Preface to the McDowell Manuscript

Bob Carlton


Bob Carlton lives and works in Garland, TX.


Of this poem, only the first two lines survive relatively intact. Though the author is unknown, later tradition has it that it may have been written by one Diplemeras of Amphortektondemos. This man, of whom little is known aside from military service which establishes his floruit as circa mid-nineteenth century, has been put forward as the possible author of the “Ode” on the basis of subject matter, though modern scholarship suggests any connection in this regard is tenuous at best. At worst, the assertion has been described as “completely spurious”, “a thoroughgoing fabrication”, and “utterly without merit” (McMillan, et al). The absence of any mention of the “Ode” in the classical corpus has led to the now widely held belief that its origin, shrouded in mystery though it may be, is not to be found in Greece or its colonies, and that the poet, whatever his place and time, may not even have spoken Greek as a first language. Others entertain the notion that the original version, the “ur-Ode” as it were, was composed in another language entirely, and only later translated into Greek.

Because of its fragmentary nature, how or if the “Ode” is related to the more familiar Epinicean Odes of Pindar is impossible to ascertain with anything approaching certainty. While the “Ode” is without a doubt a celebration of athletic excellence, there is no indication of how or when it may have been performed. We cannot say definitively that it was strophic as opposed to stichic, though it seems reasonable, barring future evidence to the contrary, to do so. The presence of a guiding myth and the imparting of a moral message, both central to the work of Pindar, are completely absent from the “Ode” as we have it, which is not to say they would be altogether missing from the complete work.

The English translation below, made by the present editor, is a literal rendering, and in no way attempts to preserve the original meter. The study of Greek prosody is, of course, an ivory tower cottage industry all its own, and while it is an interesting subject in, of, and for itself, it is also, unfortunately, beyond the purview of the present investigation, and indeed the scope of the editor’s meager knowledge and understanding of the matter. Suffice to say, the first line is obviously dactylic. The four consecutive long syllables in line two, while troublesome to German philologists of the last century, and used by later scholars as an argument for non-Greek authorship, may be indicative of alternating lines of two and three feet, the second line tending to slow to a trot the gallop of the first. It is also possible that it is the result of loosening metrical restrictions found in poetry being composed in the area, particularly to the south of Amphortektondemos, at the reputed time of the composition of the “Ode” (see Whitman; for evidence of this occurrence farther afield, see the persuasive, if sometimes cryptic, arguments of Dickinson, same volume). Such are the academic wilds through which one may at times wander, lost in a labyrinth of conflicting, though equally well-informed opinions masquerading as established fact.

Though this is neither the time nor the place to expound on the principles of translation, and specifically the translation of poetry, a few remarks would seem to be in order. While this translation attempts to stay true to the literal meaning, there is nonetheless a natural inclination on the part of a translator, oftentimes an erstwhile poet himself, to attempt to make his translations come across as verse. As such, while no attempt is made at metrical conformity, either to the original meter or a substitution of my own choosing or invention, it is hoped that a sense of rhythm has been achieved, one that will impart to the reader at least some hint of that found in the words of this ancient poet, whoever he or she may have been. Here then, presented without further comment, are the words of that poet, followed by my own, admittedly inadequate, translation.









Ode to Odibe


Odibe, Odibe,

Oh to be Odibe!

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