Fig Juice for QQ

Looking for a doctor?  I heard about a fantastic one yesterday, through a testimonial that popped up in my Facebook stream:

“Quickly as fig-juice, pressed into bubbly, creamy milk, curdles it firm for the man who churns it round, so quickly he healed the violent rushing Ares.”

Remarkable, huh? 

This passage is from The Iliad (Fagles translation), which one of my Facebook friends is reading on his Kindle.  It describes an act by the healer-god Paeon and it assumes you have at least a peripheral awareness of the speed with which fig-juice curdles milk. 

(My intent in posting it here is not to encourage kitchen experimentation, but if anyone is so inclined, I’d be curious to hear about any measurements you might take with your stopwatch.)

What does this passage have to do with QQ? 

For one, it alerts us to the Homeric simile as a writing model, a source of inspiration, ideas, and techniques for use in our own daily challenge. 

When you think of it, Homer’s similes tackle the very problem that’s at the heart of QQ: how to elucidate relationships between seemingly disparate concepts, and how to do this in a compact (though not necessarily brief) utterance.  Those of us who attempt it today might wish to examine how it’s been done (way, way, way) before.

Here are a few starting points for exploration:

The Similes of Homer’s Iliad, a 1877 compilation by W. C. Green, is available free via Google Books.

Two books by William C. Scott, The Artistry of the Homeric Simile and The Oral Nature of the Homeric Simile, are also freely available.

This also seems a good opportunity to start a more specific discussion about grammatical and/or rhetorical ideas that could be useful members of a QQ solutioneer’s toolbox.

From this simile quoted above, I learned a sentence pattern that I had probably encountered before, but certainly never used myself.  The basic pattern is:

[ADVERB] AS [description of something]…, SO [ADVERB repeated] [description of something similar].

To see what’s interesting about this pattern, let’s start with a simplified version of the fig-juice simile, rendered in a more straightforward form:

“Paeon healed Ares as quickly as fig-juice curdles milk.”

Now consider this reordering, which to my ear has greater dramatic impact:

“As quickly as fig-juice curdles milk, so Paeon healed Ares.”

Note that Homer (via his translators) often uses “so” to signal the transition from the first to the second part of a simile.  In the simplified example directly above, “so” is not so important, but in an extended sentence it is often helpful, and sometimes essential as a parsing aid.

Finally, let’s modify the sentence further, bringing it in line with the quoted pattern.  For me, something special happens when “As” is removed from the opening, and “quickly” is repeated in the second part of the simile:

“Quickly as fig-juice curdles milk, so quickly Paeon healed Ares.”

Or, as Homer/Fagles actually have it:

“Quickly as fig-juice, pressed into bubbly, creamy milk, curdles it firm for the man who churns it round, so quickly he healed the violent rushing Ares.”

Notice that omitting the first “As” puts “quickly” in the opening slot and therefore emphasizes that word.  Such an emphasis makes aesthetic sense because the simile is all about speed. 

Repeating “quickly” after “so” helps to signal the transition between the two parts of the simile, and gives the reader a reminder of what is actually being compared.  I like the way the repeated “quickly” operates on two levels here, both emphasizing meaning and adding structural clarity.

One of the things I love about QQ is the variety of solutions, how many different ways participants connect the same four words.  I’m also intrigued (and I gather you might be too) by a similar variety in the domain of translation: how many different ways the same passage can be coaxed, dragged, and in some cases lambently coursed from one language into another.  So, here are some other versions of Homer’s fig-juice simile, from different translators and times, and in no particular order.  Have fun reading them, and please let me know of any others you encounter or perhaps devise!

-Rudi

As the juice of the fig tree curdles milk, and thickens it in a moment though it is liquid, even so instantly did Pae??on cure fierce Ares.
S. Butler

Just as fig juice
added quickly to white milk clots it at once
as it’s stirred, that’s how fast headstrong Ares healed.
I. Johnston

As wild fig sap
when dripped in liquid milk will curdle it
as quickly as you stir it in, so quickly
Paeon healed impetuous Ares’ wound.
R. Fitzgerald

As quickly as white milk
Thickened with fig juice
Curdles when stirred,
Paieon healed impetuous Ares.
S. Lombardo

The wound healed over at once, just as you might drop fig-juice into a bowl of milk and it curdles as you stir.
W. H. D. Rouse

And quick as fig-juice curdles the white milk—
Liquid before, but, as ’tis stirred around,
Fast thickening into clots—so swift the leech
Staunched with his simples the bold War-god’s wound.
W. C. Green

Even as fig juice maketh haste to thicken white milk, that is liquid but curdleth speedily as a man stirreth, even so swiftly healed he impetuous Ares.
A. Lang, W. Leaf, E. Myers

Like as when fig-juice by its quick action curdles the white milk which is liquid, but curdles quickly at the stirring, so Paeon healed fierce Ares.
G. H. Macurdy

And as fig-juice hasteth to turn white milk to a sudden curd,
That the thin-flowing standeth in clots when scarce by the hand it is stirred,
So Ares the wild-heart’s blood-flow changed into flesh forthright.
A. S. Way

He healed the fierce god as swiftly as fig-juice thickens milk that curdles when stirred.
A. S. Kline

As when the juice of the fig in white milk rapidly fixes that which was fluid before
and curdles quickly for one who stirs it; in such speed as this he healed violent Ares.
R. Lattimore

Thus he who shakes Olympus with his nod;
Then gave to Paeon’s care the bleeding god.
With gentle hand the balm he pour’d around,
And heal’d the immortal flesh, and closed the wound.
As when the fig’s press’d juice, infused in cream,
To curds coagulates the liquid stream,
Sudden the fluids fix the parts combined;
Such, and so soon, the ethereal texture join’d.
A. Pope

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