To see a commentary note, click on a blue square. To see the Latin text, click on a green square.
TRANSLATED BY THOMAS WATSON,
A STUDENT OF BOTH LAWS
To which are added certain Pomps, derived from the individual Acts of the play,
and after them the like number of sententious Themes,
written by the said Thomas Watson
SOME VERSES COPIED FROM A CERTAIN LETTER ADDRESSED TO THOMAS WATSON WHILST HE WAS AT PARIS, URGING THAT HE SHOULD PUBLISH VARIOUS OF HIS POEMS
Watson, if my humble prayers have any avail with you, you would not have a desk full of so many manuscripts: your Muse would be at the printer’s, and the verses you make would see the light, with bright Phoebus their judge. And if I have any judgment and knowledge of Helicon, the juice of your poetry comes from there. Whether you sing of bugles or tell of gentle loves, Mars rejoices in your high-flown song, Love in your slight verse. Tuscan Petrarch is enriched by your music — would that this work were better known to the world! Though the ignorant rabble ignores the honors of Phoebus’ crown, and whatever can be yet more distinguished, you have nevertheless been pronounced a learned poet by learned men, and a noble poem will have its due worth. In particular, Zoilus himself will approve Antigone, should you allow this work to be brought to the printing press. So let celebrating Fame bear your name to the skies, nor let it remain longer in the shadows. For though you are young, you do not compose youthful stuff: you are wealthy in talent and fine wit. Ah, I am ashamed to praise a lad rather in my old man’s poem, since you are greater than my song. But Venus is outraged, since you hide your love song, and Phoebus himself is aggrieved while you conceal his gifts. If the brazen tower had always held Danae, Jove’s golden masses would not be well known.
STEPHAN BROELLMANN, POET OF COLOGNE
THOMAS WATSON PRAYS ENDURING PROSPERITY FOR THAT RIGHT NOBLE PEER, DISTINGUISHED BY MANY TITLES, PHILIP HOWARD, EARL OF ARUNDEL
Wealthy in noble forefathers, enhanced by the virtues, ennobled by the Muses’ endowments, Earl, accept the youthful songs of such a minor bard, and read over this small result of great labor. My Muse is not that of Callimachus, nor that of Philetus of Cos, whatever she brings wears naught but the skin of a fox. But the gods care about men’s dispositions, not their gifts: so come, being godlike, be like the gods. What if my small book be full of blemishes? What if there be fault in my careless song? With her shining countenance Cynthia looks down on the bright and the dark, Phoebus visits the bright and the dark with his rays. Smintheus, Tritonia, Croesus demand, hope for, and love the song of Marsyas, the thread of Arachne, the groat of Irus; nor do Smitheus, Tritonia, Croesus disdain the song, the thread, the groat, being the musician, the patroness, the powerful. And, if the common people tell aright, as gifts you possess songs yet lesser than mine. Yet I do not set such store by the poets of old that I would hope to gain no prizes. Perhaps I have fashioned these things according to the will of Phoebus, or that of Minerva, so that a triumph will be gained by my prowess. If you judge well of them, then I, blessed by your judgment, will myself apply the goads to my talent, and shall gladly do as many have often asked, so that the printing press will groan under the weight of many of my works. Let Momus himself mutter with his vain mouth, let envious Zoilus pick at me with his swart nail, the verdict of your judgment will surpass them both, placing the laurel wreath on my head. Hence, being quite blessed, I shall be called your poet, becoming a familiar along with Jove’s Ganymede.
Indeed, I once began to hope for this little reward, when first I began to give myself to my pursuits, and I spent seven or eight years far from my homeland, and learned to speak in diverse tongues. Then I became well versed in Italy’s language and manners, and also thy our tongue and ways, learned France. Wherever I was wafted, I cultivated the Muses as best I could, and Justinian was especially dear. But often Mars troubled Pallas against her will, and wars often interrupted my study. Yet I shunned the camps, save for the camps of Phoebus, which contained the pious Graces together with the Muses. Bartolus, you were a great tome. I was not permitted to carry you about, nor your legal puzzles, learned Baldus. I took up Sophocles, I taught his Muses to grow gentle. I made Latin out of his Greekish verse. Thus, though disturbed, I spent my hours a useful man, I taught Antigone how to speak Latin: a thing of great moment, greater than my powers, had not Pallas industriously come to my aid. At length I wished to tear up the work I had rejected, or feed it to the fire, since Greece was greater than Latium. But a large number of prudent men forbade this, at the same time celebrating me in poems of praise. Hence I began once more to polish my rude Muses, to shape them with a firmer hand.
Next I had to search for a man to serve as my patron, protecting my writings by his authority; a dear son to Phoebus, and to the Muses, who loved the fountain of Helicon; a man sprung from distinguished forebears, a friend of piety, a bright darling of Jove himself. Since you would be such a man, the masculine glory of our realm, with humble voice I was obliged to call you my Maecenas. And so do not scorn this protégé of so little worth, as this is a task which your virtue has uniquely demanded. There is a familiar tale that once a mouse did that which was fitting and wholesome for a lion. No matter that an unworthy, unknown pauper of low degree was at hand, Pyrrhus drank that humble man’s water. Thus let a powerful man’s acquaintance be afforded me, unknown and undeserving though I be. My willingness is offered in lieu of my ability, my song instead of a gift, my Antigone craves to become dearer to you, she craves to become dearer than she was to Creon, more beloved than she was to her native soil. Now, coming back to life and escorted by Latin Muses, she approaches, fearing to tarry at Thebes. She will bear you wondrous things, if you wish to learn wonderments; she would make you pious, were you not such beforehand. In ranting iambs she will rail at laws that are not lawful; with fearless countenance she will adduce gods against the fasces of government; then she will tell what is fair, what is shameful, what is useful, and what is not, and how bitter is the love of power; how ruinous it is to scorn a true prophet’s admonitions; what a fast wheel crazed Fortune sets a-spinning; how the fawning crowd follows its prince’s whim; and what value the other limbs set upon the head. These things and more Antigone will set before your eyes, taught to teach by my effort. Love and prosper, noble Earl. Live for as many years as does the stag, and farewell.
Most observant of your honor,
THOMAS WATSON OF LONDON
AN ENCOMIUM OF THOMAS WATSON’S TRANSLATION OF SOPHOCLES’ ANTIGONE FROM THE GREEK LANGUAGE INTO THE LATIN BY JOHN COOKE, ACCOMPLISHED IN THIRTEEN HEROIC VERSES
As the light of the sun surpasses the other stars, so Sophocles is best of the tragic poets, so that Watson’s work is praiseworthy. For he taught Sophocles’ Antigone to speak in our tongue, a glorious gift of the Graces, and also of his own talent, to be able to soothe the tender ears of the Muses. In exchange for which things, praise God for having given the British such a young man, the first exponent of this art, so that God, who dwells on high and kindly steers human affairs, will grant him to complete the tasks which he has begun so well. For he has not crafted this play alone: he will create many other works for his fellow countrymen.
TO THE READER
And so Mycenae alone did not deserve the merit of poetry, the tripod of Apollo’s favor. It is also permitted the Britons, cut off from the world, to hope for fame, there where sluggish Bootes drives his chill wain. A play which Greece made, worthy of the lofty buskin, becomes Roman, and there is equal excellence in both. Watson’s Muse, imitating the Muses of Sophocles, made Ismene speak with a Latin tongue. Dear reader, I am embarrassed to praise a beloved colleague: you may blame our friendship.
Licentiate in both the laws
ON THOMAS WATSON’S ANTIGONE
If Sophocles were living now and wished his songs to tread a Roman field, Watson, Phoebus’ unique darling, he would wish them to be given to you, who would make Sophocles a Roman. “O great praise, if true!” says the envious throng. “But have these endowments accrued to a youth?” What forbids? And this Antigone will serve as obvious proof that this praise scarcely lies: if in Greek it was worthy of Sophocles’ buskin, it will not appear unworthy in Latin.
While Antigone readies the funeral of brother Polynices, Creon sprinkles virgin’s blood on his tomb. With a Greek buskin Sophocles exhibits this, but this play insufficiently pleases in the Greek tongue. So, lest old Sophocles’ labor go in vain, behold, his Muse may be read in Watson’s Latin tones. Oh, would that I had the ability, as I have the will, to sound your triumph more fully with my eloquence!
CHRISTOPHER ATKINSON, PHYSICIAN
TO THOMAS WATSON ON HIS ANTIGONE
Observe, Watson, when I wish to praise your Antigone, the cause of my doubtful hesitation. I ponder the man I should praise, lest I praise him in vain: for not all praise will be insipid for the reader, but it will strike the reader as more pointless for me to praise you, to the extent that your art surpasses my praise. So should I not praise you, when failing to praise should be a sin? Far from it: this crime would be less free of blame. If nobody reads it, my praise is troublesome to no man; if his own praise suffices, mine does no harm. Antigone is praiseworthy, Prologue-speaking Nature is praiseworthy, the added Pomps are praiseworthy. Sophocles shares Antigone’s honors with you, the praise of your latter-day work is unmatched. And if my youthful judgment has any weight, he who does not praise your work will render it the worse.
ON THOMAS WATSON’S ANTIGONE
It is right to comopare the praise of Sophocles? genius? It is right to adore a god with incense, and a man with praise. So, Watson, you are to be adored with enduring praise: let your praise be to you as his incense is to Jove. For Sophocles’ genius has been taken and resides in your mind, marveling at itself and at Rome. For he who reads Antigone judges thus: he who will read it will re-read it, and he who re-reads it will love it. Thus one genius resides in the both of you, one tragic poet in both kinds of verse. He beat the Greek theater with his lines, you shake our theater with your Pomps. His words bloom with a Greek blossom, yours with a Latin, and the rich talent of eloquence flows for the both of you. But why am I sounding your praises from my meager store of talent? Thus I am attempting to brighten the sun with smoke, Behold, let Phoebus’ laurel, destined to endure, shade your locks: this glory is less than the glory of having deserved it.
THE LIFE OF SOPHOCLES, FROM SUIDAS
Sophocles, son of Sophilus, of Colonus, an Athenian — a tragic poet, was born in about the 73rd Olympiad [i. e., ca. 496 B. C.], and so was seventeen years senior to Socrates. He was the first to employ the third actor, who for this reason was called the tritagonist. He was also the first to introduce a chous composed of fifteen young men, whereas it has previously consisted of only twelve. He was called The Bee for the sweetness of his eloquence. He was the first to compete with tragedies on varied subjects. He also wrote elegies, paeans, and a prose treatise in which he disputed against Thespis and Choerilus about the chorus. He had sons, Iophon, Leosthenes, Ariston, Stephanus, and Meneclides. He died six years after Euripides. Furthermore, he produced 123 plays and, as some claim, many more. He won twenty- victories.
THE ARGUMENT OF THE ANTIGONE, BY THOMAS WATSON
Creon, casting out Polynices unburied after he had been killed by his brother in single combat, proclaims that nobody should give him burial, threatening a penalty for the man who did so. His sister Antigone dares bury him, heaping up a mound of dust unbeknownst to the guards. Creon threatens these guards with death, unless they arrest the person responsible for the burial. They remove the dust and keep watch. Antigone comes along and, finding the body exposed, betrays herself by her wailing. When she is given over by the guards, Creon condemns her, ordering her to be buried alive by herself. For this reason, Creon’s son Haemon, who had been betrothed to the girl, kills himself with a sword, standing near to her after she has hanged herself. Eurydice, Creon’s consort, bears his demise hardly and bitterly, and commits suicide. In the end, Creon bewails the piteous fates of son and wife.
The setting of this play is Tebes in Boeotia. And some write that Sophocles received the command of Samos because he had produced the Antigone successfully. It was revived two or three times on the stage.
NATURE GIVES A SECOND ARGUMENT OF THE PLAY
in iambic trimeters
WRITTEN BY THOMAS WATSON
I am called Nature, the world’s mistress, the governess of wholesome life, the begetter of things. Everything exists and thrives by my doing, impious monsters know me alone as their stepmother. By my virtue the fires of the flaming zodiac and the twin poles hang, shine, endure; unmoving, I yield to nobody, I am the equal of all things. If I oppose, nothing falls out as you wish. Paintings often render my image falsely: he who tries to render my colors by his art pursues me, but is not able to succeed in his pursuit. I am the pillar of equity, the foundation of law and right. You want to be happy? Live with Nature as your guide. Such is my power. And yet I am held in scorn, the wicked often break my laws. The sacred glory of human law has perished, piety, shame, and trust have been banished from the world.
How often has that house of Thebes, hating my godhead, already paid its due penalties!What evil has it not done through me, though I had forewarned it? What monstrosities did King Oedipus (whose swollen foot gave him his name) beget here in his savagery? Did he kill his father with an unlucky club? He committed a greater crime (it shames me to say it): this hateful child climbed into an incestuous bed with his mother, mixing blood with dire debauchery; he begot brothers for himself, a thing brute beasts abhor. But he did not break my laws with impunity. His remorseful spirit made him lay impious hands upon himself, his right hand ripped out his cruel eyes. And now he wanders far from his homeland, accompanied by death, shuddering, foulness, and anguish. And then his mother-wife, stricken by the dire downfall of her husband-son, came to loathe her nature, and strangled herself with a noose. Afterwards the paternal scepter fell to his sons: they made a pact to take the throne by turns, mutually yielding each to the other. But (oh the evil!) the trust of their compact was soon shattered, for the first refused to accede to the lawful agreement: he scorned my justice (how rare is faith among brothers) and governed, noble in his perjury. But Polynices the brother, seeking the kingdom and their father’s scepter, bore his exile with ill grace, and set all armed Greece a-moving. Fiercely he employed steel to encompass the ruination of his homeland, he attacked his household gods with death-dealing fire. Breaking all law, a hateful foeman to himself, he did damage to the realm he sought to be given him. But soon, having armed their criminal hands, both fell, slain by mutual wounding. And now the one, thrown out for the beasts, is unburied, prey for dogs, the obscene vulture, the wolves. [Here Nature comes to the argument of the present play.]
Indeed, yet now the house is working crimes (I alone am allowed to know future things). Behold, sad Antigone will now come on the stage; grieving, she will boldly cover her unburied brother by casting on dust, overcome by pious emotion, and she will invite her sister to join her in so doing. But the poor girl does not yet perceive that raw emotion must yield place to the laws of one’s country. So soon, violating the king’s decrees, she will pay the forfeit, publicly pent up in her tomb. And Creon, cruelly wielding the scepter, while he refuses to remit a jot from the whole, but harshly clings to his original purpose, having no care for family blood, children, wife, or a prophet proclaiming the public good, nor any concern for his city, will feel my bitter wrath. For I shall fill him with tearful grieving, overthrowing his entire house with disaster. At the same time he will see the death of son and wife. For the boy, stricken by the girl’s fate, and his mother by his, will both spill their own blood. The old man will drag on his wretched life in sorrows. So you, my servants, learn from such great evils how wholesome it is to cleave to Nature’s laws. If I be unwilling, naught will go aright.