Alcaeus and the Allegory of the Ship of State

Heraclitus the Commentator, in defending the application of allegorical readings to Homer, argues that allegory is of considerable antiquity—used clearly by Archilochus when he compares the troubles of a war (fr. 54) and by Alcaeus when he compares the troubles of a tyranny to a storm at sea. He writes that Alcaeus “compares the troubles of a tyranny to the turmoil of a stormy sea.” (τὰς γὰρ τυραννικὰς ταραχὰς ἐξ ἴσου χειμερίῳ προσεικάζει καταστήματι θαλάττης, Homeric Problems 5.8)

Alcaeus fr. 326

“I cannot make sense of the clash of the winds
One wave whirls from this side,
Another wave comes from the other, and we in the middle
Are borne in our dark ship
Toiling ever on in this great storm.
The swell has taken he mast
And the sail is completely transparent—
There are great tears through it
And the anchors have broken free…”

ἀσυννέτημμι τὼν ἀνέμων στάσιν,
τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἔνθεν κῦμα κυλίνδεται,
τὸ δ’ ἔνθεν, ἄμμες δ’ ὂν τὸ μέσσον
νᾶϊ φορήμμεθα σὺν μελαίναι
χείμωνι μόχθεντες μεγάλωι μάλα·
πὲρ μὲν γὰρ ἄντλος ἰστοπέδαν ἔχει,
λαῖφος δὲ πὰν ζάδηλον ἤδη,
καὶ λάκιδες μέγαλαι κὰτ αὖτο,
χόλαισι δ’ ἄγκυρραι

Alcaeus, fr. 6a [P. Oxy. 1789 1 i 15–19, ii 1–17, 3 i, 12 + 2166(e)4]

“Now this higher wave comes harder than the one before
And will bring us much toil to face
When it overcomes the ship

Let us strengthen the ship’s sides
As fast as we can and hurry into a safe harbor.
Let no weak hesitation take anyone.
For a great contest is clearly before us.
Recall your previous toil.
Today, let every man be dedicated.
And may we never cause shame
To our noble parents who lie beneath the earth”

τόδ’ αὖ]τε κῦμα τὼ π[ρ]οτέρ̣[ω †νέμω
στείχει,] παρέξει δ’ ἄ[μμι πόνον π]όλυν
ἄντλην ἐπ]εί κε νᾶ[ος ἔμβαι
[ ].όμεθ’ ἐ[
[ ]..[..]·[
[ ]

φαρξώμεθ’ ὠς ὤκιστα̣[τοίχοις,
ἐς δ’ ἔχυρον λίμενα δρό[μωμεν,
καὶ μή τιν’ ὄκνος μόλθ[ακος
λάχηι· πρόδηλον γάρ· μεγ[ἀέθλιον·
μνάσθητε τὼ πάροιθα μ[όχθω·
νῦν τις ἄνηρ δόκιμος γε̣[νέσθω.
καὶ μὴ καταισχύνωμεν [ἀνανδρίᾳ
ἔσλοις τόκηας γᾶς ὔπα κε̣[ιμένοις

The text in Heraclitus’ Homeric Problems reads somewhat differently for the first line:

Τὸ δ’ ηὖτε κῦμα τῶν προτέρων ὄνω

 

Image result for allegory of ship of state

by Frans Franken, 16th Century

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