Putting the stars to flight

I am reading the Aeneid at the moment, in two translations – Dryden (1697) and Fagles (2006). It’s more fun than I expected, and a full write-up will come in due course.

I was startled to come across a familiar phrase in an unfamiliar context, towards the end of Book III. Vergil’s description of dawn,

Iamque rubescebat stellis Aurora fugatis

is translated by Dryden as

“And now the rising morn with rosy light
Adorns the skies, and puts the stars to flight;

and by Fagles as

The dawn was a red glow now, putting stars to flight

I found this a vivid reminder of the opening stanza of Edward Fitzgerald’s 1859 translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám:

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
        Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
        The Sultán's Turret in a Noose of Light.

(FitzGerald's note: 'Flinging a Stone into the Cup was the Signal for "To Horse!" in the Desert')

Going back to Virgil, I found the image again in Book V, near the beginning:

Postero cum primo stellas oriente fugarat
clara dies

for which Fagles repeats the same phrase as before

And next,
once day broke in the East and put the stars to flight,

but Dryden varies it a bit

Now, when the following morn had chas’d away
The flying stars, and light restor’d the day,

Now, there are only a few ways one can translate "stella" and "fugare", so it's not terribly surprising that Dryden and Fagles came up with similar phrases. But what about Fitzgerald and Khayyám? Admittedly it's not quite the same image – Virgil has Dawn chasing away the stars, where Fitzgerald adds the stone flung into a bowl. But it would be awfully attractive to draw a link between Virgil and the 11th century Persian poet.

Alas, I don't think the link is there. This excellent site looks into the original of each of the Rubáiyát, and here Quatrain 1 is examined. The original text , transliteration, and translation by Edward Heron-Allen who first published the Calcutta manuscript is as follows:

خورشید کمند صبح بر بام افگند
کیخسرو روز مهره در جام افگند
می خور که منادیِ سحرگه‌خیزان
آوازهٔ اشرابوا در ایّام افگند
    khorshid kamand-e sobh bar baam afgand
keykhosrow-e ruz mohre dar jaam afgand
mey khor ke monaadi-ye sahargahkhizaan
aavaaze-ye eshrabu dar ayyaam afgand
The Sun casts the noose of morning upon the roofs,
Kai Khosrú of the day, he throws a stone into the bowl:
"Drink wine!" for the Herald of the Dawn, rising up,
Hurls into the days the cry of "Drink ye!"

(The first, second and fourth lines all end with افگند which is the third person past tense of افگندن, to throw.)

A number of other translations are available here.

Whinfield, 1883
The sun doth smite the roofs with Orient ray
And, Khosrau like, his wine-red sheen display;
Arise, and drink! the herald of the dawn
Uplifts his voice, and cries, "Oh, drink to-day!"
Payne, 1898
The sun on the light the lasso of morn hath cast;
The monarch of day the wine in the hom hath cast:
Up, drink, for the crier of dawn, arising from sleep,
His call on the air for the day newborn hath cast.
Thompson, 1906
The Sun flings morning's noose o'er dome and tower,
Day's king Khosrau, wine in the bowl doth pour;
Drink! For the rising Herald of the Morn
Greeting the days proclaims the dawning hour

It seems pretty clear that Fitzgerald's translation is rather free, and in fact uses only the first two lines of the original Persian. There is also some debate about whether it is a stone or wine that is put into the bowl – I'm with Fitzgerald and Heron-Allen, it seems to me much more likely to be a stone as a good-morning signal.

Alas, it also seems pretty clear that the stars are Fitzgerald's and not Khayyám's. Indeed, on reflection I think that the stars are a direct lift from Virgil via Dryden by Fitzgerald, rather than from Virgil by Khayyám. A bit of a shame, but I'm satisfied to have tracked it down.

One thought on “Putting the stars to flight

  1. Repeating the question is IMO one of the better points: if the speaker can’t give a quick summary of the question they’re about to answer, then I have little hope of a decent answer.

    On the other hand, the formulaic phrase given may be problematic.

    Given a scenario:

    <mumbled question from the audience>

    “We did, and we discounted it.”


    <mumbled question from the audience>

    “I’ll repeat that question first so everybody can hear it:

    “‘You say you found significance in the level of iso-thiotimoline found in the results, but did you consider possible contamination of the samples?’

    “We did, and we discounted it.”


    <mumbled question from the audience>

    “Did we consider possible contamination of the samples as a reason for the level of iso-thiotimoline?

    “We did, and we discounted it.”

    I’d prefer the third. Given the rambling nature of some questions, you’re probably quite right to be wary of the second. (Oh preserve us from the show-off questioner.) (Or the questioner who really wants one-on-one tutorial from the speaker.)

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