Helen 2:62

Ma Dame, je ne meurs abandonné d’espoir :
La playe est jusqu’à l’oz : je ne suis celuy mesme
Que j’estois l’autre jour, tant la douleur extréme
Forçant la patience, a dessus moy pouvoir.
Je ne puis ny toucher gouster n’ouïr ny voir :
J’ay perdu tous mes Sens, je suis une ombre blesme :
Mon corps n’est qu’un tombeau. Malheureux est qui aime,
Malheurueux qui se laisse à l’Amour decevoir !
Devenez un Achille aux playes qu’avez faites,
Un Telefe je suis, lequel s’en va perir :
Monstrez moy par pitié vos puissances parfaites,
Et d’un remede prompt daignez moy secourir.
Si vostre serviteur cruelle vous desfaites,
Vous n’aurez le Laurier pour l’avoir fait mourir.
                                                                            My Lady, I am dying abandoned by hope.
                                                                            My wound is to the bone. I am not even he
                                                                            Whom I was the other day, my extreme sorrow
                                                                            Beyond bearing has such power over me.
                                                                            I cannot touch, taste, hear or see :
                                                                            I have lost all my senses, I am a pallid shade ;
                                                                            My body is just a tomb. Unhappy he who loves,
                                                                            Unhappy he who allows himself to be deceived by love !
                                                                            Become an Achilles through the wounds you have given :
                                                                            I am your Telephus, who is going to die of them.
                                                                            Pity me and show your perfect power,
                                                                            Deign to help me with a prompt remedy.
                                                                            If you cruelly destroy your servant,
                                                                            You will not gain laurels for having killed him.
That last couplet is rather fun: a twist on the usual ‘killing me’ line, pointing out that no-one gets honoured for killing their own servant … The poem as a whole is interesting partly for showing how far our modern perception of the classics is from that of the past: Achilles we share, but Telephus?
The Trojan War is familiar to us, and the part of Achilles in it; and we are familiar with the ‘core’ Greek tragedies. But that the story of Telephus was a major preoccupation of the tragedians we are largely unaware – all three wrote (now lost) plays on the theme. And that familiarity with the tale extended to the renaissance, and not just in France: Shakespeare references Telephus in Henry VI part two.
So who was Telephus? The son of Heracles , he was wounded by Achilles in a preliminary to the Trojan War ; the wound would not heal, but the Delphic Oracle told him “your assailant will heal you”, a line which obsessed the Greeks and Romans. It turned out that he was to be healed by Achilles’ spear, not by Achilles himself, and the weapon that hurts & heals became a popular theme with  Roman poets – Horace, Ovid, Propertius and others all use it, often in this context of love poetry. Shakespeare’s use [Henry VI, Part 2, act 5.1.100–101] is witness to wider usage: “Whose smile and frown, like to Achilles’ spear / Is able with the change to kill and cure”.
(Wagner fans will readily see the similarities with the theme of the Holy Spear in ‘Parsifal’ which hurts and heals Amfortas.)
[For much more on the topic, see the vast Wikipedia article – an indication of the Telephus story’s lasting popularity through the centuries.]
Ronsard’s classicism of course runs deep: I like the second stanza whose details map onto the Virgilian underworld depicted in the Aeneid.

About fattoxxon

Who am I? Lover of all sorts of music - classical, medieval, world (anything from Africa), world-classical (Uzbek & Iraqi magam for instance), and virtually anything that won't be on the music charts... Lover of Ronsard's poetry (obviously) and of sonnets in general. Reader of English, French, Latin & other literature. And who is Fattoxxon? An allusion to an Uzbek singer - pronounce it Patahan, with a very plosive 'P' and a throaty 'h', as in 'khan')

One response »

  1. Hey Fattoxxon! I love your translations, and they’ve been really helpful to me as I write a chapter of my dissertation on Ronsard’s Amours to Cassandre. I’d love to cite a couple of your translations, as I find that many of the existing English translations are either incomplete or not as accurate as yours. I was wondering if you had a preference for how to cite you (if you’d like to be cited under your name rather than your username, for example). Could you reach out and let me know how you’d like me to handle this? You can shoot me an email at eah27@psu.edu or find me on Facebook (Elizabeth Liendo). Thanks!

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