Mesomedes: Hymn to Nemesis (From Greek)

Originally a punisher of those who challenged the gods, the Greek goddess Nemesis was fused by the Romans with the requital-god Phthonos and the goddess Invidia to become the central figure of a Roman cult which worshiped her as an almighty fate and justice deity who ensured that people got what they deserved- good and bad. This cult, which reached its zenith under Hadrian, finds expression in the following hymn written by Mesomedes, one of Hadrian's court poets.  Period-authentic instrumentation courtesy of Atrium Musicae de Madrid (one of the first and oldest paleomusicology groups).

Hymn to Nemesis
By Mesomedes of Crete
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me and my clone singing the original using reconstructed 2nd century Greek pronunciation

Nemesis, winged tilter of scales and lives,
Justice-spawned Goddess with steel-blue eyes!
Thou bridlest vain men who roil in vain
Against Thy harsh adamantine rein.
Great hater of hubris and megalomania,
Obliterator of black resentment,
By Thy trackless, churning, wracking wheel
Man's glinting fortunes turn on earth.
Thou comest in oblivion's cloak to bend
The grandeur-deluded rebel neck,
With forearm measuring out lifetimes
With brow frowning into the heart of man
And the yoke raised sovereign in Thy hand.
Hail in the highest, O justice-queen

Nemesis, winged tilter of scales and lives,
Immortal Judge! I sing Thy song,
Almighty Triumph on proud-spread wings,
Lieutenant of fairness, Requiter of wrongs.
Despise the lordly with all Thine art
And lay them low in the Nether-dark.


The Original:

Ύμνος εις Νέμεσιν
Μεσομήδης ὁ Κρής

Νέμεσι πτερόεσσα βίου ῥοπά,
κυανῶπι θεά, θύγατερ Δίκας,
ἃ κοῦφα φρυάγματα θνατῶν,
ἐπέχεις ἀδάμαντι χαλινῷ,
ἔχθουσα δ’ ὕβριν ὀλοὰν βροτῶν,
μέλανα φθόνον ἐκτὸς ἐλαύνεις.
ὑπὸ σὸν τροχὸν ἄστατον ἀστιβῆ
χαροπὰ μερόπων στρέφεται τύχα,
λήθουσα δὲ πὰρ πόδα βαίνεις,
γαυρούμενον αὐχένα κλίνεις.
ὑπὸ πῆχυν ἀεὶ βίοτον μετρεῖς,
νεύεις δ’ ὑπὸ κόλπον ὀφρῦν ἀεὶ
ζυγὸν μετὰ χεῖρα κρατοῦσα.
ἵλαθι μάκαιρα δικασπόλε

Νέμεσι πτερόεσσα βίου ῥοπά.
Νέμεσιν θεὸν ᾄδομεν ἄφθιτον,
Νίκην τανυσίπτερον ὀμβρίμαν
νημερτέα καὶ πάρεδρον Δίκας,
ἃ τὰν μεγαλανορίαν βροτῶν
νεμεσῶσα φέρεις κατὰ Ταρτάρου.

12 comments:

  1. YankeeTranslatorMay 30, 2011 at 1:07 AM

    Very interesting window into the ancient Greek world. Are the instruments an exact replica of the type used at that time or an approximation?

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  2. The construction of the instruments has been pretty decently deduced from the various kinds of evidence left behind, but naturally there are uncertainties- and instrument styles varied over time. So although we can be confident that the instruments themselves are properly built, I'd still call them approximations.

    The real problem, though, is how to tune them, prepare them and play them. We can only guess at the tuning apparatus used for harp-type instruments, for example, and it's quite a trick to make the right kind of reed for wind a instrument like the double-piped aulos (even with the surving descriptions found in extant treatises on acoustics and instrument-making) let alone figure out proper finger-position and embouchure technique. Imagine picking up an oboe and trying to figure out how to play it purely by inductive reasoning.

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  3. This is phenomenal, as usual. Incredibly interesting, a beautiful poem...and I LOVE the music. I think I'm going to be walking around humming it, even as I go about such mundane activities as making my bed. Hope She doesn't smite me for it. ^^

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  4. you blow me away

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  5. we are not knowledgeable just delighted and overjoyed at your work having just found it.  Does not the world of today need Nemesis?  I am going to learn her hymn of praise and the beautiful tune.  We are too old to march but by Nemesis we can SING!!!!!
    Thank you for all the work you are doing in bringing this back to life for us.

    2 Silver Surfer Daughters of Neptune.

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  6. Remarkable, believable, and inspiring, A.Z..  Now it would be interesting to hear a poem about Nemesis sung as it might have been by the ancient Greeks pre-Roman era. (Hint, hint.)  Looking forward to it!

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  7. There is almost no pre-Roman musical notation that has survived. Though the Delphic Hymns are within 20 years of the beginning of Roman rule. And my best guess is that it's likely that music compositional norms did not change a great deal in that period.

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  8.  the daughters of Neptune sing this Hymn for Greece today.  For Greece is suffering the hubris and megalomania that the bankers have visited on every country's ordinary people. May Nemesis be their fate.  Sing on Singer, harp on blind Harper, sing it today for the Spirit of Greece and like Joshua we will sing down the walls of Jericho..the Greek Chorus, the silver haired Harpies of Nemesis, we are behind you!!

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  9. I was going to make a snide deflationary remark, but that does give one a new and somewhat interesting meaning to imbue the poem with. So thanks.

    Though Joshua never sang down the walls of Jericho (archaeology suggests that the Israelites never entered the Levant by force) and, well, your sense about the occupants of the cosmos is your business. But if this rendering and recording make your gods' manifestation more meaningful for you, then good for you (and I mean that phrase sincerely.)

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  10.  ok so nemesis got us over-excited and a few occupants of the cosmos manifested..we're old, we get easily excited and yours is a scholarly and exciting site. We apologise.  But can archeology really know whether Joshua sang or not? Let's set aside the walls etc.  What is the role of singing in the ancient civilisations insofar as we have access to this?.  How much of an access to this DO we have given what you have said above regarding instruments.   We would be genuinely fascinated to know your view given that you have immersed yourself in the subject.  A real learning opportunity for those of us who cannot read or understand musical notation.

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  11. Archaeology usually cannot tell us who sang what, or where. However, It can tell us about population movements. As things stand right now, there is not only no archaeological evidence that anything like the Joshuan conquest of the land of Israel ever happened, there is actually quite a bit of evidence against it. 

    As for the role of singing in ancient cultures -specifically those of greece and rome- it's too vast to try and summarize in a comment box. I suggest John G. Landels' "Music in Ancient Greece & Rome", Stefan Hagel's "Ancient Greek Music: A New Technical History" and M.L. West's "Ancient Greek Music". I think all three of them can be found as PDFs on various filesharing websites. 

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  12. WOW, well done (well, it sounds nice, I can hardly say weather it's translated well, becaus I can't read the original ;D ) ! I`d love to be able to "sing" or rather read the original out loud, could you help me by adding some phonetic transcription?
    Thanks

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