Tag Archives: Perseus

Odes 4:5



Guy, nos meilleurs ans coulent
Comme les eaux qui roulent
D’un cours sempiternel ;
La mort pour sa sequelle
Nous ameine avec elle
Un exil éternel.
Nulle humaine priere
Ne repousse en arriere
Le bateau de Charon,
Quand l’ame nue arrive
Vagabonde en la rive
De Styx et d’Acheron.
Toutes choses mondaines
Qui vestent nerfs et veines
La mort égale prend,
Soient pauvres ou soient princes ;
Car sur toutes provinces
Sa main large s’estend.
La puissance tant forte
Du grand Achille est morte,
Et Thersite, odieux
Aux Grecs, est mort encores ;
Et Minos qui est ores
Le conseiller des dieux.
Jupiter ne demande
Que des bœufs pour offrande ;
Mais son frere Pluton
Nous demande, nous hommes,
Qui la victime sommes
De son enfer glouton.
Celuy dont le Pau baigne
Le tombeau nous enseigne
N’esperer rien de haut,
Et celuy que Pegase
(Qui fit soucer Parnase)
Culbuta d’un grand saut.
Las ! on ne peut cognaistre
Le destin qui doit naistre,
Et l’homme en vain poursuit
Conjecturer la chose
Que Dieu sage tient close
Sous une obscure nuit.
Je pensois que la trope
Que guide Calliope,
Troupe mon seul confort,
Soustiendroit ma querelle,
Et qu’indonté par elle
Je donterois la mort.
Mais une fiévre grosse
Creuse déjà ma fosse
Pour me banir là bas,
Et sa flame cruelle
Se paist de ma mouelle,
Miserable repas.
Que peu s’en faut, ma vie,
Que tu ne m’es ravie
Close sous le tombeau,
Et que mort je ne voye
Où Mercure convoye
Le debile troupeau !
[Et ce Grec qui les peines
Dont les guerres sont pleines
Va là bas racontant,
Poëte qu’une presse
Des épaules espaisse
Admire en l’écoutant.]
A bon droit Prométhée
Pour sa fraude inventée
Endure un tourment tel,
Qu’un aigle sur la roche
Luy ronge d’un bec croche
Son poumon immortel.
Depuis qu’il eut robée
La flame prohibée,
Pour les dieux despiter,
Les bandes incogneues
Des fiévres sont venues
Parmi nous habiter.
Et la mort despiteuse,
Auparavant boiteuse,
Fut légère d’aller ;
D’ailes mal-ordonnées
Aux hommes non données
Dedale coupa l’air.
L’exécrable Pandore
Fut forgée, et encore
Astrée s’en-vola,
Et la boîte féconde
Peupla le pauvre monde
De tant de maux qu’il a.
Ah ! le meschant courage
Des hommes de nostre âge
N’endure pas ses faits ;
Que Jupiter estuye
Sa foudre, qui s’ennuye
Venger tant de mesfaits !
Guy, our best years rush by
Like streams flowing
In their everlasting race ;
Death, as the sequel,
Brings us with it
Eternal exile.
No human prayer
Can push back
Charon’s boat
When the naked soul arrives
A wanderer at the river
Styx and Acheron.
All wordly things
Equipped with nerves and veins
Death takes equally,
Be they poor men or princes ;
For over all the empires
Its wide hand extends.
The strength, though great,
Of mighty Achilles is dead ;
And Thersites, hated
By the Greeks, is dead too ;
And Minos too, who was once
Advisor to the gods.
Jupiter requires only
Cattle as an offering ;
But his brother Pluto
Requires us, us men,
Who are the victims
Of his greedy hell.
He, whose tomb the Pau [Po]
Bathes, teaches us
To hope for nothing from on high,
And he too, whom Pegasus
(Who disquieted Parnassus)
Knocked down with his great leap.
Alas ! we cannot know
The fate which must come to us,
And man in vain seeks
To conjecture what thing
Our wise God keeps hidden
Beneath dark night.
I thought that the troop
Whom Calliope leads,
The troop which is my sole comfort,
Would support my complaint
And that, untamed by them,
I would tame death.
But a great fever
Is already digging my grave
To banish me down there,
And its cruel flame
Is feeding on my marrow,
A wretched repast.
How little is needed, mt life,
For you to be taken from me,
Shut in beneath my tomb,
And for me to see death
Where Mercury brings
The feeble troop !
[And that Greek who
Continually recounts down there
The pains with which war is filled,
The poet whom a crowd
Of wide shoulders
Admires as they listen.]
Rightly does Prometheus
For that trick he contrived
Endure such torment,
As, on his rock, an eagle
With its crooked beak gnaws
His immortal guts.
Since he stole away
The forbidden fire
To spite the gods,
The unknown bonds
Of fevers have come
To live among us ;
And resentful death,
Before that limping slowly,
Has become light on his feet.
With clumsy wings
Not granted to man
Daedalus cut through the air.
Cursed Pandora
Was forged and, still
A star, flew off
While the fruitful box
Peopled this poor world
With all the evils it had.
Ah, the paltry courage
Of the men of our age
Cannot endure their deeds ;
May Jupiter hold back
His thunderbolts, bored with
Avenging so many misdeeds !


This Ode is dedicated to Guy Pacate, prior of Sougé – a small village in the Loir region. Even today it consists of little more than one street and a church. Pacate had been one of the little group around Daurat in the 1540s, including Ronsard, du Bellay and Denisot, from which sprang the Pléiade. Among them he was apparently known for his learning and his gift for Latin poetry; though beyond their circle he seems obscure.  Perhaps it is relevant that, in the posthumous editions of Ronsard the dedication was to Jean Daurat himself, rather than this little-known satellite of his.
It’s certainly relevant that Pacate knew his classics: there is an array of classical references here rarely seen in such number in Ronsard’s poems! But at the same time Ronsard contrives an inward-looking reflection on death rather than a grand, public poem, suitable to the relative obscurity of the dedicatee.
Stanza 2 refers to the journey to the afterlife: souls would come down to the river Styx where they awaited Charon’s boat to ferry them over to Hades. (Mercury guided souls to the underworld – stanza 10.)
Stanza 4 contrasts Achilles with Thersites, the former the hero of the Iliad, the latter an annoying, cowardly tell-tale also on the Greek side; and adds Minos, once a king on earth, but tricked and killed in his bath by his daughters.
In stanza 6, Pau is famous as the birthplace of “noste Enric” (‘our Henry’), Henry IV of France; and earlier was the base of Gaston Fébus, whose Renaissance court paralleled that of Italian city-states. But this Pau is in fact the Po in north Italy, reputed to be where Phaethon fell when struck down by Jupiter’s thunderbolt. The second half of the stanza is about Perseus; other editions have “sourcer” rather than the (unique?) “soucer” which I have treated as if it were “soucier”: “Qui fit sourcer Parnase” would mean something like “who made a spring come from Parnassus”, the spring being the Hippocrene spring which was created when Pegasus stamped his foot, and which became sacred to the Muses.
The troop of Calliope in stanza 8 is the Muses – Calliope is the muse of epic poetry. In stanza 11, the poet is no doubt Homer; we have met Prometheus (stanzas 12-13), punished by the gods for bringing fire to man, regularly. In stanza 14 I have to admit the presence of Daedalus confuses me: there is no link to Pandora, nor did his flight lead to his own death. I assume that Ronsard is offering a simile – like Daedalus taking wing, death too became swifter.
Finally, in the penultimate stanza, Pandora is ‘forged’ because she the first woman, was made by Vulcan on Jupiter’s instructions. The story of the evils contained in Pandora’s box is well-known.

Sonnet 56

Quel sort malin, quel astre me fit estre
Jeune et si fol, et de malheur si plein ?
Quel destin fit que tousjours je me plain
De la rigueur d’un trop rigoureux maistre ?
Quelle des Sœurs à l’heure de mon estre
Pour mon malheur noircit mon fil humain ?
Quel des Démons m’eschauffant en son sein,
En lieu de laict, de soin me fit repaistre ?
Heureux les corps dont la terre a les os !
Bien-heureux ceux que la nuit du Chaos
Presse au giron de sa masse brutale !
Sans sentiment, leur repos est heureux :
Que suis-je, las ! moy chetif amoureux,
Pour trop sentir, qu’un Sisyphe ou Tantale ?
                                                                           What malign fate, what star made me
                                                                           Young and so foolish, and so full of misfortune?
                                                                           What destiny made me always complain
                                                                           Of the harshness of a too-strict master?
                                                                           Which of the Sisters at the time of my creation
                                                                           Blackened the thread of my life to my misfortune?
                                                                           Which of the Demons, warming me at his breast,
                                                                           Fed me with hard care in place of milk?
                                                                           Fortunate those corpses whose bones are in the earth!
                                                                           So fortunate those whom the night of Chaos
                                                                           Presses to the bosom of his rough form!
                                                                           This is not sentiment: their rest is happy;
                                                                           But I, alas, the wretched lover – what am I
                                                                           From having too much feeling, but Sisyphus or Tantalus?
Another sonnet with which the older Ronsard tinkered; I have for instance translated line 7 above to follow line 5 (‘Which of the …’) even though that feels a little awkward in line 7, only because in the earlier version (below) Ronsard does not deliberately parallel the beginning of the lines!  (Interesting that he removes the insistent duplication of “Heureux ceux-là” in lines 9-10, but adds the less insistent duplication of lines 7 & 9.) The Sisters are a well-defined group – the three Graiai whom Perseus visits, sometimes identified with the Moirai or Fates who spin the threads of man’s life; ‘the Demons’ are a far less clearly-defined group – ‘which demon’ (in Blanchmain’s version) carries that sense of a less-defined group better.
In other respects the change in the second stanza seems clearly (to me) to move away from the easy writing of the early version towards a more tortured, deliberately complex and obscure style – Ronsard (again) trying too hard in his old age to eliminate elements of youthful simplicity from his poems?
Sisyphus and Tantalus in the final line are famous images of the torments of Hell – Sisyphus always rolling his great rock uphill but never reaching the top, Tantalus always ‘tantalised’ by food and water just out of reach.
Again, as changes occur throughout, and so that you can take your own view on the versions of the second stanza, here is the complete Blanchemain (early) version:
Quel Dieu malin, quel astre, me fit estre
Et de misére et de tourment si plein ?
Quel destin fit que tousjours je me plain
De la rigueur d’un trop rigoureux maistre ?
Quelle des Sœurs, à l’heure de mon estre
Noircit le fil de mon sort inhumain ?
Et quel démon d’une senestre main,
Berça mon corps quand le ciel me fit naistre ?
Heureux ceux-là dont la terre a les os !
Heureux ceux-là que la nuict du chaos
Presse au giron de sa masse brutale !
Sans sentiment, leur repos est heureux :
Que suis-je,  las ! moy chetif amoureux,
Pour trop sentir, qu’un Sisyphe ou Tantale ?
                                                                           What malign god, what star made me
                                                                           So full of sorrow and pain?
                                                                           What destiny made me always complain
                                                                           Of the harshness of a too-strict master?
                                                                           Which of the Sisters at the time of my creation
                                                                           Blackened the thread of my inhuman fate?
                                                                           And which Demon with ominous hand
                                                                           Cradled my limbs when heaven had me born?
                                                                           Fortunate those whose bones are in the earth!
                                                                           Fortunate those whom the night of Chaos
                                                                           Presses to the bosom of his rough form!
                                                                           This is not sentiment: their rest is happy;
                                                                           But I, alas, the wretched lover – what am I
                                                                           From having too much feeling, but Sisyphus or Tantalus?



Sonnet 61

Madame se levoit un beau matin d’Esté,
Quand le Soleil attache à ses chevaux la bride :
Amour estoit present avec sa trousse vuide,
Venu pour la remplir des traicts de sa clairté.

J’entre-vy dans son sein deux pommes de beauté,
Telles qu’on ne voit point au verger Hesperide :
Telles ne porte point la Deesse de Gnide,
Ny celle qui a Mars des siennes allaité.

Telle enflure d’yvoire en sa voûte arrondie,
Tel relief de Porphyre, ouvrage de Phidie,
Eut Andromede alors que Persée passa,

Quand il la vit liée à des roches marines,
Et quand la peur de mort tout le corps luy glaça,
Transformant ses tetins en deux boules marbrines.

                                                                              My Lady arose one fine morning in Summer
                                                                              When the sun was harnessing his horses ;
                                                                              Love was present with his quiver empty,
                                                                              Come to refill it with the arrows of her brightness.
                                                                              I glimpsed in her bosom two apples of beauty
                                                                              Such as one could not find in the Hesperides’ orchard ;
                                                                              Such as the goddess of Cnidus does not bear,
                                                                              Nor she who gave Mars milk from hers.
                                                                              Such a swelling of ivory in its rounded arch,
                                                                              Such a relief in porphyry, the work of Phidias,
                                                                              Had Andromeda when Perseus passed by,
                                                                              When he saw her bound to sea-board rocks,
                                                                              And when the fear of death made her whole body like ice,
                                                                              Transforming her breasts into two marble-like globes.


A crescendo of classical allusion as we near the end of the book! The garden of the Hesperides was where the golden apples grew – a wedding gift from Juno to Jupiter;  Juno is also Mars’s mother.  The goddess of Cnidos is Venus – the ‘Venus of Cnidos’ was also the most famous statue of Praxiteles (picture here), one of the foremost Greek sculptors. Phidias was the other great sculptor of antiquity, whose name is a byword for quality.  Andromeda was rescued by Perseus from a sea-monster after being chained naked to a rock as a sacrifice – hence a classic example of the nude female form (several examples on her Wikipedia page!)


Sonnet 48

Ton extreme beauté par ses rais me retarde
Que je n’ose mes yeux sur les tiens asseurer,
Debile je ne puis leurs regards endurer.
Plus le Soleil esclaire, et moins on le regarde.

Helas ! tu es trop belle, et tu dois prendre garde
Qu’un Dieu si grand thresor ne puisse desirer,
Qu’il ne t’en-vole au ciel pour la terre empirer.
« La chose precieuse est de mauvaise garde. »

Les Dragons sans dormir tous pleins de cruauté,
Gardoient les pommes d’or pour leur seule beauté :
Le visage trop beau n’est pas chose trop bonne.

Danaé le sceut bien, dont l’or se fist trompeur.
Mais l’or qui domte tout, davant tes yeux s’estonne,
Tant ta chaste vertu le fait trembler de peur.


                                                                              Your extreme beauty holds me back by its rays
                                                                              So that I dare not fix my eyes on yours,
                                                                              I am weak and cannot endure their glances.
                                                                              The more the Sun shines, the less one can look upon him.
                                                                              Alas, you are too fair, you must take care
                                                                              That a god does not desire so great a treasure,
                                                                              That he does not steal you away to heaven, to make the earth a worse place.
                                                                              “A precious treasure is poorly guarded.”
                                                                              Sleepless Dragons full of cruelty
                                                                              Guarded the golden apples for their beauty alone;
                                                                              A face too fair is not something too good [for them].
                                                                              Danaë knew it well, she whom gold itself deceived.
                                                                              But the gold which rules everything stops astounded before your eyes,
                                                                              So much does your chaste virtue make it tremble with fear.
I do love it when Ronsard really gets the classical ‘bug’ and writes a tour de  force of classicizing fantasy!  And here he lets us know in the opening words we are in for a treat – how often is beauty ‘extreme’??  But he builds his poem carefully too – 4 lines of earthly normality, 4 of generalised fantasy about the gods, then 2×3 lines of classicizing with specific references to classical myth.
The ‘sleeping dragons’ guarding the ‘golden apples’ of the Hesperides (the nymphs of the evening) recall the 11th labour of Hercules, tasked with obtaining the golden apples. In mythology the dragons were a singular but multi-headed dragon – but I think the plural allowable! Danae is of course the lady often depicted in Renaissance art welcoming Jupiter transformed into a shower of gold, by which she became pregnant with Perseus (who, incidentally, also later visited the Hesperides, but for weapons to fight Medusa not to retrieve apples; I certainly wouldn’t put it past Ronsard to be expecting us readers to see the ‘extra’ link to the Hesperides here).
Blanchemain offers us only one variant, in line 12 where he has
Danaé le sceut bien, qui sentit l’or trompeur
                                                                              Danaë knew it well, she who felt gold’s deception
‘Felt’ is far too weak a translation of “sentit”, which has all sorts of other meaning wrapped up in it – perceiving/understanding, a sexual sense of penetration, a hint of suspecting, a sensuous implication of gently stroking…