Waugh Introduces New Edition of Greek Poetry

References to Waugh’s novels are used to introduce a review of the first volume of a new edition of The Greek Anthology published by Harvard University Press and The Loeb Library. The review is by Hayden Pelliccia and appears in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books.

One of the poems in the anthology is the epigram written by Callimachus to commemorate the death of Heraclitus. The entire text of this as translated by William Johnson Cory is quoted in the article. Waugh quotes two lines of the translation in Officers and Gentlemen (1955), a few years after he had written his own brilliant comic parody of the poem in The Loved One (1948). In O&G, Waugh has the British Commander in Chief (based on Field Marshall Wavell who is soon to be relieved) recite the Cory translation from memory at a party given by Julia Stitch which Guy Crouchback attends. In the book, only the first and last lines are quoted:

They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead…/For death he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

When the C-in-C finishes, another guest, described as a cabinet minister, offers to one-up him by reciting the poem in Greek, but he is put off doing so by one of the other guests, a Greek. O&G, Penguin, 1977, pp. 130-31.

In The Loved One, Dennis Barlow uses the poem as the basis for a eulogy to be read out at the funeral of Francis Hinsley after he hung himself. The NYRB article quotes the first part of Waugh’s version in explaining the poem’s relevance to the new anthology:

Waugh, like other even mildly modernist Englishmen of his era, was both embarrassed by Cory’s sentimental old chestnut and unable to get it out of his head. He had the poetry-plagiarizing hero of The Loved One adapt it to commemorate the suicide of his mentor:

“They told me, Francis Hinsley, they told me you were hung
With red protruding eye-balls and black protruding tongue
I wept as I remembered how often you and I
Had laughed about Los Angeles and now ’tis here you’ll lie…”

This trip from the sublime—which Callimachus’s Greek text is—to the camp and down to the ridiculous is fully in keeping with the spirit of the Anthology, the vastness of which accommodates poems of remarkable variety.

It it worth quoting the last two lines of Waugh’s parody, just for the sake of completeness:

Here pickled in formaldehyde and painted like a whore,/Shrimp-pink incorruptible, not lost nor gone before. (Penguin, 1951, p. 69)

The same poem comes up again in Waugh’s biography of Ronald Knox, near the end of Knox’s life when he delivers the Romanes Lecture at Oxford despite the weakness he was suffering in his final illness. As described by Waugh:

When, half-way through, to illustrate a point, Knox recited in full Cory’s familiar rendering of the Greek epigram, ‘They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead’, most of those present recognized his words as his own farewell to Oxford, and some with whom of old he had ‘tired the sun with talking’, did not restrain their tears. (Penguin, 2011, p. 439)

This lecture was delivered in 1957 a few years after Waugh has the C-in-C recite the poem in O&G.

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