Ode in Ancient Greek for Michael Wood and Rebecca Dobbs
At a Gala Auction held in late 2021 to raise money for Classics for All, Michael Wood and Rebecca Dobbs made a substantial bid and won the prize of a Greek Ode to be composed in their honour. This is the result, in English and Greek verse. A commentary is appended.
TELL, MUSE, of many-sided Michael Wood,
famed on account of Troy and other things;
Rebecca too, who with him oft has stood,
for of their partnership one gladly sings.
But where to start and where to end my song? 5
For, like Odysseus, Michael’s done it all,
while she who’s journeyed with him far and long
strong-willed Penelope bids us recall.
They’ve seen the ways that people live and roam,
and many moving pictures have unrolled, 10
so that enraptured viewers can at home
watch marvellous documentaries unfold.
He’s told the tales of China and of Greece,
of Alexander’s footsteps in the sand;
of Britain’s famous deeds of war and peace, 15
and of the greatest poets of each land.
We learn of India’s wonders, and the quest
to shine a light on centuries of gloom,
of conquered folk in far-off southern climes,
and whence the towers of Ilium came to doom. 20
These histories and more he loves to share;
and then, with friends and family in tow,
and daughters (Jyoti, Mina) chattering fair,
to their much-cherished Amorgos they go.
With music, since guitar too Michael plays, 25
I’ll gladly celebrate my brilliant friends:
may music, love, and friendship fill your days,
so that life’s sweet adventure never ends!
ʽΥληέντα μοι ἄνδρα πολύτροπον ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα,
ὃς μέγα κῦδος ἔχει Τροΐης ἕνεκ’ ἠδὲ καὶ ἄλλων,
τῆν δὲ φίλην ἑτάρην, ἣ πολλάκις ἄγχι βέβηκεν·
τῶν γὰρ όμοφροσύνην ἀΐων χαίροιμ’ ἂν ἀείδων.
ἀλλὰ τί μοι πρῶτον, τί μοι ὕστατον ἔσσετ’ ἀοιδῆς; 5
ἦ γὰρ ὅδ᾽ώς ʼΟδυσεὺς τόσ᾽ ἀγακλυτὰ ἔργʼ ἐτέλεσσεν,
ἣ δὲ συνεργὸς ἐοῦσ᾽, ἅτε τετληυῖα καὶ αὐτή,
ἥρωος γαμέτῃ τοι ἐοίκεν Πηνελοπείῃ.
τώδε γὰρ ἀνθρώπων ἤθη τε καὶ ἄστεʼ ἰδόντε
πολλά τότʼ ἐξεφέροντο θοῶν κινήματα μορφῶν 10
ὄφρα κε τοῖς πολλοῖς φανέοιτʼ οἴκοι περ ἐοῦσιν,
θαυμάζοιντο τε πάντες ὅταν ξένα ἔργα ἴδωσιν.
μυθέεται γὰρ ἔθη Σηρῶν, πρηχθέντα τ᾽ Ἀχαιῶν,
ᾗπερ ʼΑλεξάνδρος ψάμμῳ πόδας αὐτὸς ἔθηκεν,
ὅσσα καὶ ἰφθίμων πάθεν ἀγλαὰ φῦλα Βρετανῶν, 15
ποιητὰς δʼ ἐπέων τόθι τʼ ἀλλόθι τʼ ἔξοχʼ ἀρίστους·
θαύματά θ’ ὅσσ’ Ἰνδοῖσι πέλει, καὶ ἐν αἰώνεσσιν
ὅσσ’ ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἔργα πέλει σκοτίοισι φαεινά,
χώροις δʼ ἐν νοτίοισ᾽ ἀνθρώπους δουριαλώτους,
ἧς τε χάριν Τροΐη ποτʼ ἐπέρθετο ὀφρυόεσσα. 20
ταῦτά τε πάντ’ ἐδίδαξεν ἀνὴρ σοφὸς, ἄλλά τε πολλά·
αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα φίλους τε μετῴχετο ἠδὲ θύγατρας,
ταὶ δʼ ἄρ’ ʽἰὼ τί θέλει; τί μιν ἀρκέσει;ʼ ὡς λαλέουσαι
γειναμένοις ἅμ’ ἕποντο, φίλην δʼ ἐς Ἀμοργὸν ἵκοντο.
χρῆ δέ με καὶ κιθάρης μιν ἐπιστάμενον μάλʼ ἐπαινεῖν 25
ὡς σοφὸν ἄνδρ’, ἄλλους τε καὶ ἄσμενος ὑμνήσαιμι.
ὑμῖν δʼ εἴη πᾶσα χάρις φιλίη τε μέλη τε,
ὡς ἄρα μήποθʼ ἵκησθε πέρας γλυκεροῖο βιοῖο.
Notes and Commentary
At a Gala Auction held in late 2021 to raise money for Classics for All, Michael Wood and Rebecca Dobbs made a substantial bid and won the prize of a Greek Ode to be composed in their honour. I decided that the Ode should be composed in epic verse (Homeric hexameters) since Michael is a hero to many who know him and his work. The opening line of the Odyssey (“Tell me, Muse, of a much-travelled man”) seemed an apt point of departure: In Search of the Trojan War was one of MW’s most popular series, beloved of a generation of classicists and viewers. Jointly, Michael and Rebecca recall the “like-mindedness” (homophrosynē) of Odysseus and his clever, resilient partner Penelope. The listing of key episodes in the couple’s life and work also suggested a later genre in the same metre, the Homeric Hymns.
Michael’s work as a historian, presenter, and documentary maker, with Rebecca as his constant support and occasional producer or editor, had to form the bulk of the poem. Knowing the couple as I do, their close and loving family, their delight in their regular visits to Amorgos, and their love of both listening to and (in Michael’s case as guitarist in an amateur band) playing music also had to form part of the tribute. While the Ode touches on only a fragment of Michael and Rebecca’s varied lives and achievements, I hope it reflects the affection and esteem in which they are widely held, as well as the warmth and admiration that I personally feel for them, for what they have achieved, and for all they continue to do.
Commentary on selected lines:
Tell, Muse / ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα The words imitate the opening line of Homer’s Odyssey, with the same words in a different order. Homer calls on the Muse to tell of a man ‘of many turns’ (πολύτροπος), an epithet connoting mental as well as geographical versatility.
Wood / Ὑλήεντά The Greek version of the name is the adjective for ‘wooded’, used by Homer of places such as the island of Zakynthos (modern Zante); here it qualifies ‘man’, ἄνδρα.
Troy / Τροΐη Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey tell of the 10-year siege and eventual destruction of Troy by Greek chieftains including Odysseus. The historical and archaeological background of the story was the subject of MW’s documentary In Search of the Trojan War (1985).
has stood / βέβηκεν The latter syllables of the word approximate to the sound of ‘Becky’ (as Rebecca is called by family and friends) in classical pronunciation.
partnership / όμοφροσύνην The ‘like-mindedness’ of Penelope and Odysseus in the Odyssey is the subject of enchanting chapter by J. J. Winkler, “Penelope’s Cunning and Homer’s” (in The Constraints of Desire, 1991, 158).
where to start / τί μοι πρῶτον The Homeric bard asks the Muse for a starting point (e.g. Iliad 1.8, Hymn to Apollo 19, 207).
they’ve seen the ways / ἤθη τε καὶ ἄστεʼ ἰδόντε An allusion to line 3 of the Odyssey, where Homer says that Odysseus “saw the cities of many people and learned their minds” (πολλῶν δ᾽ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω).
moving pictures / θοῶν κινήματα μορφῶν Literally “movements of swift shapes”.
China / Σηρῶν The Story of China (2016) was produced by RD (the book of that title was published in 2020). MW also made How China Got Rich (2019).
Greece…Alexander / Ἀχαιῶν…Αλεξάνδρος In Search of the Trojan War (1985) was followed by In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great (1997); also Alexander’s Greatest Battle (2009). The series and book In Search of Myths and Heroes (2005) traced the legendary journey of Jason and the Argonauts, starting in Anafi, moving from Volos to Lemnos and Samothrace, then through the Bosphorus and along the Black Sea coast of Turkey to Colchis in Georgia. MW tackled modern Greek history in Greece: The Hidden War (1986).
Britain / Βρετανῶν The Great British Story: A People’s History (2012) and King Alfred and the Anglo Saxons (2013). MW has also published Domesday: A Search for the Roots of England (1988) following the 1986 documentary of that title.
poets / ποιητάς In Search of Shakespeare (2003), In Search of Beowulf (2009), Ovid: The Poet and the Emperor (2017), Du Fu: China’s Greatest Poet (2020).
Ἰνδοῖσι / India Television: Darshan: An Indian Journey (1989), The Story of India (2007). Books: The Smile of Murugan: A South Indian Journey (1995), India: An Epic Journey Across the Subcontinent (2007). MW and BD’s two daughters were given Indian names, Jyoti and Minakshi.
αἰώνεσσιν… σκοτίοισι / centuries of gloom Television series In Search of the Dark Ages (1979–81), with the book of that name (new edition 2022).
conquered folk / άνθρώπους δουριαλώτους Conquistadors (2000), television series and book.
whence / ἧς τε χάριν At the end of In Search of the Trojan War, MW memorably observes “In the archaeological record love leaves no trace”. The Greek literally means ‘for whose (fem.) sake’, an allusion to Helen of Sparta (just as ‘towers of Ilium’ alludes to Marlowe’s lines on Helen: “Is this the face that launched a thousand ships / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?”).
daughters (Jyoti, Mina) / ʽἰὼ τί θέλει; τί μιν ἀρκέσει;ʼ The Greek words contain the sound of their names, and has them ‘chattering’ (λαλέουσαι) “Oh, what does he want? What will satisfy him?” as if they are teasing an impatient parent.
μετῴχετο, ἕποντο, ἵκοντο Past tenses are used here to indicate repeated activity.
κιθάρης / guitar The Greek word kithara is the ancestor of ‘guitar’ via Spanish guitarra.
I would like record my warm thanks to those who looked at the early draft of the Greek and made corrections, and in particular to Dr Ben Henry, who gave the text close scrutiny and made a number of suggestions that are incorporated into the final version.