck deserted country, there is a headland that lies beyond our territory, [1200] lying out towards what is at that point the Saronic gulf. There a great noise in the earth, like Zeus's thunder, roared heavily—it made one shudder to hear it. The horses pricked up their heads and ears to heaven, while we servants were taken with a violent fear [1205] at the thought where this voice came from. 
After this, the narrator recounts a marvel:

ἀκτὰς ἀποβλέψαντες ἱερὸν εἴδομεν
κῦμ᾽ οὐρανῷ στηρίζονὥστ᾽ ἀφῃρέθη
Σκίρωνος ἀκτὰς ὄμμα τοὐμὸν εἰσορᾶν,
ἔκρυπτε δ᾽ Ἰσθμὸν καὶ πέτραν Ἀσκληπιοῦ.
1210κἄπειτ᾽ ἀνοιδῆσάν τε καὶ πέριξ ἀφρὸν
πολὺν καχλάζον ποντίῳ φυσήματι
χωρεῖ πρὸς ἀκτὰς οὗ τέθριππος ἦν ὄχος
When we turned our eyes to the sea-beaten beach, we saw a wave, immense and uncanny, set fast in the sky, so great that my eye was robbed  (ἀφῃρέθηof the sight of Sciron's coast, and the Isthmus and Asclepius' cliff were hid from view. [1210] And then as the sea-surge made it swell and seeth up much foam all about, it came toward the shore where the chariot was.
Our translators take two different approaches to conveying the strangeness of the wave:
[Kovacs] we saw a wave, immense and uncanny, set fast in the sky
[Grene] we saw a wave appear, a miracle wave, lifting its crest to the sky 
Kovacs uses "uncanny" to capture the sense of the wave, the very incarnation of motion, fixed in space; Grene offers a "miracle wave" still in motion, rising to the sky.

The messenger calls the wave ἱερὸν, which has the sense of "filled with divine power" - and he says the wave "stood fixed in heaven"-- οὐρανῷ στηρίζον

 στηρίζον carries the sense of something set in place to stay, propped, fixed fast.

A wave standing still in the sky arguably offers something we could imagine to be filled with divine power, and this strangeness, this oxymoronic unwaving wave, betokens something qualifying as "uncanny."

Note that the messenger names two causes of the fear felt by the attendants of Hippolytus -- the thunderous sound coming from the Earth, and the wave fixed above the otherwise tumultuous sea. He goes on to describe how this vast wave "steals," i.e., obstructs their view of the usual horizon -- "Sciron's coast, the Isthmus, and Aesclepius' cliff."

We'll take up the rest of the messenger's account next, but a look at the map suggests that anything blotting out Sciron's coast, the Isthmus and the cliff of Aesclepius (in Megara) had to be pretty big. Big enough to usurp the entire horizon.

Sciron beaten by Theseus

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