Callimachus on Heraclitus

Callimachus XXXIV G-P (A.P. 7.80):

Εἰπέ τις, Ἡράκλειτε, τεὸν μόρον ἐς δέ με δάκρυ
    ἤγαγεν ἐμνήσθην δ᾿ ὁσσάκις ἀμφότεροι
ἠέλιον λέσχῃ κατεδύσαμεν. ἀλλὰ σὺ μέν που,
    ξεῖν᾿ Ἁλικαρνησεῦ, τετράπαλαι σποδιή,
αἱ δὲ τεαὶ ζώουσιν ἀηδόνες, ᾗσιν ὁ πάντων
    ἁρπακτὴς Ἀίδης οὐκ ἐπὶ χεῖρα βαλεῖ.

Someone told me of your death, Heraclitus, and it moved me to tears, when I remembered how often the sun set on our talking. And you, my Halicarnassian friend, lie somewhere, gone long long ago to dust; but they live, your Nightingales, on which Hades who siezes all shall not lay his hand.

(translated by W. R. Paton, with archaic forms updated)

They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead;
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed;
I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky.

And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

(“Heraclitus”, by William Johnson Cory, 1823-92)

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5 Responses to Callimachus on Heraclitus


    My version I did in 2018

    Someone mentioned, Heraclitus, your death.
    That instant, tears filled my eyes. I remembered
    how on numberless occasions, when it was just the two of us,
    the sun would sink into the sea behind the ebb and flow of our endless conversation.

    But, my dearest poet friend, you’ve been a heap of ashes for four ages;
    And your sweet songbirds live on -
    Creatures that the all grabbing hands of Hades
    Can never lay a grubby finger on.

  2. aDavid Saunders says:

    I learnt this poem when I was at school in the 1930s. I do not remember seeing it written, we must have learnt it orally. I have never encountered it since, but my memory today is word perfect with one exception. The phrase ‘pleasant voices’ I learnt as ‘sweet rememberances’. I could never have invented such a phrase myself, so where did it originate?

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  4. Edward Thornton says:

    Of course, I meant Kallimakhos, not Herakleitos, the person the poem is about! Sorry, brain not in gear!

  5. Edward Thornton says:

    Herakleitos’ original is wonderfully terse, whereas Cory’s version is much more long winded, not to say mawkish and sentimental! Charles V. Stanford, a very fine Irish composer (died 1924) much of whose music I love (especially his music for the Church of England) set Cory’s version for 2 tenors and 2 basses. That setting is likewise mawkish, with rather over-ripe harmony, and though an effective setting of Cory’s text, I feel it is not really a successful piece. I well remember hearing of the death of a much admired colleague and being unable to stop myself crying. Herakleitos tells it how it is!

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