Thursday, February 18, 2010


on the Iliad

The Funeral of Sarpedon

Zeus mourns deeply:
Patroklos has killed Sarpedon.
Now Patroklos and the Achaians rush on
to snatch up the body, to dishonour it.

But Zeus doesn't tolerate that at all.
Though he let his favourite child be killed-
this the Law required-
he'll at least honour him after death.
So he now sends Apollo down to the plain
with instructions about how the body should be tended.

Apollo reverently raises the hero's body
and carries it in sorrow to the river.
He washes the dust and blood away,
heals the terrible wounds so there's no trace left,
pours perfume of ambrosia over it,
and dresses it in radiant Olympian robes.
He bleaches the skin, and with a pearl comb
combs out the jet black hair.
He spreads and arranges the beautiful limbs.

Now he looks like a young king, a royal charioteer-
twenty-five or twenty-six years old-
resting himself after winning
the prize in a famous race,
his chariot all gold and his horses the fastest.

Having finished his task this way,
Apollo calls for the two brothers,
Sleep and Death, and orders them
to take the body to Lykia, the rich country.

So the two brothers, Sleep and Death,
set off on foot toward the rich country, Lykia;
and when they reached the door
of the king's palace,
they handed over the honoured body
and then returned to their other concerns.

And once the body was received in the palace
the sad burial began, with processions and honours and dirges,
with many libations from sacred vessels,
with all pomp and circumstance.
Then skilled workers from the city
and celebrated craftsmen in stone
came to make the tombstone and the tomb.

- Constantine P. Cavafy

C. P. Cavafy Collected Poems trans. by Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard. Princeton Univ. Press. 1975


Jenny said...

I love Cavafy and I love your blog. Who is the translator of this poem?

James said...

I share your feelings for the poems of Cavafy. I chose the "Funeral of Sarpedon" as it complements my current reading of Homer's Iliad. This translation is by Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard and can be found in C. P. Cavafy Collected Poems (Princeton University Press, 1975). It is also available on the web at