Homer: Scylla and Charybdis (From Greek)

Scylla and Charybdis
By "Homer" (Odyssey XII.234-259)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

On we went wailing away at the oars
And steered into the strait, dire Scylla to port
And to starboard the wrathspawned seascourge Charybdis
Swallowing the salt tide smashing all courage 
And belching it back: a boiling kettle 
Seething over flames. The spume she spewed
Went spraying the crests of cliffs on the narrows.
When she sucked down the sea you could see her roiling,
Hear the roar of the rock all round, as the sand
Gaped black from bedrock. My men blanched in trauma,
Eyes fixed on that deathmaw, in fear of glutting.
And then Scylla struck, whisked up six of my men,
Our six strongest hands. As I spun my eyes aft
At good craft and dear crew I caught sight of their feet
And hands adangle overhead. Their voices
Cried out in hellhorror, calling me by name
That one last time. The way a fisherman
Crouched on a headland casting his fell bait,
His hook sheathed in horn, in his hands feels the thrash
Of a fish on his rod and rips it from the waves
To wriggle through the air, so my writhing men
Cruelly were carried to the cavern's mouth.
And there in her den she dined on them them raw,
My six toughest men, screaming and reaching
Their arms toward me in an endlife grapple
As a grisly grief gashed my spirit.
I witnessed naught worse in my warring heart
In all my quests across the strange sea.

The Original:

“ἡμεῖς μὲν στεινωπὸν ἀνεπλέομεν γοόωντες:
ἔνθεν μὲν Σκύλλη, ἑτέρωθι δὲ δῖα Χάρυβδις
δεινὸν ἀνερροίβδησε θαλάσσης ἁλμυρὸν ὕδωρ.
ἦ τοι ὅτ᾽ ἐξεμέσειε, λέβης ὣς ἐν πυρὶ πολλῷ
πᾶσ᾽ ἀναμορμύρεσκε κυκωμένη, ὑψόσε δ᾽ ἄχνη
ἄκροισι σκοπέλοισιν ἐπ᾽ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἔπιπτεν:
ἀλλ᾽ ὅτ᾽ ἀναβρόξειε θαλάσσης ἁλμυρὸν ὕδωρ,
πᾶσ᾽ ἔντοσθε φάνεσκε κυκωμένη, ἀμφὶ δὲ πέτρη
δεινὸν ἐβεβρύχει, ὑπένερθε δὲ γαῖα φάνεσκε
ψάμμῳ κυανέη: τοὺς δὲ χλωρὸν δέος ᾕρει.
ἡμεῖς μὲν πρὸς τὴν ἴδομεν δείσαντες ὄλεθρον:
τόφρα δέ μοι Σκύλλη γλαφυρῆς ἐκ νηὸς ἑταίρους
ἓξ ἕλεθ᾽, οἳ χερσίν τε βίηφί τε φέρτατοι ἦσαν.
σκεψάμενος δ᾽ ἐς νῆα θοὴν ἅμα καὶ μεθ᾽ ἑταίρους
ἤδη τῶν ἐνόησα πόδας καὶ χεῖρας ὕπερθεν
ὑψόσ᾽ ἀειρομένων: ἐμὲ δὲ φθέγγοντο καλεῦντες
ἐξονομακλήδην, τότε γ᾽ ὕστατον, ἀχνύμενοι κῆρ.
ὡς δ᾽ ὅτ᾽ ἐπὶ προβόλῳ ἁλιεὺς περιμήκεϊ ῥάβδῳ
ἰχθύσι τοῖς ὀλίγοισι δόλον κατὰ εἴδατα βάλλων
ἐς πόντον προΐησι βοὸς κέρας ἀγραύλοιο,
ἀσπαίροντα δ᾽ ἔπειτα λαβὼν ἔρριψε θύραζε,
ὣς οἵ γ᾽ ἀσπαίροντες ἀείροντο προτὶ πέτρας:
αὐτοῦ δ᾽ εἰνὶ θύρῃσι κατήσθιε κεκληγῶτας
χεῖρας ἐμοὶ ὀρέγοντας ἐν αἰνῇ δηιοτῆτι:
οἴκτιστον δὴ κεῖνο ἐμοῖς ἴδον ὀφθαλμοῖσι
πάντων, ὅσσ᾽ ἐμόγησα πόρους ἁλὸς ἐξερεείνων.


  1. This is marvelous, some of the deftest AS alliterative verse I've ever seen. I wonder how the effect of this for speakers of modern English approximates a modern Greek speaker's experience of Homer. I suppose there are too many imponderables for any definite answer --- but the possibilities are fascinating.... 

  2. Well, it's certainly the closest native English equivalent to dactylic hexameter. As the dactylic hexameter and the quantitative metrics it was based on were, as far as is known,  specifically evolved for greek- it therefore follows that the best approximation might be one of perhaps 2 or 3 meters specifically evolved for English i.e. accentual tetrameters with alliterative patterning. Also, my other Homer translationincludes a reading in reconstructed 5th century BC Greek.