Friday, February 17, 2017

Clement C. Moore's "Prometheus" in the Port-Folio, 1805

When I argued for including verse translations in the data set of Clement C. Moore's poetry, I had not yet seen the original preface that Moore wrote when submitting his lines on "Prometheus" to The Port-Folio, over the pseudonym "Hermes":
"I have taken such liberties, that, by a squeamish critic, it would hardly be considered as a translation."  --Clement C. Moore, 1805
Along with the prose introduction, Moore's lines from Aeschylus were first published, in the Port Folio on May 4, 1805. In 1806, the Prometheus verses appeared again with other of Moore's poems (credited to "L.") at the end of A new translation with notes of the Third Satire of Juvenal. Much later, "Prometheus" was collected in Moore's 1844 Poems. Interesting revisions in the 1844 volume include pruning of commas and exclamation marks, restoration of the 1805 reading "feverish brain" (1806: fever'd brain), and in the last stanza, keeping the 1806 revision of the 1805 end-rhyme rung/sung to more standard preterite forms, rang/sang.


I submit to your judgment the following translation of one of the choruses in the Prometheus of Aeschylus; though I have taken such liberties, that, by a squeamish critic, it would hardly be considered as a translation. Prometheus is supposed to be seen chained to a rock, by the command of Jupiter, for having conveyed fire from heaven for the use of man; and for having instructed mortals in many useful arts, of which it had been decreed that they should remain ignorant. The chorus is composed of Sea Nymphs, one of whom addresses Prometheus as follows.
Oh, may no thought of mine e'er move
The vengeance of almighty Jove!
Ne'er shall my incense cease to rise,
Due to the Powers, who rule the skies,
From all the watery domains
O'er which my Father Ocean reigns.
And till his towering billows cease
To roll, lull'd in eternal peace,
Ne'er shall an impious word of mine
Irreverence mark to power divine.
How lightly flew my former days,
With not a cloud to dim the rays
Of hope, which promis'd peace to send,
And golden pleasures without end!
But what a blast now mars my bliss,
Prometheus, at a scene like this!
While thus thy tortures I behold,
I shudder at the thoughts, so bold,
Which could impel thee to withstand,
For mortal man, Jove's dread command.

Where's now the aid from mortals due
For all thy deeds of love so true?
Alas! their shadowy strength is vain
As dreams which haunt the feverish brain.

How then can fleeting shades like these
Oppose the Thunderer's decrees?
Such thoughts will rise; such strains will flow,
Prometheus, at thy bitter woe.

How different were the strains we sung,
When the blest bridal chamber rung
With voices of the choral throng,
Who pour'd the Hymeneal song
To thee, and to thy joy, thy pride,
Hesione, thy blooming bride!

For his base-text, Moore takes the 2nd Choral Ode from lines 526-560 of Prometheus Bound.
526-560. Second Stasimon. The Chorus, deeply impressed with the intensity of Prometheus' sufferings, offer a fervent prayer that they may never come into conflict with the will of Zeus. It is good to live in peace. What profit is there in the aid of helpless mortals?  --The Prometheus Vinctus of Aeschylus

Confirming the point of the earlier melvilliana post Settle your brains, the word brain proves a good Moore-marker, distinctive to Moore's individual style and not merely a reflex of his Greek source. Compare Moore's four verse lines ending in "feverish brain" to alternative English translations:

Herbert Weir Smyth via Theoi:
Come, my friend, how mutual was your reciprocity? Tell me, what kind of help is there in creatures of a day? What aid? Did you not see the helpless infirmity, no better than a dream, in which the blind generation of men is shackled?
G. M. Cookson via Internet Classics Archive:
What prowess for thy bold essay
Shall champion thee from men of mortal race,
The petty insects of a passing day?
Saw'st not how puny is the strength they spend?
With few, faint steps walking as dreams and blind....
 G. Theodoridis via Poetry in Translation:
The mortals have given you no recompense, Prometheus, so what gain is there in your cunning for both, you and for the ephemeral creatures? Could you not foresee this? Was it just like a weak dream to you, where the blind race of men stay fettered for ever?
Elizabeth Barrett Browning:


  1. Here's the Greek text from Perseus.

    Clicking around you can see that dreamlike (ἰσόνειρον) and blind (ἀλαὸν) are there, as the others translations show, but "brain" is not -- it's Moore's invention.