God Save the King!

Today, Charles will be officially crowned King Charles III at Westminster Abbey. Two days ago, I came across an intriguing document, thanks to bibliophile Marcus de Schepper: a poetical collection from the early 20th century identified as “Latin & Greek Compositions – from Weekly Westminster Gazette,” probably collected by Scottish classical scholar and professor at the University of Aberdeen John Harrower (1857-1933), pictured below.

Smith, Campbell Lindsay; Professor John Harrower (1857-1933); Pembroke College, University of Oxford; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/professor-john-harrower-18571933-223034

Most of these compositions were published in the Westminster Gazette as part of a recurring poetical competition. There are, however, also some handwritten pieces, especially in New Ancient Greek, including a birthday poem for the great German philologist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1848-1931). One is, most remarkably, a Greek version of “God Save the King,” apparently copied from The Times Literary Supplement of 27 November 1914 (see the picture below).

Source: personal collection

In actual fact, the piece was published in The Times Literary Supplement on Thursday 26 November 1914, as a consultation of the periodical reveals — with many thanks to Simon Smets, of University College London, for sending me a scan of the original on such short notice (see the picture below; for the full page, click here).

The Times Literary Supplement, Thursday 26 November 1914, p. 526 (by courtesy of Simon Smets)

An intriguing find right before the coronation, if you ask me. Coincidence? I think not!

The Greek piece is introduced as follows: “We have received from Professor John I. Beare, of Trinity College, Dublin, the enclosed version of the National Anthem in the form of an Attic σκόλιον ‘conceived so as to express the simplicity and enthusiasm, but not the tautologies, of the original.'”

To celebrate King Charles III’s coronation today, I present to you, more than a hundred years after its original publication, “God Save the King” as an Ancient Greek drinking song, composed by John Isaac Beare (1857-1918), the then Regius Professor of Greek at Trinity College, Dublin — transcribed in the Greek original and translated largely literally into English:

Δοίης, Ζεῦ, βασιλέα τὸν ἐσθλὸν ἡμῶν
Πράσσοντ᾿ εὖ τὰ μέγιστα, καλλινίκοις
 Στεφάνοισιν εὐφραινόμενον,
Σκῆπτρα πολὺν χρόνον τῆσδε φορεῖν χθονός·

Ὄρσο, τούς οἱ ἐναντίους σφαλέντας
Αὐτοῖς, Ζεῦ, σκέδασον δόλοις κακούργοις,
 Προφρόνως δὲ τοῖς σοὶ πισύνοις
Ἧμιν ἅπαν κακόν, Σῶτερ, ἐπάρκεσον·

Ἀφθόνων παρὰ σοῦ γερῶν ὄναιτο,
Τηροίη δὲ νόμους, ὅπως τις ἀεὶ
 Φρενόθεν θροῇ τοῦτο μέλος —
Πάντ᾿ ἀγάθ᾿, ὦ Πάτερ, τῷ βασιλεῖ δίδου.

May you grant, Zeus, our noble king,
who successfully accomplishes the greatest things,
 who rejoices at victorious crowns,
to sway the sceptre of this ground for a long time.

Arise, scatter his enemies, Zeus, once
overthrown, with knavish tricks and all,
 and ward off all evil, Saviour, from us,
who willingly rely on you.

May he enjoy plentiful gifts from your side,
and may he guard the laws, so that one always
 cries aloud this song from the heart —
give all good things, Father, to the king!
(Translation mine)

For comparison, I add the standard version of the anthem, from the English Wikipedia page, which is indeed more repetitive than Beare’s Greek version, freed from the original’s “tautologies,” as he put it himself:

God save our gracious King!
Long live our noble King!
God save the King!
Send him victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the King!

O Lord our God arise,
Scatter his enemies,
and make them fall:
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On thee our hopes we fix:
God save us all!

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On him be pleased to pour;
Long may he reign:
May he defend our laws,
And ever give us cause,
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the King!


Please do get in touch if you want to learn more about this intriguing collection of documents, or if you have any remarks or suggestions on the text and translation.

(Featured image of this post: Charles in 2019, from the Government House / Mark Tantrum)

How to cite: Van Rooy, Raf. 2023. “God Save the King!” Adendros (blog). May 6, 2023.

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