Saturday, July 21, 2018


Excerpted from

PRESENCE OF LIFE by Eric Hoffman
(Dos Madres Press, Loveland, OH, 2018)

Translator’s Note

This is a translation of a translation. Or better yet, a version of a translation. Or a version of a version. In any case, the primary text under examination here is decidedly not Empedocles’ fragments, composed in Greek, a language with which this present author has little experience, let alone expertise. Rather, what’s under poetic examination and critique, as it were, is scholar Brad Inwood’s intentionally inelegant translation of these fragments, as well as, more pointedly, his interpretation of that text.

Indeed, all translation is to some degree interpretation, particularly that of ancient philosophical texts composed in a foreign language, in a foreign place, in a foreign time, by a foreign person. Empedocles’ reasons, inspirations, and intent, remain remote, despite the the scant extant historical evidence and ample textual exegesis. Indeed, there exists before this present translation, and the original fragments, not only the barrier of language, but that of location and of time—with all its inherent sociological, political, and intellectual complexities and peculiarities—and especially of meaning, a meaning explored and interpreted in the secondary literature—which Inwood helpfully dilineates—that spans thousands of years, from Empedocles’ contemporaries to my own.

As a result, this translation makes no claims toward a somewhat irksome accuracy. Instead, it means only to re-inscribe poetic values and intent to what is a self-describedly unpoetic text. For, as Inwood remarks in his introduction,

“The translation of the fragments of Empedocles is intended to be sufficiently literal that a Greekless reader can come to grips with the serious problem of meaning frequently posed by Empedocles’ poetry. The translation which results is in some places unclear—but that is true of Empedocles’ Greek and there is no benefit in hiding that from the reader. It is also inelegant. In that respect it is profoundly misleading to the Greekless reader. For Empedocles was ... a real poet; and no real poet can be translated into a foreign language. Moreover, no poet, good or bad, can be translated poetically without altering his meaning at least somewhat. I have preferred to save as much of the original meaning as possible and to sacrifice the poetic power of the original. If the translation manages to convey even a shadow of the beauty of the original words, that is a powerful testimony to Empedocles’ skill.” (Inwood, 4)

Because my translation, unlike Inwood’s, is concerned foremost with poetry, however one may define it, and not scholarship, my method depends greatly on intuition and emotion. Its style, naturally, results from the demands of the English language—its grammar, its syntax, its flow, and above all, its sound. As with Inwood, I have no doubt that Empedocles was an exceptional poet. I have heard audio of the poems read in the original Greek, in which the undeniable rhythms and the persuasive music of poetry is evident. A similar effect in English is my ultimate goal. Whether or not I succeed is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder.

One final note on form: it was at times a necessity to combine a number of the fragments, many of them single lines, into single poems. Poetic convention demands it, and, as Inwood has them grouped—masterfully let it be said—many of these fragments possess similar themes, and seem almost a continuation or conclusion of the previous fragment, or an anticipation of the next. A simple side-by-side comparison of Inwood’s translation and the present text will illustrate this principal much more eloquently and succinctly than a long, drawn out (and perhaps tiresome) explanation here.

                        Also worth pointing out: infrequently I made use of a stray phrase or word choice of Inwood’s, or one of the other translators whose works I consulted during composition. For the most part, however, the words are my own, having pilfered, like Dr. Frankenstein, an arm here, a leg there, in construction of this particular beast. Having resurrected the monster, I can now let it stand—hopefully—on its own two feet.

                                                                        —Eric Hoffman,  Connecticut,  March, 2018




There exists an oracle of Necessity,
an ancient, eternal ordinance
sealed with oaths,

that when a daemon stains his hands with blood,
he is sentenced to wander Earth
for ten thousand years

and stumble through the many forms of life,
suffer its pleasures and wounds,
its torment of emotions.

The wind drives him into the sea
and the sea churns him back to shore
and from the shore he is lifted

into the beams of the blazing sun
then flung back into the wind.
Each accepts then rejects him.

And now I am this daemon.
Exiled from the gods, I wander
among men, trusting only Strife.


I will tell you a twofold tale:
Once, there was a singularity
until torn asunder,
and the one became the many.

This singularity, you see,
both creates and annihilates,
its disarray replaced by unity,
the progenitor of women and men.

Things commingle without end,
unified by Love, repelled by Strife –
there is no constant in this life
besides this constancy of Love and Strife.

Once the world was one, then many,
then the many became one.
Fire, water, earth, and towering air,
and Strife apart and Love among them, equally applied.

Turn your gaze to her,
but not with disinterested eyes.
She is in the ingredients
of their bones, and they do not know.

She is as invisible as the roots.
Under the influence of Joy and Aphrodite,
they love and accomplish the work of peace.
My speech has no trickery.

There is equality among things
as like phenomena in any age –
yet each thing has its intention,
its nature is distinct.

In every age a certain set
of instances comes to dominate.
What was never becomes –
for how can totality increase

and from where does this increase come? –
and what is will never be,
as any fraction of totality is eternal,
since nothing cannot be.


I shall retrace the path of songs
already sung, and from them find
new music. When Strife has reached
the whirlwind's lowest depths,

and Love finds its locus,
all things coalesce, mingle willingly.
From the whirlwind's center
ten thousand tribes materialize,

yet many are set apart, unmixed.
And when Strife outruns the rest,
immortal, innocent Love arrives,
and the eternal is made internal.

The gods, mortalized, pour forth,
find form a marvel to behold.


Eric Hoffman is the author of several collections of poetry, including The Transparent Eye (Spuyten Duyvil, 2016), and Forms of Life (2015), By the Hours (2013), and The American Eye (2011), published by Dos Madres Press. He is the author of Oppen: A Narrative (Shearsman, 2013 rev. US edition Spuyten Duyvil, 2018), a biography of poet George Oppen, editor of Cerebus the Barbarian Messiah: Essays on the Epic Graphic Satire of Dave Sim and Gerhard (McFarland, 2012), co-editor (with Dominick Grace) of Dave Sim: Conversations (2013), Chester Brown: Conversations (2013), and Seth: Conversations (2015), and with Grace and Jason Sacks of Jim Shooter: Conversations (2017) and the forthcoming Steve Gerber: Conversations (2019), and co-editor with Nina Goss of Tearing the World Apart: Bob Dylan an d the 21st Century (2017), all published by the University Press of Mississippi. He lives in Connecticut with his wife Robin and son Sailor.