Homerocentones of the Empress Eudocia Looking through the list I’ve been accumulating of little-mentioned brilliant experiments in poetry that I plan to present here through the months ahead, I couldn’t help but notice how many of them were from the 70s (late 60s and early 80s included) and, already fearing that outsight that our malodious experience of the meaning of recognizing a repeated space seems to necessitate, I decided to go back a little before returning there next month (three steps back - three steps back).
So instead today we’re in the 40s of the 5th Century and the object and subject of our attention is the Homerocentones of the Empress Eudocia in which she narrates the life of Jesus (with a little Old Testament thrown in at the start) in 2344 lines, each line grafted from the Iliad or Odyssey.
Without going into depth concerning what can be known and speculated regarding biographical info concerning Eudocia, it’s interesting to know that she was married to the Roman Emperor Theodosius II (based in Constantinople) but got on his bad side somehow (an affair is speculated) and was exiled to Jerusalem in the early 440s. It was in Jerusalem that she wrote her Homerocentones.I think it fits somehow with the strange cultural mash-up of her project that she, in a weird historical reversal, was exiled to Jerusalem (which was already the central religious site of Byzantium), that is that Zion was her diaspora.
In the volume’s prefatory poem (not included in the scan here), Eudocia mentions that her Homerocentones are actually worked from a manuscript of a fellow named Patricius who initiated the concept but didn’t have the process down. So the borrowing for Eudocia is total in concept and method. She writes (translation by Karl Olav Sandnes):
Nonetheless, the work is shared by both Patricius and myself, although I am a woman.
(I won’t go anywhere near making any essentializing claims about the history of radical poetic forms and the subjugation of women, but it’s curious to note that the other very significant Christian cento of late Roman antiquity was written [80 years prior to Eudocia’s] by [Faltonia Betitia] Proba who gave an epic account of the old and new Testaments using only lines from Virgil)
Anyway (and here comes the disappointing news), the Homerocentones haven’t been translated, and so what’s available here is a scan of the M.D. Usher edited Teubner edition of the manuscript which usefully contains, next to each of Eudocia’s lines, the reference to the Homeric volume, book, and line appropriated [looks like this: o16.219 for Odyssey book 16, line 219].
But also I say: let’s make a collaborative translation, friends! Following the tune of David Slavitt who translates Ausonius’s Homeric “Nuptial Cento” with only lines from Shakespeare (see image below), let’s translate Eudocia (no Greek required) by appropriating freely from the various English translations of Homer corresponding to each line of Eudocia’s borrowing, but let’s tell the life of one of our own cultural icons, like maybe Jenifer Capriati (who was first biographized in print at the age of 15!), though I’m open to other suggestions.
Limiting ourselves only to those who’ve translated both Iliad and Odyssey we could still collage British and American white dude luminaries such as George Chapman, Thomas Hobbes, Alexander Pope, William Cowper, William Cullen Bryant, Samuel Butler, Richard Lattimore, Robert Fitzgerald, and Robert Fagles (or so Wikipedia tells me). If you’re in, pick a section from the table of contents below (compiled by Sandnes) and send me a shout at lewisfreedman gmail-wise.
A Final Note: I’d also really wanted to show a scan of Paula Claire’s brilliant Declarations this month, but the poet legitimately expressed that she’d presently rather not have scans of her work available online in this manner. I genuinely recommend checking out her experiments in sound and concrete poetry if you can find them, and here’s hoping her work will become more available in the upcoming years. Next month we’re back to the 70s and the letter Z.
M.D. Usher’s Homeric Stitchings (Rowman & Littlefield, 1998) Karl Olav Sandnes’s The Gospel ‘According to Homer and Virgil’ (Brill, 2011) David Slavitt’s translation Ausonius: Three Amusements (U of Penn P, 1998) E.A. Clark and D.F. Hatch’s translation: The Golden Bough, the Oaken Cross: The Vergilian Cento of Faltonia Betitia Proba (Scholars, 1981) Mikki Morrissette’s biography Jennifer Capriati (Little, Brown, 1991)
Lewis Freedman moved to Madison where he’s starting a brand new reading series with Anna Vitale, Andy Gricevich, and Jordan Dunn. He’s most recently the author of Hold the Blue Orb, Baby (Well Greased, 2013) and Solitude the Complete Games (Troll Thread, 2013), the latter a collaboration with Kevin Rydberg. non-symbolic non-symbolic non-symbolic is due out sometime soon from Minutes Books.