Dionysiaca, Book Three (lines 55–83)

Andrew Barrett translating Nonnus from the Ancient Greek

Translator’s Note

Dawn, upon the flashing wing of red Euros,
grazed the rugged peaks of Teucarian Ida
before spilling light on the dark waves
of the facing sea and turning towards the harbor.
Meanwhile, Aphrodite glazed the sea
with an un-navigable surface of calm
to join Harmonia to Cadmus, her lover.

The bird of morning pierced the air with cries.

Rows of solitary Corybantes wearing helmets
and carrying shields, leapt in time
as they executed a Cnossian dance.
The double-aulos sang as the dancers spiraled
and iron struck ox-hide in war-like competition.
The music intensified, goading the dancers’ feet
as their movements became more frenzied.

The oaks rustled their leaves, the rocks echoed
and the Bacchic wood knowingly shuddered.
The dryads sang and packs of circling bears
joined the dance, skipping face to face.
Roars from the emulous throats of lions
reflected the ecstatic cries of the Cabeiroi mystics,
possessed by rational madness.

The bacchic single aulos, which was discovered
in the dark age of Cronos through the horn-worker’s craft,
bellowed out a hymn for the goddess Hecate, lover of dogs.

The shouts of the Corybantes roused Cadmus early.
The Sidonian sailors heard the resounding ox-hides at dawn,
rose all at once from their pebbly beds
and left the salt-caked shore upon which they slept.
Cadmus went quickly on foot to search for the city.

Andrew Barrett is a translator and musician who lives in Rochester, NY, where he is pursuing a Master of Arts in Literary Translation degree at the University of Rochester. He is currently translating a portion of the Dionysiaca—a lush and expansive Late Antique Ancient Greek epic composed by Nonnus of Panopolis. Andrew has also translated poems by Christophoros Kontonikolis, a Modern Greek poet who writes in Ancient Greek. Several of these translations are set to be published in the October 2011 issue of Words Without Borders. In June of 2011, Andrew had the honor of working on his translation of the Dionysiaca at the Banff International Literary Translation Centre.

Nonnus was most likely born during the fifth century A.D. in the Upper Egyptian city of Panopolis. The Dionysiaca, a 48 book epic poem composed in ancient Greek hexameters, which takes the mythological exploits and ancestry of the god Dionysus as its inspiration, is Nonnus' magnum opus. The only other surviving work attributed to Nonnus is a hexameter paraphrase of the Gospel of John.