Saturday, April 07, 2007

Graeca again

'Through remembrance man discovers this twofold 'before' of human existence... This is the reason why the return to one's origin (redire ad creatorem) can at the same time be understood as an anticipating reference to one's end' -H. Arendt on St. Augustine.

'A man in prison continues to believe in an unrevealed future and invites one to work in the present for the most distant things, of which the present is an irrefutable negation... There's a very great nobility in an energy freed from the strangehold of the present' -E. Levinas on Leon Blum.

I return to the Greek poetry after so many years, if I'm not mistaken these are the poems I'd read at the age of 15 or so, first in English and then later on in Greek. Reworking my translations anew, like those I sent to O. for his birthday about three years ago (and perhaps the last time I looked at a Greek poem); of course there's no faith in me that he would have ever read them and who would really take an interest in my 'docta spectas' which is really 'docta ignorantia' like E. Bloch would say. In this vein of things nothing more befitting than Weissberg on Arendt: 'Ancient Greek offered Arendt her first chance at emigration: a language that is no longer used in public. Greek poetry- like love- is a private affair that respects a lover's general ignorance', that of course when speaking about Bloch and the 'docta ignorantia'. I guess I can really find myself there, but I guess that as a young philologist I never thought I'd have to emigrate alone, only when I later realized that, I left the Greek poetry, because I had already emigrated and then realized I had done it by myself. So many times I translated those poems in personal letters to people, hand writing and little cuts from nature and stationery, sometimes it even took me weeks to finish those letters - not the writing which I often completed in a day, and the translations in a single afternoon. Sometimes I even bored at the class on Seneca and sitting in the furthest back row I read these little poems as though no one had read them before in a thousand years. I had then no interest in philosophies, Pre-Socratics, Plato and Heidegger was all that I knew (and perhaps all what I thought one needed to know) because after all the world was homely and I didn't have such immediate plans on emigrating from 'that life'. Poetry was almost a mother-tongue, the most becoming of all and nowadays as I face so many terminal roads in my pilgrimage I am bound to return, as though anticipating an end.

So many afternoons spent with Elkin and Joanna plundering into those obscure texts, but he liked best the Romans, 'Trymalchion' (I can't recall the author) and the comedies of Plautus (one of which I read last year, truly refreshing), Joanna set on a full translation of 'Antigone' that I would undertake as a dissertation topic both then and while in Tel Aviv, this was of course never completed. Eventually I would only be able to produce decipherment of some short fragments of the Pre-Socratics (Heraclitus and Parmenides), then my archaic lyrical poems and finally a brief lecture on the proto-Greek culture of the Minoic age (historians term this 'age of bronze in Greece) with comparisons to equivalent Phoenician and Canaanite. There was something about vessels, administrative documents and a commentary of the 'Dames in Blue' from Minos that I'm not sure I finished. But this was enough for Prof. Georgia, I had christened myself by understanding Heidegger on the 'Origin of the Work of Art'; I think I did also something about the primitive religion (although from a book of Kerenyi, which Georgia always despised for not being 'Greek enough') and all of us (after having heard the tapes she brought) attempted to write essays on music in the archaic period, especially Crete, but could never find enough material. In practice this was all the education I had been able to summon before my fateful arrival in Israel, and perhaps all the education I could ever have - all my philosophical education ever since then has been only a source of endless disappointment and hopelessness, I shall no longer hope anything from philosophy and this is why at every juncuture I return to Greece as though it had been granted me. Wasn't it Jaspers who remarked Hellas was the only homeland? I'm sure he's right. For the most part three long years of classical philosophy faded away with the inexpensive cocaine and vodka, with Diana and her sister, with the greenery and with everything else; but only the language remained. I left my notebooks behind, the grammars, and the little folders with my annotated texts from Xenophon and Plato's 'Phaidrus' and perhaps even an unfinished Sophocles. Notes from Biblical Hebrew, I was really bad in that class... but Prof. Noel loved me, because I was a Greek and recited Hölderlin by heart, son of Endymion and Heracles... never Hebrew enough, not until this very day, not until the Exile that would really never end. Oh God! what a beautiful life it was, Christina sat staring into my eyes with her Jewish pale sight as we sat in Salerno and spoke about 'Germania', she hearkened to me for hours trying to make sense of the Greek philosophy, the truth, the love, the friendship... all there in Plato. She spoke about Shabbat as I could only answer with Diotima's wisdom, and little did I know how much those conversations would become part of my body in later years while in Jerusalem, when no Greek poetry could be an ailment anymore. Yesterday I read Diotima again and it fulfilled me in the air of yearning, because G. and K. are Diotima nowadays, but I can no longer trust her... and like the old Christina, I've become fonder of Ruth. And only if for the sake of escaping from myself a little, wishing a 'bissele glik' I shall return to my Greek lyric, but with a tainted hope... the hope that even if there's no companionship there might be eventually witnesses to the Exile, and I shall translate these poems again, as though I were a young philologist at the age of 16, and if at all, for them., so that they might know about it, and hear this story... because all what I can do for them is to tell them stories, not sure they'll care to read Sappho, but after all as the book of Proverbs says 'The sluggard says: There's a lion in the street, it will devour me'. I can't make promises, for after all, I'm so untimely.How much solitude one needs gather as not to have any other motifs but dead nature?

ελθε κυπρι
χρισιασιν εν κυλικεσσιν αβρως
συμμενιγμενον θαλιαισι νεκταρ

'Come, Goddess of Cyprus, and in golden cups
serve nectar mixed delicately with delight'

μναθεναι τινα φαμι και υστερον αμμενων

'...Men I think will remember us hereafter'

Ερος δαυτ' ετιναζεν εμοι φρενας
ανεμος κατ' ορος δρυσιν εμπεσων

'Now Eros stirs my soul, a strong wind on the mountain
Shaking the oaks'

Δεδυκε μεν α σελαννα
και Πλειαδες μεσαι δε
νυκτες παρα δ'ερχετ' ωρα
εγω δε μονα κατευδω

'The moon hath left the skies
Lost in hindsight is the light
of the Pleiads
The night is already midding
Time sleeps by
But on my cradle
Alone I lie'

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