Translating Pushkin to Attic Greek hexameters

I once had occasion, 45 years ago now, to translate a love poem by Aleksandr Pushkin from Russian into ancient Greek (Attic Greek). You can read the Russian in typeset Cyrillic, and an English translation, on this page at the site of the Multimedia Learning Center (MMLC) of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. Here is my original hurried manuscript from college days:

Manuscript of Pushkin poem in Cyrillic Russian text 
        and translated into Attic Greek hexameter verse

How did this translation come to be made?

In 1970 at Bristol University, I was looking for a second non-mathematical course to take as my second “other subject” for my third year, while doing the degree option which had the title “Mathematics With Other Subjects”. I had begun my BSc work at the university enrolled to major in physics, but after my first year I had decided that I preferred mathematics (in which I had passed two A level subjects along with the physics A level) and I got the physics and mathematics professors’ permission to change. The physics honours degree first year, which I had already done, had thus become not my major subject but the first of my “other subjects”.

I spent my second year entirely on mathematics, to catch up with those who had done solely mathematics in their first year. Some fellow maths students completing their second year had chosen the same “other subject” option that I was now on, but their choices and the other available courses (which had such titles as the History of European Art, an Introduction to Economics, or to Theology, and so forth) were either oversubscribed or uninteresting to me.

Then, while digging around for further alternatives, I found a university prospectus footnote that mentioned a course in ancient Greek which could be followed for this purpose. This was very different from the rather general topics on which other courses were based, and I thought it might be rather fun and novel; so I duly went to see the professor of Greek, who I now find was a war hero in a quiet way: he was N. G. L. Hammond.

I told him I had passed the ancient Greek O level at school. He asked me whether I had done Greek verse; this was very much to the point: I had not. We had done verse scansion, though without attempting much composition of verse ourselves, in the Latin O level, but not in the Greek. Professor Hammond asked me to brush up and write him some Greek hexameters and bring them for him to see.

I went to the Bristol city museum (next door to the arts faculty building that housed the classics department among the rest) and examined a first century papyrus manuscript showing a first century script. Then I went home, and to show off I got a book of Russian verse (I had studied Russian in evening class while at school), chose a Pushkin love poem, and copied it out onto a sheet of paper. Then I translated it into hexameters, following all the rules from the text book, wrote it below the Cyrillic original using my imitation of the handwriting from the museum papyrus, and took it in.

The good professor looked at my sheet of paper, seems satisfied, and said OK, I could do the Greek course. He said: “I don’t think we have ever had a mathematician before.” The above image is what is on that sheet of paper which I still have, just scanned onto a computer.

It was only much later that I discovered that the Greek course which I took during my third year was the Greek component of the first year of study for the honours degree in Classics, and that all the other students on this course were classicists who had done A level Latin, Greek and ancient history A level about 5 months before the autumn term began; I had only done the O level in Latin and Greek, 5 years before then. Still, the following summer I passed OK; in fact, much later I discovered that my mark in the Greek papers was good enough to correspond to an upper second class honours degree, had I been a classicist...!