Thursday, 28 September 2017

Morris in Ancient Greek

We know that Morris himself translated from ancient Greek and Latin – Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid, among other things  – and some of us may even have actually read his versions of these weighty epics.  But what would Morris’s own writings read like when translated into those languages?  Since even fewer of us could perform that linguistic task for ourselves, we shall have to turn to the Oxford classicists of an earlier age when such curious pursuits seemed worth the time and effort.

For in 1899 – so, sadly, Morris himself did not see this volume – two Oxford scholars, Robinson Ellis and A.D. Godley, published Nova Anthologia Oxoniensis, a substantial collection of English poems made over into Latin or Greek by various Oxonian hands.  Turn to pages 228-9 and you can have the pleasure of seeing a couple of stanzas from Matthew Arnold’s ‘The Scholar-Gipsy’ (that most Oxonian poem of them all) put into Latin by J.S. Phillimore.  Or turn back to pages 160-61 and you come across nineteen lines from Morris’s ‘The Doom of King Acrisius’ in The Earthly Paradise done into Greek by J.Y. Sargent, M.A., Fellow of Hertford College.  They look visually very impressive on the page in their new guise, even if – like me – you can’t actually read a word of them.

A major cultural aim of Morris’s was to orient us away from this Mediterranean frame of reference towards a more Teutonic and Nordic inheritance, with his own Sigurd the Volsung very much at its centre.  But he remained enough of a residual Oxford classicist for us to feel that he might have turned to pages 160 and 161 of the Ellis and Godley volume with eager anticipation if he had lived three years longer.  The book is available online at, so we can share at least some of that pleasure too.