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Ouk epistato pheugein: Two Greek fragments


I


An epitaph at Uzun Karalar (the ancient Kieri) reveals the place to be Pyrrhiades' tomb; "not knowing how to take to his heels," he died there "fighting most courageously."


He "knew not how to flee"--

ouk epistato pheugein--

but no one knows how, don't you see?

That's the kind of state we're in!


II


To bury the poet Giorgos Seferis.

ten thousand of us marched through the streets to the Proto Nekrotapheion ("First Cemetery") that autumn. Jumping on a mound of earth, a young man yelled:

“Athánatos!” (in English, "Deathless!").

I don't begrudge the poet that title,

but immortality has a deadly defect--it's endless.


Envoi


Despite synaptic links galore

My 100 billion-neuron brain

Seems quite unable to explain

Exactly what it is I’m for!


Note: This poem borrows its title, Pyrrhiades' epitaph, from Giorgos Ioannou’s short story "Ouk epistato pheugein," published in Omphalos (Athens) 1, no. 2 (Summer 1972): 19–28, translated from the Greek by the late Peter Mackridge and the author, marchers in Seferis’s funeral procession in 1971.

Seferis was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1963.

As translated, Ioannou's modern Greek rendering of Pyrrhiades' epitaph reads:

“I am the tomb of Pyrrhiades, who didn’t know how to take to his heels, but here on this spot was killed fighting with great courage.”


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