They told me Heraclitus

I remember one of my classics masters at school saying that this is the only poem he knows where the translation is better than the original. The translation was made famous by being included in the Oxford Book of English Verse.

The Heraclitus here is not the famous philosopher. It’s unlikely that anyone mourned his death.

From Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900.
By William (Johnson) Cory. 1823–1892


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 remember’d 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.
The Greek Anthology
Callimachus Epigram 2

Εἶπέ 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.

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2 Responses to They told me Heraclitus

  1. I love it as well. How old was this translation? I find the turn of the century translators (19th into 20th c., of course) are far more liberal with translation yet quite orthodox in meter.
    I mentioned her to you before, and I would hate to get annoying, but you ought to check out Edith Hamilton. Her translation of Trojan Women is superb.


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