Loyalty , Ethics and Reason


He settled on the inner ash wood sill, leaning against the doorjamb–cypress timber the skilled carpenter planed years ago and set up with a plumb line.

Contrary to the attribution in the drawing, that quote is actually from the Odyssey.  In particular, it is from Book XVII, and is, as far as I can determine, from Chapman’s translation.  I have been unable to actually find a copy of Chapman’s to confirm that.

[Upon the Ashen floore his limbs he spred,
And gainst a Cypresse threshold staid his head,
The tree wrought smooth and in a line direct
Tried by the Plumbe and by the Architect.]  that’s Chapman.  The original is from Robert Fitzgerald.  (thanks to Jeff Ward @visibledarkness )

Chapman’s translation of Homer’s epic the Odyssey, originally published in folio, 1614–16, has become so rare as to be inaccessible to the general reader, and comparatively unknown to the more curious student of old English literature.   Bartleby.com

I have found Samuel Butler’s translation:  “He sat down upon the threshold of ash wood…against a bearing post of cypress, which the carpenter had skillfully planed and made to join truly with rule and line.”    and Alexander Pope’s “Then, resting on the threshold of the gate, Against a cypress pillar leaned his weight, Smoothed by the workman to a polished plane.”

The line quoted occurs after Odysseus’ return to Ithaca, actually taking his rest and possession of his estate after dispatching the suitors and proving himself to Penelope.  None of this would matter, except that I was reading about George Chapman the other day, and remarked this in the Wikipedia entry:

In 1585 Chapman was approached in a friendly fashion by John Wolfall, Sr., who offered to supply a bond of surety for a loan to furnish Chapman money “for his proper use in Attendance upon the then Right Honorable Sir Rafe Sadler Knight.” Chapman’s courtly ambitions led him into a trap. He apparently never received any money, but he would be plagued for many years by the papers he had signed. Wolfall had the poet arrested for debt in 1600, and when in 1608 Wolfall’s son, having inherited his father’s papers, sued yet again, Chapman’s only resort was to petition the Court of Chancery for equity.  As Sadler died in 1587, this gives Chapman little time to have trained under him. 

Of all the works that have been translated into English, none have had more lasting impact than the translations of the Old and New Testaments, and the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer.
I picked up a book at the library last week, Wikipedia U, an academician’s purported comparison of Wikipedia with the classic liberal arts education model and traditional print-based sources of knowledge.

Lately, we have been watching the PBS presentation of Wolf Hall, which might be considered an acceptable (and fairly academic) revision of history, and which gives us a quite favorable portrayal of Thomas Cromwell. The BBC has the sort of authority that carries weight, much like Encyclopedia Britannica or the OED.

On another subject, trying to get some general idea of when George Chapman (first English translation of Homer) lived and worked, I searched Wikipedia, and came across the bit about Rafe Sadler and one of his agents entrapping Chapman into poverty (not a small thing in that era). I can only surmise that Rafe Sadler learned his tricks from Cromwell (as Cromwell’s protege), who in turn had learned (contracts and collection?) from the Florentine banker who mentored him. That Cromwell had a knack for accumulating money is unquestionable.  If the con worked so well on Chapman, why wouldn’t Sadler (and Cromwell) have employed the same device many times over?

In Cromwell’s first encounter with Thomas More in Wolf Hall, More attempts to put Cromwell on the spot by asking a question about Tyndale. Cromwell’s answer is carefully phrased, but implies that he is sympathetic to Tyndale’s efforts (Cromwell is a literate man, and a reformer). Tyndale was killed in Belgium on charges of heresy, but his work was later used extensively in the Great Bible of Henry VIII, as well as in the King James Version.  I can only suppose that in much the same way, every subsequent translation of Homer has owed something to Chapman. Keats and Coleridge made Chapman eternally visible through their poetry. Ironically, Gutenberg Project does not list Chapman’s translations, even though they appear to have every subsequent translation.

Two of the more notable human qualities, loyalty and ethics, are on display in Wolf Hall, loyalty being prominent. Cromwell’s loyalty to Wolsey is truly admirable (it will be the undoing of Anne Boleyn). He pragmatically transfers that loyalty to Henry Tudor following Wolsey’s death. I have read both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, and can’t recall that Hilary Mantel concerns herself overmuch with Cromwell’s ethics. Might the effect of Cromwell’s ethics be apparent in the ruination of George Chapman? I have never found mention of this in an academic source, learned it from Wikipedia.  In fact, as I re-read this it occurred to me that maybe Chapman’s was just an earlier version of the student loan…

About michaellangford2012

Timber framer, boatbuilder, dreamer, writer, musician; collector of books, tools, aphorisms. "There is nothing, absolutely nothing…half so much worth doing…as simply messing about in boats."
This entry was posted in architecture. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Loyalty , Ethics and Reason

  1. Jeff Ward says:

    I have a copy of Chapman’s Homer, so I checked. You’ll want to keep looking.

    Chapman’s translation:

    Upon the Ashen floore his limbs he spred,
    And gainst a Cypresse threshold staid his head,
    The tree wrought smooth and in a line direct
    Tried by the Plumbe and by the Architect.

    Chapman’s is a verse translation, not prose, and it isn’t really known for its accuracy. These days, it’s mostly known by John Keat’s ode to its power, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.”

    A quick search shows that it’s the Robert Fitzgerald translation; you can find it by searching google books.

Intelligent, insightful comments are encouraged...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s