Tag Archives: Cassandra of Troy

Amours 1.223

Mets en oubly, Dieu des herbes puissant,
Le mauvais tour que non loin d’Hellesponte
Te fit m’amie, et vien d’une main pronte
Guarir son teint de fiévres pallissant.
Tourne en santé son beau corps perissant !
Ce te sera, Phebus, une grand’honte,
Si la langeur sans ton secours surmonte
L’œil, qui te tient si long temps languissant.
En ma faveur si tu as pitié d’elle,
Je chanteray comme l’errante Dele
S’enracina par ton commmandement :
Que Python fut ta premiere conqueste,
Et comme Dafne aux tresses de ta teste
Donna l’honneur du premier ornement.
                                                                            Forget, God of powerful herbs,
                                                                            The wicked trick which, not far from the Hellespont,
                                                                            My beloved did you, and come with ready hand
                                                                            To cure her complexion, pallid with fever.
                                                                            Return to health her fair but perishing body !
                                                                            It would be great shame on you, Phoebus,
                                                                            If this weakness, without your help, overcame
                                                                            Those eyes which kept you for so long weak-kneed.
                                                                            If to please me you have pity on her
                                                                            I shall sing how the wandering Delos
                                                                            Rooted itself at your command ;
                                                                            That Python was your first conquest,
                                                                            And how Daphne gave to the tresses of your head
                                                                            The glory of their first ornament.
Plenty of mythological reference here, as Ronsard begs Apollo, god of healing (‘powerful herbs’), to cure his beloved.Cassandre’s Trojan namesake, the priestess, was originally ‘cursed’ with prophetic madness by Apollo after she refused his advances (or, worse, led him on and then tricked him). Python links to the oracular side of Apollo as well, being the dragon-deity associated with the oracle at Delphi, defeated by Apollo so that the Delphic oracle became his – and was served by a ‘Pythian’ priestess.According to Ronsard, Delos (the island) rooted itself at Apollo’s command: more generally, legend has it that the wandering island was eventually fixed in its position – equidistant from the mainland to north and west, the Greek islands on the coast of Turkey in the east, and Crete to the south – by Poseidon, and subsequently became Apollo’s birthplace. And Daphne picks up the theme of ‘becoming rooted’, as she was the nymph turned into a laurel tree to avoid Apollo’s advances. (Whence the laurel wreath as a symbol of victory in competition is associated with Apollo.)

Note that the two mythical girls in the poem are both failed conquests of Apollo, who received terrible punishments!

In lines 7-8 I have tried to find a parallel for “langueur … languissant” and settled on ‘weak’ words: I’m not sure Ronsard would approve of ‘weak at the knees’ though!

Blanchemain’s version has a variant in lines 11-12:

                         … comme l’errante Dele
S’enracina sous ta voix, et comment
Python sentit ta premiere conqueste

                                                                                       … how the wandering Delos
                                                                            Rooted itself at your call, and how
                                                                            Python felt your first conquest



Amours 1.207

Sœur de Pâris, la fille au Roy d’Asie,
A qui Phebus en doute fit avoir
Peu cautement l’aiguillon du sçavoir,
Dont sans profit ton ame fut saisie :
Tu variras vers moy de fantaisie,
Puis qu’il te plaist (bien que tard) de vouloir
Changer ton Loire au sejour de mon Loir,
Pour y fonder ta demeure choisie.
En ma faveur le Ciel te guide ici,
Pour te monstrer de plus pres le souci
Qui peint au vif de ses couleurs ma face.
Vien Nymphe vien, les rochers et les bois,
Qui de pitié s’enflamment sous ma voix,
Pleurant ma peine, eschaufferont ta glace.  
                                                                            Sister of Paris, daughter to the King of Asia,
                                                                            To whom Phoebus, doubting, gave
                                                                            Incautiously the goad of knowledge,
                                                                            By which your soul was without profit seized ;
                                                                            You will change your ideas towards me
                                                                            Since you choose (though late) to consider
                                                                            Exchanging your Loire to stay on my Loir
                                                                            And to found there your chosen home.
                                                                            For my benefit is Heaven guiding you here
                                                                            To show you more closely the pain
                                                                            Which paints my face so vividly with its colours.
                                                                            Come, Nymph, come : the rocks and woods
                                                                            Which blaze up in pity at my voice,
                                                                            Weeping for my pain, will warm up your ice.
Classical allusiion to the fore again, though here Ronsard’s use of a roundabout way to identify Cassandre is fairly obvious – he rapidly gives us as much information as possible (sister of Paris, daughter of Priam, prophetic mouthpiece of Apollo … ah yes, that would be Cassandra!) In line 3 the “aiguillon” (goad, or prick, or sting, or really anything sharp and painful) perhaps calls to mind a more Christian image, that of St Paul “kicking against the pricks” as the King James version so wonderfully puts it. (Have you ever noticed how many of Jesus’s turns of phrase and stories are the language of a farmer in the fields, not that of a carpenter? If he did follow his father’s trade, he can only have done so part-time!)  Whether an intended reference or not, it is clearly the same metaphor: just as cattle were goaded with sharp sticks to keep them from wandering in the wrong direction, so here prophetic knowledge is both painful and also leaves no choice – Cassandra must prophesy, no matter that it hurts.
But then, in the rest of the poem, we abandon that image and the pains (or otherwise) of knowledge – because it becomes clear that was all just an elaborate way to say “Cassandre”. There is no real suggestion in the first tercet that Heaven’s guiding is in any way painful to Cassandre, as it was to her Trojan namesake; nor that the need to understand lies behind any decision to move closer to his home. And that is probably why I find this sonnet a bit irritating. There are thematic links between the opening and the rest, but those links seem accidental and un-purposed, which is un-satisfactory in a poet of Ronsard’s quality.
The earlier version printed by Blanchemain does not offer any substantive changes. In lines 7-8 he becomes slightly less certain of her intentions:
Changer ton Loire au rives de mon Loir,
Voire y fonder ta demeure choisie.
                                                                            Exchanging your Loire for the banks of my Loir,
                                                                            Maybe even founding there your chosen home. 
and in the final line becomes “De leurs soupirs eschauferont ta glace” (‘the rocks and woods … With their sighs will warm up your ice’)

Amours retranch. 2

A ton frere Pâris tu sembles en beauté,
A ta sœur Polyxene en chaste conscience,
A ton frere Helenin en prophete science,
A ton parjure ayeul en peu de loyauté,
A ton père Priam en brave Royauté,
Au viellard Antenor en mielleuse eloquence,
A ta tante Antigone en superbe arrogance,
A ton grand frere Hector en fiere cruauté.
Neptune n’assit onc une pierre si dure
Dedans le mur Troyen, que toy pour qui j’endure
Un million de morts, ny Ulysse vainqueur
N’emplit tant Ilion de feux, de cris, et d’armes,
De souspirs, et de pleurs, que tu combles mon cœur,
Sans l’avoir mérité, de sanglots, et de larmes
                                                                            You are like your brother Paris in beauty,
                                                                            Your sister Polyxena in chaste conscience,
                                                                            Your brother Helenus in prophetic skill,
                                                                            Your perjured grandfather [Laomedon] in faithlessness,
                                                                            Your father Priam in regal pride,
                                                                            Old Antenor in honeyed speech,
                                                                            Your aunt Antigone in magnificent arrogance,
                                                                            Your great brother Hector in proud cruelty.
                                                                            Neptune never placed a stone so hard
                                                                            In Troy’s walls as you, for whom I endure
                                                                            A million deaths, nor did conquering Ulysses
                                                                            Fill Ilium so full of fires, cries, arms,
                                                                            Sighs and laments, as you fill my heart –
                                                                            Which does not deserve it – with sobs and tears.



After that recent poem on reading Homer, another which demonstrates the effect of that reading! It’s possible that the family tree of the royal house of Troy may not be too familiar to you(!) so here’s a very useful quick summary:  several of the names above are highlighted to make navigation easy. The basic assumption is that ‘you’ (=Cassandre) are equivalent to the prophetess Cassandra of Troy.
Many of the references are not just to the characters but to the relevant myths:
 – Paris, so handsome that he was chosen to judge the goddesses’ beauty & gained Helen’s love;
 – Polyxena, whose calm wisdom encouraged Achilles (having captured her) to trust her with the information that led to his death, and who (in Euripides) nobly accepts her death as a sacrifice to Achilles’ ghost;
 – Helenus, Cassandra’s twin and also endowed with prophetic powers;
 – Laomedon, perjured because he persuaded Neptune to build Troy’s great walls (see line 9) but then refused to give the promised reward;
 – Priam, whose pride kept the war going (but who was capable of humbling himself before Achilles, to recover his son Hector’s body, in a truly noble/regal way);
 – Antenor, not a family member but Priam’s closest and wisest advisor (and an advocate for peace in the war);
 – Antigone, whose ‘arrogance’ is the centre of Sophocles’ play as her stubbornness leads to confrontation with the state and general tragedy;
 – Hector, generally considered a noble hero, but who of course has a long list of victims in the Iliad. Generally, Achilles not Hector is seen as the proudly cruel one!
Which leaves us only with the reference to Ulysses, who is responsible for the fall of Troy because he came up with the idea of the Trojan Horse.
Unusually for a poem that has been set aside, there is a variant in Blanchemain’s version at the beginning of the last line:
                          … que tu combles mon cœur,
De brasiers et de morts, de sanglots, et de larmes
                                                                                                    … as you fill my heart
                                                                            With fire and death, with sobs and tears.

Chanson (Am. 1:227d)

D’un gosier masche-laurier
     J’oy crier
Dans Lycofron ma Cassandre,
Qui prophetize aux Troyens
     Les moyens
Qui les reduiront en cendre.
Mais ces pauvres obstinez
Pour ne croire à leur Sibylle,
Virent, bien que tard, apres
     Les feux Grecs
Forcener parmy leur ville.
Ayant la mort dans le sein,
     De la main
Plomboient leur poitrine nue,
Et tordant leurs cheveux gris,
     De longs cris
Pleuroient qu’ils ne l’avoient creuëe.
Mais leurs cris n’eurent pouvoir
Les Grecs si chargez de proye,
Qu’ils ne laisserent sinon
     Que le nom
De ce qui fut jadis Troye.
Ainsi pour ne croire pas,
     Quand tu m’as
Predit ma peine future :
Et que je n’aurois en don,
     Pour guerdon
De t’aimer, que la mort dure :
Un grand brasier sans repos,
     Et mes os,
Et mes nerfs, et mon cœur brûle :
Et pour t’amour j’ay receu
     Plus de feu,
Que ne fit Troye incredule.
With her laurel-chewing throat
     I hear calling
In Lycophron my Cassandra,
Prophesying to the Trojans
     The way
They’ll be reduced to ashes.
But those poor obstinate men,
Not to believe their Sybil,
Saw afterwards, though too late,
     Greek fire
Raging through their town.
With death in their hearts,
     With their hands
They sheathed their naked breasts in lead
And tearing their grey hairs
     With long cries
They wept that they had not believed her.
But their cries had no power
     To move
The Greeks, so laden with loot
That they left nothing
     But the name
Of what once was Troy.
So, for not believing
     When you told me
Of my future pain,
And that I should gain only,
     As trophy
For loving you, the gift of harsh death,
A great fire ceaselessly
My bones and nerves and heart,
And for your love I’ve had
     More fire
Than made Troy astonished.


I’m uncomfortable with the opening line: Ronsard’s “masche-laurier” is hard to capture I feel  (EDIT – see below & Patrice’s useful clarification in the comments). But it would be a pity not to attempt the poem: it’s a marvellous one, I think, with the balance between 4 stanzas of Troy and two of Cassandre (or 2+2+2 if you prefer) and the clear link between the ‘ancient’ Cassandra and the ‘modern’, and the literal burning and the metaphorical.  Most of this is a straightforward and familiar recital of the Trojan legend, but Muret helps us with the odd reference to Lycophron:  ‘Lycophron, a native of Chalcis, was one of the seven poets who flourished in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, and who were called the Pleiade. This Lycophron wrote a poem called Cassandra, which alone has survived to this day, in which he depicts her predicting the evils which are to come to the town of Troy’.  Thus we see Ronsard managing to refer back to the original Pleaid of Alexandrian poets in the Hellenistic period of Greece, which gave its name to the ‘modern’ Pleiade of Ronsard, Baif and the others.
No variants to report from Blanchemain’s earlier version (!)
More on the opening line:  following Patrice’s hint, I have gone and looked up Lycophron. As often with Ronsard, the learned reference isn’t as difficult to locate as you might think: in fact, it’s in the 6th line of the 1500 line poem… The opening, in a Victorian translation I’ve borrowed from www.theoi.com, goes: “All will I tell truly that thou askest from the utter beginning, and if the tale be prolonged, forgive me, master. For not quietly as of old did the maiden loose the varied voice of her oracles, but poured forth a weird confused cry, and uttered wild words from her bay-chewing mouth, imitating the speech of the dark Sphinx.”  The Greek word is “Daphne-phagon” – laurel- or bay-eating – at the beginning of line 6 below
Further edit:  Ronsard also used this concept in Odes 1.11, strophe 5, where he writes of Phoebus (Apollo):
Lequel m’encharge de chanter
Son Du-Bellay, pour le vanter
Sur tous ses enfans qui ont bien
Masché du Laurier Delphien.
                                                           He who charged me to sing
                                                           Of his Du Bellay, to praise him
                                                           Above all those of his children who have
                                                           Well-chewed the Delphic laurel.

Sonnet 105

Apres ton cours je ne haste mes pas
Pour te souiller d’une amour deshonneste :
Demeure donq, le Locrois m’admonneste
Aux bors Gyrez de ne te forcer pas.
Neptune oyant ses blasphemes d’abas,
Luy accabla son impudique teste
D’un grand rocher au fort de la tempeste :
« Le meschant court luy mesme à son trespas. »
Il te voulut le meschant violer,
Lors que la peur te faisoit accoler
Les pieds vangeurs de la Greque Minerve :
Et je ne veux qu’à ton autel offrir
Mon chaste cœur, s’il te plaist de souffrir
Qu’en l’immolant de victime il te serve.
                                                                            I do not hurry behind you
                                                                            To soil you with a dishonourable love;
                                                                            Stay then, the Locrian warns me
                                                                            At the borders of Gyrea not to compel you.
                                                                            Neptune hearing his swearing from down in the deeps
                                                                            Heaped on his shameless head
                                                                            A great rock in a powerful tempest;
                                                                            “The wicked man rushes to his own death.”
                                                                            He wanted – that wicked man – to rape you
                                                                            When fear made you embrace
                                                                            The avenging feet of Grecian Minerva;
                                                                            Yet I wish only to offer at your altar
                                                                            My chaste heart, if it will please you to allow
                                                                            It, sacrificed as victim, to serve you.




Some commentary first:  ‘the Locrian’ in line 3 is Ajax the Lesser (of Locris), one of the warriors who conquered Troy. In so doing he raped Cassandra – the Trojan one – before the altar in a temple, and so outraged the gods. Variants of his death exist, but one of them has him shipwrecked and cast onto a sharp rock, then buried by Neptune under a mountain or rocks. Muret, in his footnote (quoted by Blanchemain) refers to this version of the story: ‘Ajax, son of Oileus, for having tried to rape Cassandra who had hidden in the temple of Minerva, was on his return to Greece struck down by the goddess and crushed beneath a part of some rocks which were called the ‘Gyrez’ rocks.’  After much searching I’ve been unable to locate any ‘Gyrean’ rocks. The place where Ajax was wrecked is generally said to be cape Capharea (modern: Cafirias) at the southern end of the island of Euboea (Evia), and I think it’s safe to assume this is what Ronsard is thinking of. (As an aside, ‘gyrez’ to modern Greeks is likely to call to mind ‘gyros’ which are the vertical spits on which kebabs rotate and cook, and by extension the meal-in-a-pitta-bread snacks that are served by those kebab bars!)
Personally I find it slightly surprising that Ronsard feels ‘safe’ contrasting himself and Cassandre so bluntly with Cassandre’s namesake & her rapist! But the rhetoric of the poem is beautifully balanced, to refer so bluntly to the rape and dwell on the violence associated with it, then swing back via the fear of Cassandra to the harmlessness of the present-day situation.
I may be wrong in detecting a fleeting reference to one of Horace’s most famous Odes in the final lines: in Odes 1.5, Horace imagines (in a tightly-structured poem not unlike a sonnet) his ‘ex’ enjoying herself with a younger lover, and ends with a metaphor for his retreat from the energetic passions of her love, in which he imagines an old sailor hanging up a sacrificial offering in Neptune’s temple to thank him for safe return from the seas. With Neptune appearing a little earlier in Ronsard’s sonnet, I wonder if he is hinting at the exhaustingly-passionate love he would like to share with Cassandre?!
What of Blanchemain’s earlier version? Happily, Ronsard  didn’t feel the need for major change in this poem, for it is a fine poem. His changes are designed to improve the poetry, rather than change the sense (and in my view do just that). In line 8 there is a different version of the homily: “Le Ciel conduit le meschant au trespas” (‘Heaven brings the wicked man to his death’). In line 4 there are “rocz Gyrez” (‘Gyrean rocks’) instead of “bors Gyrez”. And in the last tercet some minor textuakl variants only:  “Moi, je ne veux qu’à ta grandeur offrir / Ce chaste cœur…” (‘I myself wish only to offer to your greatness / This chaste heart…’)



Sonnet 36

Pour la douleur qu’Amour veut que je sente,
Ainsi que moy Phebus tu lamentois,
Quand amoureux et banny tu chantois
Pres d’Ilion sur les rives de Xante.
Pinçant en vain ta lyre blandissante,
Fleuves et fleurs et bois tu enchantois,
Non la beauté qu’en l’ame tu sentois,
Qui te navroit d’une playe aigrissante.
Là de ton teint tu pallissois les fleurs,
Là les ruisseaux s’augmentoyent de tes pleurs,
Là tu vivois d’une esperance vaine.
Pour mesme nom Amour me fait douloir
Pres de Vandôme au rivage du Loir,
Comme un Phenis renaissant de ma peine.
                                                                      With the sadness which Love wants me to feel
                                                                      You too, Phoebus, just like me lamented
                                                                      When, a banished lover, you sang
                                                                      By Ilium on the banks of the Xanthe.
                                                                      Vainly gripping your beguiling lyre
                                                                      You enchanted rivers, flowers, woods,
                                                                      But not the beauty whom your soul desired
                                                                      Who hurt you with a bitter wound.
                                                                      There, you made the flowers pale with your hue;
                                                                      There, the rivers grew deeper with your tears;
                                                                      There, you lived in empty hope.
                                                                      Now, Love makes me weep for the same name
                                                                      Near Vendôme on the banks of the Loir,
                                                                      Like a phoenix reborn from my pain.
Another mythological sequence: Ronsard once again creates a parallel between ‘his’ Cassandre and her Trojan namesake.  Phoebus (Apollo) was believed to have fallen in love with Cassandra of Troy (Ilium) but been rejected by her. The river Xanthe is one of the Trojan plain’s rivers.  The phoenix is the legendary bird reborn through fire – so that Ronsard evokes the burning pain he feels without actually having to use that phrase.  Note that the Loir is not the Loire – it’s further north in Eure-et-Loir.
I’ve translated line 7 rather loosely: strictly, it’s “But not the beauty whom you feel [or, ‘which you feel’] in your soul“; beauty may be the abstract or it may mean ‘her beauty’ or it may just mean Cassandra!  But I think Apollo is meant to feel the desire (or the wound), rather than just ‘sense her beauty’; so I’ve tried to convey that intent rather than translate the words directly.
Blanchemain’s version has (in my view) some improvements on this one – and some awkwardnesses missing here! In line 3 he has “Quand, amoureux, loin du ciel, tu chantois” (‘When, in love but far from heaven, you sang’); but the major differences, for better and worse, are in the final sestet. Here it is in his version:
Là de ton teint se pallissoient les fleurs,
Et l’eau, croissant du dégout de tes pleurs,
Portoit tes cris, dont elle rouloit pleine.
Pour mesme nom les fleurettes du Loir,
Pres de Vendôme, ont daigné me douloir,
Et l’eau se plaindre aux souspirs de ma peine.
                                                                     There, the flowers grew pale with your hue,
                                                                     And the waters, growing deeper as they tasted your tears,
                                                                     Carried your cries, as they flowed filled with them.
                                                                     Now, for the same name, the little flowers of the Loir
                                                                     Near Vendôme have seen fit to grieve with me,
                                                                     And the waters to weep at my pain’s sighs.
 For better, Ronsard avoids the slightly approximate rhyme of ‘vaine – peine’ and uses a stricter rhyme instead; and he mirrors the flowers and waters of the first tercet in the second. But for worse, he loses the linking theme of Love’s intent, and the image of the phoenix. 

You can read Tony Kline’s version in verse here


Sonnet 33

Je ne serois d’un abusé la fable,
Fable future au peuple survivant,
Si ma raison alloit bien ensuivant
L’arrest fatal de ta voix veritable,
Chaste prophete, et vrayment pitoyable,
Pour m’advertir tu me predis souvent,
Que je mourray, Cassandre, en te servant :
Mais le malheur ne te rend point croyable.
Le fier destin qui trompe mon trespas,
Et qui me force à ne te croire pas,
Pour me piper tes oracles n’accorde.
Puis je voy bien, veu l’estat où je suis,
Que tu dis vray :  toutesfois je ne puis
D’autour du col me detacher la corde.
                                                                      I would not be the tale of a misused man,
                                                                      A future tale for the people living after us,
                                                                      If my mind were well, following
                                                                      Its fateful capture by your truthful voice,
                                                                      Chaste prophetess, and truly to be pitied.
                                                                      To warn me you often give me the prediction
                                                                      That I will die, Cassandre, serving you;
                                                                      But my misfortune does not make you at all believable.
                                                                      The proud destiny which denies me my death,
                                                                      And which forces me not to believe you,
                                                                      Does not grant that your oracles should snare me.
                                                                      But then I see clearly, given the position I’m in,
                                                                      That you speak the truth:  anyway, I cannot
                                                                      Remove the rope from round my neck.
Let me admit this up front:  the fluidity of Ronsard’s thought in this sonnet leaves me very uncertain that I’ve translated it correctly. I’m not quite sure I follow all his twists and turns.  Anyway, the translation is what it is: if you can offer improvements let me know!!
In the middle, Ronsard is clearly once again aligning his Cassandre with Cassandra of Troy, the ‘chaste prophetess’.  Assuming that I recall correctly it was her who lost her voice (see Sonnet 27), then ‘l’arrest … de ta voix’ may have a double meaning: for Trojan Cassandra, ‘the stoppage of your voice’, while for modern Cassandre, ‘my capture by your voice’. I say ‘may have’ – I may have misunderstood what’s going on here!
One difficulty is the punctuation in the first octet. Marty-Laveaux has this all as one sentence, which leaves me confused!  I have split the sentence at the end of line 5 – which is probably not what Ronsard would want, as he generally keeps his thought-units aligned with the sections of the sonnet. Blanchemain (for that reason?) makes each of the quatrains a complete sentence in itself.
And what of Blanchemain’s text? Well, he presents a different arrangement of the first line: “D’un abusé je ne serois la fable”, which does not affect the meaning; but he offers not one but two different versions of the final sestet.
Car ton destin qui cèle mon trespas,
Et qui me force à ne te croire pas,
D’un faux espoir tes oracles me cache.
Et si voy bien, veu l’estat où je suis,
Que tu dis vray ;  toutesfois je ne puis
D’autour du col me denouer l’attache.


                                                                      For your fate which conceals my death (from me),
                                                                      And which forces me not to believe you,
                                                                       Hides your oracles in a false hope.
                                                                      And if I see clearly, given the position I’m in,
                                                                      That you speak the truth, anyway, I cannot
                                                                      Un-knot the cord from round my neck.


 The version above, you may note, makes the fate definitely hers; my translation implicitly assumed the fate or destiny was his. Blanchemain’s second version is as above except that he goes back to the same last line as Marty-Laveaux, above, but has a different line 11 rhyming with it. If anything, the new line 11 increases my uncertainty even more – see the tentative translation of the first sestet below!
(l. 11) Nulle créance à tes propos n’accorde …
(l. 14) D’autour du col me detacher la corde.
                                                                      For your destiny which conceals my death (from me),
                                                                      And which forces me not to believe you,
                                                                      Does not accept any claim from your suggestions.