Cleanthes’ Hymn to Zeus: A Translation in Meter (Sort of)

– Tony

In Greek this last semester we read through an old proto-stoic hymn to Zeus by Cleanthes. It’s a lovely little poem and is quite unique. It goes against stoicism by the very fact that it’s a hymn, thus personalizing the divine in a way foreign to stoicism. It’s interesting to contrast this with proper Christian theology, which lines up in certain parts yet most definitely not in all parts. Either way I thought it fitting for this blog.

I tried my darndest to put this thing in meter but I found it incredibly difficult. I need to spend some more time at the feet of Allen Mandelbaum clearly. Ostensibly in Blank Verse, that is, unrhymed iambic pentameter, I allowed myself significant “freedom” to diverge. Thus you’ll find plenty of anapest, amphibrach, and trochaic feet, as well as feminine endings. My scantron is a mess so it’s a good thing I’m not trying to publish this sucker.

 

Most Glorious Zeus, the Many-Named, eternally
All-Μighty, First Mover of nature; all things do you
direct with law; We hail you, since it is right
for all us mortals to speak of you. From you
we have our birth, and we alone by lot
have obtained the image of your voice;
alone of all the mortals who crawl and live
upon the ground. In this will I hymn you
and sing of your eternal strength. In truth
for you the cosmos turn around the earth,
obeying you to where you lead – Willingly
is it ruled by you. A fiery, two-edged, sword
you hold in your unconquerable hands –
All works of nature move beneath the blow
of your eternal servant; with it you direct
the universal reason; which moves about
through all things, mixing with the Great and small Light.
Thus you have become so great, the most high king
in everything. No work occurs upon
the ground apart from you, O god, neither
on the axis of the divine heavens, nor the deep,
save when evil men act in their foolishness.
But you know how to make the vain things perfect,
and how to order the disorderly –
Even the unloved is loved to you.
For in this way have you so joined all things
in one, the good in the bad, so that one thing
has come to be, which is for all: Thy Word
eternal; which those who flee avoid, Ill-fated
evil mortals; for these do always yearn
to sieze the good, yet they do not behold
god’s universal law, neither do they
hear it. If by this they would be pursuaded
with understanding they might have a good life,
But they in fact do hasten on without
the good – Each to another thing. While some
above their glory hasten on for strife;
Others, no one with order, are turned against
what’s right; still others turned toward liscensciousness,
even the sweet works of the body; the good
they yet desire but bear along now here
now there. They hasten to become the very
opposite of these good things. But Zeus, All-Giver,
Cloaked in black clouds, Ruler of the Thunderbolt,
Deliver thou all human kind from their
so baleful ignorance, which you, O Father,
disperse from the soul, and give to light upon
the mark by which you trust to steer all things
with justice; that we, being honored, may in turn
honor you, hymning your unbroken works,
as is right for mortals so to do,
For there is no gift greater than for men
and gods in common eternally to hymn your law in justice.

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2 thoughts on “Cleanthes’ Hymn to Zeus: A Translation in Meter (Sort of)

  1. kvennarad says:

    Actually blank verse can be a doddle, once you realise that it was ‘invented’ because a group of five iambs spoken in a single breath is a very natural speech pattern. I don’t think that there is a single irregular line in your translation that could not be redrafted, with ease, into pentameter. Not that it isn’t impressive as it stands.

    M
    __________
    Marie Marshall
    author/poet/editor
    Scotland

    • Tony Hunt says:

      Thanks for the encouragement! Part of my problem stems from my translational conservatism. There are actually very few additions to the text in this translation, and few substitutions of “rough” synonyms that perhaps wouldn’t work as well as I think they should. I also kept the order of the Greek text almost entirely. If I was willing to switch lines around I could probably do better as well.

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