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.
For those who prefer poetry to music, here’s one of Ronsard’s hymns. Apparently the king liked this one so much he learned it by heart and would recite it regularly to his courtiers – or enjoy hearing others recite it!
|Tel qu’un petit Aigle sort, Fier et fort, Dessous l’aile de sa mere, Et d’ongles crochus et longs, Aux Dragons Fait guerre sortant de l’aire : Tel qu’un jeune Lyonneau Tout nouveau Quittant caverne et bocage, Pour premier combat assaut D’un cœur haut Quelque grand Taureau sauvage : Tel aux desens de vos dos, Huguenos Sentistes ce jeune Prince, Fils de Roy, frere de Roy, Dont la Foy Merite une autre Province. A peine sur son menton Un cotton De soye se laisse espandre ; Jeune trompant le trompeur, S’est sans peur Monstré digne d’Alexandre. Il a guidant ses guerriers, De Lauriers Orné son front et sa bande : Et Capitaine parfait, Sa main fait Ce qu’aux autres il commande. Il a tranché le lien Gordien Pour nos bonnes destinées : Il a coupé le licol Qui au col Nous pendoit des huit années. Il a d’un glaive trenchant Au mechant Coupé la force et l’audace, Il a des ennemis morts Les grans corps Fait tomber dessus la place. Ils ont esté combatus, Abbatus, Terrassez dessus la poudre, Comme chesnes esbranchez, Trebuchez Dessous l’esclat d’une foudre. De sang gisent tous couverts A l’envers, Tesmoins de sa main vaillante : Ilz ont esté foudroyez, Poudroyez, Sur les bors de la Charante. Charante qui prend son nom D’Acheron, A tels esprits sert de guide, Les passant comme en bateau Par son eau Au rivage Acherontide. Ils sont trebuchez à bas, Le repas Des mastins sans sepulture, Et sans honneur de tombeaux Les corbeaux Mangent leur chair pour pasture. Ny le tranchant coutelas, Ny le bras, Ny force à la guerre adextre Ne sert de rien à la fin Au plus Fin, Quand il se prend à son maistre. Du fort pere vient l’enfant Trionfant : Le cheval ensuit sa race, Le chien qui de bon sang part, Va gaillard De luy-mesmes à la chasse. Ainsi Pyrrhe Achillien Du Troyen Coupa la guerre ancienne, Ruant en l’âge où tu es Les feux Grecs Dedans la ville Troyenne. Ainsi Prince valeureux, Et heureux, Tu mets fin à nostre guerre, Qui depuis huit ans passez Oppressez Nous tenoit les cœurs en serre. Ce que les vieux n’avoyent sceu, Tu l’as peu Parachever en une heure ; Aussi Prince de bon-heur, Tout l’honneur Sans compagnon t’en demeure. A Dieu grace nous rendons, Et fendons L’air sous l’hynne de victoire, Poussant gaillars et joyeux Jusqu’aux Cieux, Ton nom tes faits et ta gloire. Et soit au premier resveil Du Soleil, Soit qu’en la mer il s’abaisse, Tousjours nous chantons Henry Favori De Mars et de la jeunesse.||As a little eagle comes out, Bold and strong, From beneath its mother’s wing And with long, hooked talons Makes war On dragons, coming from the air; As a young lion, New-grown, Quiting cave and woodland For its first fight attacks With high courage Some great, savage bull; So, to the cost of your hides, Huguenots, You felt this young Prince: The son of a King, the brother of a King Whose faithfulness Deserves another demesne. Hardly on his chin Had the silken Fluff begun to sprout; Young, deceiving the deceiver, He fearlessly showed Himself worthy of Alexander. Guiding his warriors, he has With laurels Adorned his brow and his troop, And, the perfect captain, His hand does What he commands others to do. He cut the knot Of Gordium To make our future good, He cut the halter Which for eight years Has hung around our necks. With his slicing blade he has Cut off The strength and daring of the wicked, He has made the dead enemies’ Great corpses Fall upon the ground. They were fought, Beaten down, Crushed into the dust Like oaks lopped down, Battered Under a bursting thunderbolt. Covered in blood they all lie Overturned, Witnesses to his valiant hand. They were crushed, Turned to dust, On the banks of the Charente. The Charente, which takes its name From Acheron, Acted as guide to those spirits, Passing them, as if in boats, Through its waters To the banks of Acheron. They are catapulted down, A meal For dogs, without burial And without the honour of tombs; Crows Feast on their flesh. Neither the slicing cutlass, Nor an arm Or strength suited to war Offer any help in the end To the finest When he takes himself to his master. From a powerful father comes a son Triumphant; The horse follows his breeding, The dog which comes from a good bloodline Happily goes Off to the hunt by himself. Thus Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, Cut short The ancient war of the Trojan, Hurling down in the age in which you are Those who once were Greek Within the city of Troy. So, valorous and fortunate Prince, You have made an end of our wars Which for the last eight years Oppressed Us all, squeezing our hearts. What the ancients could not do, You have managed To complete in a single hour; So Prince of good fortune, All the glory Rests with you and you alone. To God we give thanks And shatter The air with our victory song; Shouting gaily and joyously To the heavens Your name, your deeds and your glory. Whether at the first rising Of the sun, Or when he sets in the sea, We continuously sing of Henry, Favourite Of Mars and of our youth.|
Plenty of classical and other learning in here, so let’s add a few notes. Stanzas 3-4 reminds us that this was a period of considerable Catholic-Protestant tension. The Battle of Montcontour was in 1569, during the Third War of Religion, and was (as suggested in stanza 16) decisive. Sadly it did not end the strife; the famous St Bartholomew’s Day massacre took place three years later in 1572 (when Ronsard was in his late 40s). Henry, who was only 18 at the time of the battle, came to the throne in 1574. In stanza 6, the reference to Gordium goes back to Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian knot – a symbol of future rule over Asia and of future victories, hence its appropriate use here. But the knot is also proverbially used as a symbol of insoluble problems; and any claim that Henry III resolved the Wars of Religion at Montcontour can only be considered optimistic…! In stanzas 9-10 Ronsard makes the fanciful claim that the river Charente derives its name from Acheron, the river of Hades. It gives him a good image but seems unlikely. (Montcontour is in the Poitou-Charentes region.) Pyrrhus (in stanza 14) is another name for Neoptolemus, the rather angry and aggressive son of Achilles who killed old men, boys & women (Priam, Astyanax & Polyxena) in the sack of Troy. I doubt Ronsard is suggesting Henry III is quite so savage or ruthless; the link is rather the decisiveness of the victories. There are some minor variants in editions: Blanchemain’s opening stanza goes Tel qu’un petit Aigle sort, Fier et fort, De dessous l’aile à sa mere, Et d’ongles crochus et longs, Aux dragons Fait guerre sortant de l’aire – the changed third line can be translated identically, or could mean the eagle comes out ‘from beneath the wing to its mother’. Then stanzas 10-11 go: Charante qui prend son nom D’Acheron, Leur sert de port et de guide, Les passant comme en bateau Par son eau Au rivage Acherontide. Ils sont trebuchez à bas, Le repas Des mastins, sans sepulture, Et sans honneur de tombeaux ; Les corbeaux De leur chair font leur pasture. (The Charente ‘acts as their port and guide’; and crows ‘make their feast on their flesh’).
It’s hard to think of Ronsard as a poet of war and epic poetry – the Franciad notwithstanding – yet here he is claiming that he was already at work on such an epic when he was diverted towards love poetry. Maybe this is a ‘classicizing’ defence of love poetry, for epic is of course – like tragedy – considered greater than ‘mere’ love poetry. But it is believed true that he had begun work on his epic Franciad in the 1540s, before turning to love poetry, the Franciad having to wait till the 1570s for publication in its partially-complete state. The hero Francus is an entirely made-up French origin myth, originating in the medieval period: Francus is Astyanax, Hector’s son, mysteriously surviving the death he suffered in the various Greek epics of Troy (in the Little Iliad he is thrown from the walls, in the Ilioupersis, he is killed and the King Priam – his grandfather – is beaten to death with his body!). Escaping to Europe, Astyanax/Francus becomes the origin of the Franks, and founder of the Merovingian dynasty (Charlemagne’s line). Paphos and myrtle are both associated with Venus: Paphos because, after her birth at sea, she came ashore in a seashell there (cf. the famous Botticelli painting); and myrtle is sacred to Venus in classical religion. Delphi and the laurel are linked with Apollo: Delphi for the famous Oracle, the laurel as sacred to him and the plant into which Daphne was changed to save her from Apollo’s advances (alluded to in the previous sonnet). The original version (in Blanchemain) has a few small variants: his lines 7-8 read Et ja Francus à son bord conduisoit Les os d’Hector forbannis de l’Asie, Francus now bringing to its banks The bones of Hector exiled from Asia; and his line 11 reads “De sa grandeur le saint prestre m’ordonne” (‘By his greatness ordained me his holy priest’ or ‘Ordained me holy priest of his greatness’).
Skipping once more over a poem we’ve posted earlier, we come to …De quelle plante, ou de quelle racine, De quel unguent, ou de quelle liqueur Oindroy-je bien la playe de mon cœur Qui d’os en os incurable chemine ? Ny vers charmez, pierre, ny medecine, Drogue ny jus ne romproient ma langueur, Tant je sen moindre et moindre ma vigueur Ja me trainer en la barque voisine. Amour, qui sçais des herbes le pouvoir, Et qui la playe au cœur m’as fait avoir, Guary mon mal, ton art fay moy cognoistre. Pres d’Ilion tu blessas Apollon : J’ay dans le cœur senty mesme aiguillon : Ne blesse plus l’écholier et le maistre. With what plant, what root, What unguent, what potion Shall I anoint the wound in my heart Which runs through my bones incurably? Not magic rhymes, stone nor medicine, Drug nor juice will defeat my languor, So much can I feel my strength lessen and lessen, Already dragging me off into the bark which is nearby. Love, you know the power of herbs And you have made this wound in my heart: Heal my ills, help me understand your arts. Beside Troy you wounded Apollo; I have felt the same sting in my heart; Do not wound again the scholar and the teacher.
In line 8, the nearby bark is the boat of Charon which ferries the dead across the river Styx. I think Ronsard is conflating two stories in the reference to Apollo and Troy: Apollo was the father of Troilus by Hecuba, wife of Trojan King Priam; and (separately, in Thessaly) Apollo loved Daphne after being shot with a dart by Cupid. In the final line, to state the obvious, Ronsard is the scholar in love, but it’s curious to see unsuccessful Apollo (who failed to win over Daphne) as the teacher! There’s clearly a message about similar unsuccessful pursuits of the beloved, but odd to frame this as a learned behaviour… Blanchemain’s earlier version does not pose these mythological conundrums – Cassandre is the magician, the one who causes the wounded heart and the one who can heal it. Another example of the older Ronsard over-complicating things? Here’s Blanchemain’s closing sestet: Las ! toi qui sçais des herbes le pouvoir, Et qui la playe au cœur m’as fait avoir, Guary le mal que ta beauté me livre : De tes beaux yeux allége mon souci, Et par pitié retiens encore ici Ce pauvre amant qu’Amour soule de vivre. Alas, you who know the power of herbs And who have made this wound in my heart: Heal the ill which your beauty gives me; With your fair eyes lighten my pain, And in pity keep here still The poor lover whom Love intoxicates with life.