No Comment — September 29, 2007, 10:09 am

Heine’s ‘The Gods of Greece’

Moon in full bloom! In your light,
Like liquid gold, the sea gleams,
As clear as midday, though dimly enchanted,
It stretches beyond the wide beachfront;
And in the pale blue starless sky
Drift the white clouds,
Like great images of the gods
Of luminous marble.

No! Nevermore. Those are no clouds!
It’s them, the gods of Hellas,
Who once so joyfully held sway over the world,
Who now, suppressed and died off,
Drift as great ghosts
Through the midnight skies.

Gazing and curiously blinded I see
The airy pantheon,
The colossal figures move
With the silence of gravitas.
That one is Kronion, the king of the Heavens,
The locks on his bow are snow-white,
Those celebrated locks which make Olympus quake.
In his hand he holds a lightening bolt unleashed,
In his countenance lies misfortune and grief,
But still indeed the old pride.
Those were better days, o Zeus,
When you enjoyed the heavenly revels
With boys and nymphs and hecatombs;
But not even the gods reign forever,
The young suppress the old,
As you once drove away your aging father,
And your titan uncle,
Jupiter Parricida!
And you I also recognize, proud Juno!
But another has won the scepter,
And you are no longer the Queen of Heaven,
And your great eye has turned cold,
And your lily-like arms are powerless,
And nevermore will your rage
Strike the god-bearing virgin
And the miracle-performing son of god.
I recognize you as well, Pallas Athene!
Were you unable with your shield and wisdom
To forestall the decline of the gods?
And I recognize you, Aphrodite,
Once the golden, now the silver-like!
True, the girdle accents your corporeal attraction,
And yet I am repelled by your beauty,
And though your wondrous flesh would bring me fortune,
As other heroes, I would die of fear –
As the goddess of corpses you appear to me,
Venus Libitina!

No longer with love does she gaze upon you,
There, the terrible Ares.
You look so sad, Phœbus Apollo,
The youthful. Your lyre which sounded so joyfully
At the banquet of the gods, now is gone silent.
Sadder still looks Hephæstus,
And truly the god with a limp shall never again
Assume Hebe’s office,
Or dutifully serve up the wondrous nectar
In the assembly – for long is past
The inextinguishable laughter of the gods.

I never loved you, gods!
Because the Greeks are obnoxious to me,
Indeed, I hate even the Romans.
But holy compassion and terrifying sympathy
Course through my heart,
When I espy you on high,
Forgotten gods,
Dead, shadows wandering in the nighttime,
Drifts of mist dispersed by the wind –
And when I consider how cowardly and vapid
Are the gods who conquered you,
The new, sad gods who govern us,
Those cloaked with Schadenfreude in the sheepskin of humility –
O, I am seized by a grim resentment,
And I would break the new temples,
And would do battle for you, you old gods,
For you and your good, ambrosial right,
And before your high altars,
Resurrected, fuming of offerings,
I would myself kneel and pray,
And raise high my arms in supplication –

For in any event, you old gods,
When in times of old you did battle with humans,
You always took the side of the victor,
And now man is grown more magnanimous than you,
For in the battle among the gods, I cast my lot
With the party of the vanquished gods.

Thus I spoke, and visibly above me
The pale cloud figures blushed
And glanced upon me like mortals,
Transfigured by pain, and suddenly they vanished.
The moon hid itself suddenly
Under a cloud bank, which darkly approached;
The sea rushed up,
And victorious appeared in the heavens
The eternal stars.

Heinrich Heine, Die Götter Griechenlands from Das Buch der Lieder (1826-27) in: Heinrich Heine, Sämtliche Schriften, vol. 1, p. 205-207 (C. Hanser ed. 1968)(S.H. transl.)

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2016

Psychedelic Trap

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hamilton Cult

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Held Back

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Division Street

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Innocents

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quiet Car

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Hamilton Cult·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The past is complicated, and explaining it is not just a trick, but a gamble."
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell
Article
Division Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Perfectly sane people lose access to housing every day, though the resultant ordeal may undermine some of that sanity, as it might yours and mine."
Photograph © Robert Gumpert
Article
Held Back·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"'We don’t know where the money went!' a woman cried out. 'They looted it! They stole our money!'"
Artwork by Mischelle Moy
Article
The Quiet Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.

Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.

Photograph by Joshua Lutz
Article
Innocents·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion."
Photograph © Nadia Shira Cohen

Average amount the company paid each of its 140 top executives last year:

$5,300,000

Between one fifth and one half of England’s leisure horses are obese.

Scientists in the Galápagos Islands credited an endangered giant tortoise named Diego with saving his species by fathering more than 800 offspring.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today