Timothy Adès : Translator–Poet

Kallipateira, Translated by Timothy Adès

by Lórentsos Mavílis (1860–1912)

“O high–born Rhodian lady,
how came you to our door?
For women are debarred from here
by usages of yore.”

“My nephew’s name is Eukles;
my father and my son,
and my three brothers, all of these
Olympic glory won.

“Judges of Greece, their merits
bespeak my right to pass,
proud of their splendid bodies, these
that clinch for crowns of Herakles,
sprigs of wild olive: spirits
manly and marvellous.

“I am no common woman.
My brave men shine in story:
they earned what cannot fade.
Writ gold on sparkling marble
their golden hymn of glory,
that deathless Pindar made.”

My translation was beautifully recited by the Shakespearean actress, Lucy Tregear, at the Greek Olympic poetry evening in the British Library, 28 May 2012, staged by Poet in the City. The poem was introduced by Dr Armand d’Angour.

Kallipateira’s father Diagoras of Rhodes won the boxing at the 79th Olympic Games in 464 BC. The island’s airport is named after him. He was also Circuit Victor — ‘periodonikês’ — winning at the Pythian, Isthmian and Nemean Games (the Grand Slam of four majors), and triumphed repeatedly at other Games all over Greece. He was regarded as a model of athletic prowess. Pindar’s great poem on his victory, Olympian Ode 7, was inscribed in gold letters on marble at the Temple of Athena at Lindos, Rhodes.

His son Damagetos won the Olympic pankration (a ferocious combination of boxing and wrestling) in 452 and 448, and his son Akousilaos won the boxing in 448, when the two young men carried their father shoulder–high: someone told him to expire at the supreme moment, and he took the hint. A third son, Dorieus, won the pankration in 432, 428 and 424, and a total of 22 victories in the Pythian, Isthmian and Nemean Games. At the Pythian, no–one would face him. Later, two grandsons won the Olympic boxing.

A painting by James Barry shows the two sons carrying the old man, with Kallipateira beside them. It can be seen at http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/crowning-the-victors-at-olympia-218502.

Women were not admitted to the ancient Olympics, except for one, the priestess of Demeter. After Diagoras’ death, Kallipateira became the trainer of her son Peisirrhodos, entering the stadium in disguise. Overjoyed at his victory, she leapt over a barrier into the athletes’ enclosure, and was detected. Any other woman would have been in trouble: she was treated with great respect!

Women were not allowed to compete in the first modern Olympics, at Athens in 1896. Mavílis’ poem appeared in 1898. Of the 2,000 competitors at the first London Olympics in 1908, thirty–seven were women.

Lórentsos Mavílis, born in Ithaca, was a poet, multilingual translator, soldier, chess–player, and member of parliament. He fell in battle at Mount Driskos, near Ioannina.

Thanks are due to the editors of Classical Association News, where this poem first appeared.

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