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Katabasis: Three Underworlds


From Ovid, Metamorphoses IV

Imagine a sloping path overshadowed by yew trees
that leads to the underworld through a soundless hush:
where the Styx wheezes mist, where fresh shadows
descend in the likenesses of the newly dead.
Cold and cadaver-grey, a boundless wasteland
where new spirits arrive in ignorance of the road
to the Stygian city and Death’s savage palace.
A thousand gates flung open on every side:
as the ocean absorbs the whole of the earth’s rivers,
so this place receives all spirits, never too small
for its population, never a shade more crowded
as the bloodless shadows stray without bodies or bones.

               *

From Virgil, Aeneid vi

Gods who command the departed, you mute ghosts
and deserts of soundless night, Chaos and Phlegethon,
let it be done with your blessing – to tell what’s known
of the deep mists of the earth, its dark treasure.

Shadows on shadows, they walked in that lonely night
through the waste and desolate halls of Death’s kingdom,
like a journey through woods by the warp of the moon’s light
when God has buried the universe in shadow
and darkness stolen the colour of all things.

               *

From Homer, Odyssey XI

But when I’d prayed       vowed       entreated the tribes of the dead
I seized and slaughtered the sheep, slitting their throats
and blood blackened the trench, thronging
corpse-ghosts from Erebus:
brides       bachelors       careworn old men
delicate girls new-grieving
and many maimed with bronze spear-heads
the battleslain, blood-stained in armour –
massing the trench       ravening
raised an unspeakable shriek &       the pale fear took me

then calling my comrades, compelled them
to burn the sheep we’d slaughtered with pitiless bronze –
flay       burn them       pray to the gods
stout Death and dread Persephone –
drawing the sharpened sword at my side       sat firm
nor suffered the impotent dead
to come near the blood until –




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About the translation:
» Read translator's notes
Poet:
Homer, Ovid, Virgil
Translator:
Gareth Prior
Original language:
Ancient Greek
Issue:
2015 Number 1 - SOLD OUT - Scorched Glass

About the author

Homer

Original poet

Homer

Homer (Ancient Greek: Ὅμηρος, Hómēros) in classical tradition is the ancient Greek epic poet, author of the epic poems the Ili...

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Ovid

Original poet

Ovid

Publius Ovidius Naso (20 March 43 BC – AD 17/18), known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best kn...

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Virgil

Original poet

Virgil

Publius Vergilius Maro (also known by the Anglicised forms of his name as Virgil or Vergil) (October 15, 70 BC – September 21,...

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Translator

Gareth Prior

GARETH PRIOR’s poems have been published in the annual Templar anthology, shortlisted for the Keats-Shelley Prize and commende...

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