Edmund Griffiths  

E d m u n d   G r i f f i t h s

An anonymous translation of the last few lines of the Bacchae

My copy of the Bacchae, in vol. iii of the 1912 Loeb Euripides, has a pencil annotation made by a former owner against the last few lines of the play (Πολλαὶ μορφαὶ τῶν δαιμονίων, etc.). As far as I can judge from the handwriting, the author of the note is the same as the ‘D. Heurat, Corpus’ whose name appears in the front of the volume. Heurat writes ‘Audivi hos versos vix accurate sed lapide, ut opinor, in Anglicem sermonem traductos’ [I’ve heard these lines put into English—not very accurately, but I think snappily], and gives the translation that I reproduce below. Before that, however, here for comparison is the published version (1902) by no less an authority than Gilbert Murray. The speaker is the chorus.

There be many shapes of mystery.
And many things God makes to be,
    Past hope or fear.
And the end men looked for cometh not,
And a path is there where no man thought.
    So hath it fallen here.

Murray’s rendering probably is more accurate; but the anonymous one is unquestionably snappier. I have made no changes beyond cleaning up the punctuation.

God has plenty of tricks up His sleeve.
    Heaven is full of surprises.
And what we believe we’re about to receive
    Is not what materializes.
What you thought was the triumph of Hell
    He has arranged to His glory:
And you know very well that you never can tell—
    And that’s how it was in this story.