In the Palace of Proteus

Themes

Ancient Greek quotations are from D. Kovacs, Euripides: Helen, Phoenician Women, Orestes, Loeb Classical Library 11, Cambridge, MA and London 2002.

Quotations from Seferis’ Helen are from G. Seferis, Collected Poems, translated by E. Keeley and Philip Sherrard, Princeton 1995.

Quotations from Charalambides have been translated by M. Pavlou

 

The poem is delivered in oratio recta; it is a dialogue that takes place between Teucer and Helen in the Palace of Proteus in Egypt, as indicated by the title. As a motto to the poem Charalambides chooses a quotation from Euripides’ Helen, thus unveiling the Euripidean assonances of his treatment from the outset. According to Euripides’ version of the myth, which stands in stark contrast to the Homeric version, it was not Helen, but an image (εἴδωλον) of her that escaped with Paris to Troy. In addition to providing a hint at the poetic model, this quotation also glosses the poem’s subject-matter: the authenticity of vision. More specifically, it conjures up the association between the physical sight acquired through the eyes and the inner vision, that is the perceptive power of the mind, an idea that forcefully comes to the fore in the closing line of the poem: You should know, Helen, / different things the mind does hear and see (Nὰ ξέρεις ὅμως, / πὼς ἄλλα βλέπει ὁ νοῦς κι ἀκούει, Ἑλένη). Interestingly, whereas in Euripides it is Helen who keeps questioning the reliability of senses at the opening of the play, Charalambides shifts this role to Teucer.

The association between “seeing” and “seeming” resurfaces several times in Euripides Helen; see, e.g., 575: ‘Can it be that my mind is sound but my eyes are bad? (οὔ που φρονῶ μὲν εὖ, τὸ δ’ ὄμμα μου νοσεῖ;); 580: ‘Who but your eyes should be your teacher? (τίς οὖν διδάξει σ’ ἄλλος ἢ τὰ σ’ ὄμματα;); 115-122. However, whereas in the tragic play it is not certain whether Euripides wants to oppose the mind to the senses, Charalambides seems to do exactly this, that is, to elevate the mind above the senses.

In addition to the above it should be noted that Charalambides’ version draws not only on the Euripidean tragedy, but also on the reception and treatment of this specific myth by the Modern Greek poet George Seferis in his ‘Helen’, one of his most well-known poems, composed during his staying in Cyprus.

Μotto

I saw her with my eyes. And my mind also sees

After the capture of Troy Teucer returns to his homeland, only to be expelled by his father Telamon for having failed to fulfil his fraternal duties and prevent his brother Ajax from committing suicide. An oracle from Apollo directs Teucer to go to Cyprus and establish a settlement there, a New Salamis. While searching for Cyprus, Teucer stops at Egypt, in order to consult the prophetess Theonoe, daughter of Proteus, about his destination. At the palace Teucer encounters Helen, who asks him whether he had seen Menelaus’ wife at Troy with his very own eyes. The quotation under discussion is Teucer’s response to Helen’s anxious enquiry.

 

Lines 1-3

Now, Teucer, I am asking you and you speak the truth:

Did, Menelaus of Sparta, drag his unfaithful wife off by her hair, as people say,

or is all this just tall tales of our time?

Notably, the dialogue opens with one of the interlocutors (who is not named) asking Teucer to verify whether Menelaus got his wife from Troy dragging her off by the hair. The dialogue revolves around this topic and it is only at the very end that the identity of the first interlocutor is revealed.

The image of Menelaus dragging Helen off by her hair is a clear allusion to Eur. Hel. 116, where Teucer tells to Helen, who asks him about her image at Troy, that this is how Menelaus got his wife out from Troy. 

The use of the term παραμύθι (a tall tale) also echoes Seferis’ Helen:

Tearful bird, /on sea-kissed Cyprus consecrated to remind me of my country / I moored along with fable, / if it’s true that his is a fable, / if it’s true that mortals will not again take up / the old deceit of the gods. (Δακρυσμένο πουλί, στὴν Κύπρο τὴ θαλασσοφίλητη / ποὺ ἔταξαν γιὰ νὰ μοῦ θυμίζει τὴν πατρίδα / ἄραξα μοναχὸς μ’ αὐτὸ τὸ παραμύθι, / ἂν εἶναι ἀλήθεια πὼς αὐτὸ εἶναι παραμύθι, / ἂν εἶναι ἀλήθεια πὼς οἱ ἄνθρωποι δὲ θὰ ξαναπιάσουν / τὸν παλιὸ δόλο τῶν θεῶν).

 

Lines 6-7

Where you there? Have you heard her? Have you seen her with your eyes?

Have you touched her from nearby? Did she answer back?

(Ἤσουν ἐκεῖ; Τὴν ἄκουσες; Τὴν εἶδες μὲ τὰ μάτια; / Τὴν ἄγγιξες ἀπὸ κοντά; Σοῦ μίλησε κι ἐκείνη;)

A clear allusion to Seferis’ Helen:

She was there, at the desert’s lip; / I touched her; she spoke to me (Ἦταν ἐκεῖ, στὰ χείλια τῆς ἐρήμου∙ τὴν ἄγγιξα, μοῦ μίλησε).

In Seferis, though, these words are uttered by Teucer and concern Helen in Egypt, whereas in Charalambides Helen’s questions concern her phantom at Troy.

 

Language

Motto

Αὐτὸς γὰρ ὄσσοις εἰδόμην∙ καὶ νοῦς ὁρᾷ*

A quotation from Euripides Helen 122.

*This line is considered spurious and is deleted by most editors (Dale Diggle, Kovacs).

 

Lines 2-3

Ἔσυρε, ὡς λέν, ἀπ’ τὰ μαλλιὰ τὴν ἄπιστη γυναίκα του

τῆς Σπάρτης ὁ Μενέλαος ἢ μήπως εἶναι τοῦ καιροῦ μας

παραμύθια;

(Did, Menelaus of Sparta, drag his unfaithful wife / off by her hair, as people say, /  or is all this just tall tales of our time?)

An allusion to Euripides Helen 116: Menelaus dragged her by the hair and led her off (Μενέλαος αὐτὴν ἦγ’ ἐπισπάσας κόμης)

 

Line 6

Ἤσουν ἐκεῖ; Τὴν ἄκουσες; Τὴν εἶδες μὲ τὰ μάτια; (Where you there? Have you heard her? Have you seen her with your eyes?)

An allusion to Euripides Helen 117: Did you see the poor creature? Or do you speak at second hand? (εἶδες σὺ τὴν δύστηνον, ἢ κλυὼν λέγεις;)

 

Lines 22-23

Νὰ ξέρεις, ὅμως, / πὼς ἄλλα βλέπει ὁ νοῦς κι ἀκούει, Ἑλένη (You know this, that the mind sees and thinks differently, Helen.)

Teucer’s remark echoes Euripides Helen 575: ‘Can it be that my mind is sound but my eyes are bad? (οὔ που φρονῶ μὲν εὖ, τὸ δ’ ὄμμα μου νοσεῖ;). In the tragic play, however, this is uttered by Menelaus. Moreover, whereas Menelaus seems to dispute that there is a difference between physical sight and inner vision, for Teucer this is a datum.

Characters

Helen (1st interlocutor)  

Teucer (2nd interlocutor)

Menelaus

Bibliography

Μ. Tsianikas, “Hμερολόγιο Καταστρώματος Δ ή Κέστος της Μεσαρκάς”, Porphyras 124 (Jul. – Sept. 2007) 243-54.  [Read the article here

 

 

 

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