Tag Archives: Oileus

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…’)