Issachar Styrke’s Alcestis Burlesqued
Previously on this blog: “Sonia Greene’s Alcestis” (2022-10-22), “Notes on Sonia Greene’s Alcestis” (2022-10-23).
After finishing Greene’s and Kynaston’s Alcestis es (Alcesteis?), I next tackled Alcestis Burlesqued (1816), by one Issachar Styrke. It starts strong, in the mold of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes; I laughed out loud at Apollo’s prologue:
[Jove, one day, by] malice led,
Made bold to knock my son o’ th’ head
With a stout broom-stick. I, on fire,
And glowing quite red-hot with ire,
Whipp’d it, quick as some men fly,
To th’ broom-stick manufactory…
For a relentlessly jocular yet one hundred percent shot-for-shot faithful interpretation of Euripides, it’s really impressive — not to mention that the jokes make it twice as long as the original. But I did feel that the writer started flagging by the end.
Both Styrke’s (1816) and Kynaston’s (1906) translations vary the meter: the Chorus’s strophes and antistrophes use generally shorter lines than the big speeches. Some of these meters remind me irresistibly of W.S. Gilbert’s (unsurprisingly, given that they’re all products of a classical British education). For example, here’s the Chorus’s strophe circa lines 903–910:
ἐμοί τις ἦν ἐν γένει,
ᾧ κόρος ἀξιόθρηνος
ὤλετ᾽ ἐν δόμοισιν
μονόπαις: ἀλλ᾽ ἔμπας
ἔφερε κακὸν ἅλις, ἄeτεκνος ὤν,
πολιὰς ἐπὶ χαίτας
ἤδη προπετὴς ὢν
βιότου τε πόρσω.
I dare you to read Kynaston’s translation without thinking of peppery potentate King Hildebrand:
Of a kinsman I could tell
Whom a grievous loss befell
Of an only son;
Yet he bore his childless state
With affliction moderate
In the latter stage
Of a hoary age
When his course was well-nigh run.
Or Styrke’s without thinking of the Duke of Plaza Toro or King Paramount:
Some ten years back, or thereabout,
I had a near relation
With whom I’ve often supp’d sour-crout
Till in a perspiration.
As Fortune will’d, he had one brat,—
No rickets had he on him,
Nor huckle-back’d,— but spite of that,
Old Death laid hands upon him.
Poor coz! it grieved him sore so soon
To be bilk’d of his chicken;
But still he had sense not to swoon
Although with age hard stricken.
Full fourscore years of solid time
In telling he’d succeeded;
Then why should you, who’re in your prime,
Bear these ills worse than he did?
But why give loose to tears and sobs,
And look so monstrous paley?
Such awkward, dolorific jobs
Are happ’ning almost daily.
(“They happen almost every day in England!”)