Take a moment to savour the only 12-syllable lines in the Amours de Cassandre (apparently!). The snaky hair of the Gorgons (led by Medusa) is well known. Less well known is the very obscure story of Helen (of Troy) crushing an African snake, thus causing the species’ strange halting movement, on the way home to Sparta after the fall of Troy… And, though Euridice died of a snake bite, Ronsard is also thinking of the great love of Orpheus for her. Ronsard tinkered with this sonnet as much as any he didn’t re-write substantially, so here is the complete Blanchemain (early) version with changes marked. Blanchemain, probably rightly, feels the first line in this version is so obscure it needs a footnote to point us in the direction of Medusa. Le sang fut bien maudit de la hideuse face, Qui premier engendra les serpens venimeux ! Tu ne devois, Helene, en marchant dessus eux, Leur écrazer leurs reins et en perdre la race. Nous estions l’autre jour en une verte place Cueillans m’amie et moy les fraisiers savoureux : Un pot de cresme estoit au milieu de nous deux, Et sur du jonc du laict cailloté comme glace : Quand un vilain serpent de venin tout couvert, Par ne sçay quel malheur sortit d’un buisson vert Contre le pied de celle à qui je fay service, Pour la blesser à mort de son venin infait ; Et lors je m’escriay, pensant qu’il nous eust fait Moy, un second Orphée et elle une Eurydice. That blood was truly cursed which, from the hideous head, First formed venomous serpents! Helen, you should as you walked over them Have crushed their guts and destroyed their race. We were the other day in a green spot, My love and I, picking tasty strawberries; There was a pot of cream between us two And milk on a reed mat, clotted like ice; When a wretched serpent all covered in venom By some ill-chance, leaving a green bush, Struck the foot of her to whom I make my service, To wound her to death with its wicked venom; And then I cried out, thinking that he would have made of us Me a second Orpheus and her another Eurydice.
[Edit: I have returned to line 8 after reading Louise Rogers Lalaurie’s discussion paper on translation. She points out that ‘laits caillotés’ were like little blancmanges, we might say ‘set’ rather than ‘clotted’. So it might be clearer to translate as something like ‘A pale blancmange mound, like an ice-cream, upon rushes’? ]