Sunday, October 24, 2010

Greek version of the Necronomicon also discovered!

What strange events have made possible the tale I now share! A few days after making the find described in the previous post I was once again in Houghton Library and saw the cursed book on the same desk, being pored over by a tall gentleman of repellent aspect. He looked up at me as I entered and, without taking his eyes off me, opened the tome with great deliberation to one of its middle pages. Then, seeming almost to smirk, he abruptly stood up and, after speaking animatedly with the librarian in charge of the reading room for some minutes, exited the room followed by the librarian himself. I was left alone.

As I peered a second time into that volume of eldritch horrors, I noticed that a much older sheet of parchment had been bound in among the printed pages! The text on the parchment was handwritten and much worn, but I could make out Greek characters scrawled in a hideously crabbed script! This is doubtless a fragment of the Byzantine Greek translation of the Necronomicon, produced around 950 in Constantinople by Theodorus Philetas but lost since the 17th century.

With no idea of how much time I'd have to spend with the fragment, I immediately fixated on a portion of the text set off from the rest and written somewhat more clearly. It was the Greek version of the famous couplet, composed in rough elegiacs that I hurriedly scribbled down on a stray sheet of paper:
οὐκ ἔλαχον θανάτοιο μέρος κατακείμενοι αἰεί·
καινοτέρων ἐτέων καὶ θάνατος θάνεται.
Transliterated and translated:
ouk elakhon thanatoio meros katakeimenoi aiei:
kainoterōn eteōn kai thanatos thanetai.

They have no share of death who always lie:
In stranger years to come, e'en death shall die.
The Greek dispels a potential ambiguity in the last word of Lovecraft's "that is not dead which can eternal lie": katakeimenoi in the first line refers to those who are "lying down" or "lying hidden," and confirms that "lie" in the English does not refer to untruth or falsehood (which was never very likely anyway).

The verb thanetai, "will die," is quite unusual. This form occurs only once in all of Greek literature, in one of the Sibylline oracles where it's part of a prophecy. So the wording of the Greek couplet suggests it's making a prediction: death will die during the "stranger years."

Theodorus's choice of meter reflects the revival of interest in the elegiac couplet during the reign of Constantine Porphyrogenitus. That he didn't quite attain to Classical standards of versification is understandable: he produced his translation under severe constraint, with continuous threat of persecution if he were discovered, and of madness if he were too successful in unlocking the book's secrets.

What consequences will ensue from my own perusal of these secrets, it is too early to tell. I hear footsteps behind me when I walk home at night, and turn to glimpse shadows of unwholesome outline.

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