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:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2015

Black Hat, White Hat

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beyond the Broken Window

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In Search of a Stolen Fiddle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Displaced in the D.R.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quietest Place in the Universe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“Don sucked the last of his drink through his straw and licked his lips. 'The coast, to me, is more interesting than the valley.'”
Photograph by the author
Article
Fred Morton, who died this week in Vienna, at the age of 90, was a longtime contributor to Harper's Magazine and a good friend. "Othello's Son," which was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2013, appeared in our September 2013 issue.
Photograph © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS
Article
Beyond the Broken Window·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“By the time Bratton left the department, in 2009, Los Angeles had quietly become the most spied-on city in America.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Displaced in the D.R.·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“How is it possible that my birth certificate is invalid if I was born here?”
Photograph by Pierre Michel Jean
Article
The Quietest Place in the Universe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Gaitskell and his colleagues are approaching the revelation of a new order, a new universe, in which even light will be known differently, and darkness as well.”
Painting by Sebastiaan Bremer

Number of African countries with vaccination rates higher than that of the United States:

16

Iowa urologists reported that only a minor portion of locker-room teasing arises from “the presence of excess foreskin”; most teasing targets small penises.

A farmer in Surrey, England, was ordered by the Reigate and Banstead Borough Council to tear down his cannon-equipped castle, which he had built secretly and then concealed behind hay bales.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today