To Robert Garnier (4)

Le vieil cothurne d’Euripide
Est en procez entre Garnier
Et Jodelle, qui le premier
Se vante d’en estre le guide.
Il faut que ce procez on vuide,
Et qu’on adjuge le laurier
A qui mieux d’un docte gosier
A beu de l’onde Aganippide.
S’il faut espelucher de prés
Le vieil artifice des Grecs,
Les vertus d’une œuvre et les vices,
Le sujet et le parler haut,
Et les mots bien choisis ; il faut
Que Garnier paye les espices.
                                                                            The ancient buskin of Euripides
                                                                            Is being contested between Garnier
                                                                            And Jodelle, who first
                                                                            Boasted of being our guide in this art.
                                                                            We must abandon this trial,
                                                                            And award the laurel
                                                                            To him who with learned throat
                                                                            Has drunk best of Aganippe’s waters.
                                                                            If we must examine closely
                                                                            The ancient art of the Greeks,
                                                                            The virtues and vices of a body of work,
                                                                            Subjects and grand style
                                                                            And words well-chosen, then must
                                                                            Garnier take the prize.


After yesterday’s Alexandrines for Aeschylus, we have octosyllables (tetrameters) for Euripides!  (Note, incidentally, that we have also had decasyllables (pentameters) in one of these sonnets – Ronsard is keen to show his virtuosity in the context of framing Garnier’s tragedies!)  Estienne Jodelle, another friend of Ronsard’s represents the earlier school of French drama; it is generally agreed that Garnier’s work was a major step forward from Jodelle’s. Aganippe is the name of the spring at the foot of Mount Helicon, home of the Muses; in fact, the Muses were sometimes called the ‘Aganippides’ (children of Aganippe) & it would be perfectly possible to translate “l’onde Aganippide” as ‘the Muses’ waters’.
The last line deserves a brief note:  literally, “Garnier must pay the spices”:  although judgement was supposed to be free at the time, it had become the custom for the winnder of a trial to reward the judge in spices or other rare foods. For some reason the fact that it was food not money seems to have made it seem acceptable and not a form of bribery! So, as Garnier must pay over the spices to the judge, he must be the winner of the legal contest. While Ronsard is thus consistent in his use of a legal metaphor throughout, I have opted for ‘take the prize’ which is better suited to a sporting contest: apologies for mixing my metaphors and misrepresenting Ronsard!
That brings us to the end of this set of 4 sonnets.  Now it must be time to take up the first book of Amours, for Cassandre, again and return to the poetry with which Ronsard made his name.

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