In Memory of Guy Davenport
On the morning of January 12, 2009 I decided to create this widget. The translations are from Guy Davenport (1927-2005), one of the great writers of the last half of the 20th Century who most people have never heard of. The day he died I coincidentally happened to be in Lexington, KY, where Davenport had lived for the last 40 years of his life. I recounted my journey to purchase the latest Davenport title – at a quite popular and large, Lexington bookseller – a few days after he died, in an essay I wrote in 2005 for the literary magazine Eclectica:
Despite having published close to fifty books, he remained nearly unknown to most of the people he shared a city with. A few days after his death, I went to a large bookstore not five miles from his home and was unable to find a single volume of his works. After searching the database the woman at the information desk admitted she had no idea who he was.
Though most still don’t know him, he will probably be read long after most of the popular contemporary writers drop off the edge and fade from the collective memory.
One of the many things he did well was translate, and his love of the ancient Greeks included his translations of Diogenes. I will list them here after I post them on the main page. There are 124 of them under the title “Comments” in Davenport’s book of poems Thasos and Ohio: Poems and Translations 1950-1980 (North Point Press, 1986, ISBN:0-86547-227-0 ). I will probably add more comments as I feel moved to. There is always a Davenport book next to my bed, to help remind me that this world, no matter what’s coming down, is all just more “later the same day.” And that, in an odd way, gives me great comfort.
(I promise to give it my best and change it daily, though I’m not making any guarantees. There are times when I am far from a computer.)
I have come to debase the coinage.
All things belong to the gods. Friends own things in common. Good men are friends of the gods. All things belong to the good.
Men nowhere, but real boys in Sparta.
I am a yapping Maltese lap dog when hungry, a Molossian wolfhound when fed, breeds tedious to hunt with but useful for guarding the house and the sheepfold.
No one can live with me as a companion: it would be too inconvenient.
It is absurd to bring back a runaway slave. If a slave can survive without a master, is it not lawful to admit that the master cannot live without the slave.
I am a citizen of the world.
We are not as hardy, free, or accomplished as animals.
If only I could free myself from hunger as easily as from desire.
Of what use is a philosopher who doesn’t hurt anybody’s feelings?
Demosthenes is a Scythian in his speeches and a gentleman on the battlefield.
The darkest place in the tavern is the most conspicuous.
I am Athens’ one free man.
The porches and streets of Athens were built for me as a place to live.
I learned from the mice how to get along: no rent; no taxes; no grocery bill.
Plato winces when I track dust across his rug: he knows that I am walking on his vanity.
How proud you are of not being proud, Plato says, and I reply that there is pride and pride.
When I die, throw me to the wolves. I’m used to it.
A man keeps and feeds a lion. The lion owns a man.
The art of being a slave is to rule one’s master.
Everything is of one substance. It is custom, not reason, that sets the temple apart from the house, mutton from human flesh for the table, bread from the vegetable, vegetable from the meat.
Antisthenes made me an exiled beggar dressed in rags: wise, independent, and content.
It is luckier to be a Megarian’s ram than his son.
Before begging it is useful to practice on statues.
When the Sinopians ostracized me from Pontos, they condemned themselves to a life without me.
Aristotle dines at King Philip’s convenience, Diogenes at his own.
When Plato said that if I’d gone to the Sicilian court as I was invited, I wouldn’t have to wash lettuce for a living, I replied that if he washed lettuce for a living he wouldn’t have had to go to the Sicilian court.
Philosophy can turn a young man from the love of a beautiful body to the love of a beautiful mind.
When I was captured behind the Macedonian lines and taken before Philip as a spy, I said that I’d only come to see how big of a fool a king can be.
A. I am Alexander the Great.
B. I am Diogenes, the dog.
A. The dog?
B. I nuzzle the kind, bark at the greedy, and bite the louts.
A. What can I do for you?
B Stand out of my light.
To live is not itself an evil, as has been claimed, but to lead a worthless life is.
They laugh at me, but I am not laughed at.
Great crowds at the Olympic games, but not of people.
The Shahinshah of Persia moves in pomp from Susa in the spring, from Babylon in the winter, from Media in the summer, and Diogenes walks every year from Athens to Corinth, and back again from Corinth to Athens.
I threw my cup away when I saw a child drinking from his hands at the trough.
Go into any whorehouse and learn the worthlessness of the expensive.
We can only explain you, young man, by assuming that your father was drunk the night he begot you.
Can you believe that Pataikion the thief will fare better in Elysion because of his initiation in the Mysteries than Epameinondos the Pythagorean?
One wrong will not balance another: to be honorable and just is our only defense against men without honor or justice.
To be saved from folly you need either kind friends or fierce enemies.