Ancient Authors Say Nice Things About Love (Occasionally)

What a Girl Wants: Mimnermus vs. Homer (Propertius 1.9.9-14)

What good to you is threnody, or crying over the walls built by Amphion’s lyre? In matters of love, a verse of Mimnermus is worth a lot more than Homer. Gentle Cupid would like to hear a softer strain. So please, put down those sad little books, and sing something that a girl would like to hear!

quid tibi nunc misero prodest grave dicere carmen
aut Amphioniae moenia flere lyrae? 10
plus in amore valet Mimnermi versus Homero:
carmina mansuetus lenia quaerit Amor.
i quaeso et tristis istos sepone libellos,
et cane quod quaevis nosse puella velit!

Greek Anthology, 5.88 (Rufinus): The Fire of Unrequited Love

“Fire-bearing love, if you haven’t the strength to light two equally afire
Either extinguish it or share the flame burning in only one.”

Εἰ δυσὶν οὐκ ἴσχυσας ἴσην φλόγα, πυρφόρε, καῦσαι,
τὴν ἑνὶ καιομένην ἢ σβέσον ἢ μετάθες.

Catullus, 87

“No woman can claim that she has been loved as much
Truly, as my Lesbia has been loved by me.
No promise has ever been made in as much faith
As can be found on my part in loving you.”

Nulla potest mulier tantum se dicere amatam
vere, quantum a me Lesbia amata mea est.
nulla fides ullo fuit umquam foedere tanta,
quanta in amore tuo ex parte reperta mea est.

Greek Anthology, Book 5.26: I Love You Whatever the Color of Your Hair

“If I saw you shining with dark hair
Or at another time with blond locks, mistress,
The same grace would gleam from both.
Love will make its home in your hair even when it’s gray.”

Εἴτε σε κυανέῃσιν ἀποστίλβουσαν ἐθείραις,
εἴτε πάλιν ξανθαῖς εἶδον, ἄνασσα, κόμαις,
ἴση ἀπ’ ἀμφοτέρων λάμπει χάρις. ἦ ῥά γε ταύταις
θριξὶ συνοικήσει καὶ πολιῇσιν ῎Ερως.

Plautus, Cistellaria 69-70

“Love exceedingly abounds both in honey and in gall: it yields sweetness even in a taste, and produces bitterness to sufficiency”.

amor et melle et felle est fecundissimus;
gustui dat dulce, amarum ad satietatem usque oggerit.

Anacreon, Fr. 428 (Hephaestion, Handbook on Meters)

“I love and again do not love
I am insane and yet sane too”

ἐρέω τε δηὖτε κοὐκ ἐρέω
καὶ μαίνομαι κοὐ μαίνομαι


A Lover’s Praise: Musaeus, Hero and Leander 79-81

“I would happily die on the spot if I could but climb into Hero’s bed; I would not even desire to be an Olympian god if I had Hero as my wife at home.”

αὐτίκα τεθναίην λεχέων ἐπιβήμενος ῾Ηροῦς.
οὐκ ἂν ἐγὼ κατ’ ῎Ολυμπον ἐφιμείρω θεὸς εἶναι
ἡμετέρην παράκοιτιν ἔχων ἐνὶ δώμασιν ῾Ηρώ

Philodemus, Anthology 5.112

“I was in love—who wasn’t? I partied. Who didn’t?
But what made me crazy? Was it a god?
Let him go. For now in place of my dark hair
I am growing gray, announcing the age of ‘knowing better’.
When it was the time to play, we played. Now the time is done,
We will reach for more elevated thought.”

᾿Ηράσθην• τίς δ’ οὐχί; κεκώμακα• τίς δ’ ἀμύητος
κώμων; ἀλλ’ ἐμάνην• ἐκ τίνος; οὐχὶ θεοῦ;
ἐρρίφθω• πολιὴ γὰρ ἐπείγεται ἀντὶ μελαίνης
θρὶξ ἤδη, συνετῆς ἄγγελος ἡλικίης.
καὶ παίζειν ὅτε καιρός, ἐπαίξαμεν• ἡνίκα καιρὸς
οὐκέτι, λωιτέρης φροντίδος ἁψόμεθα.

Greek Anthology 5.225: Be My Achilles, Baby

“I have a wound from love: from it pours not blood
But tears and a scar will never close it.
I am undone by this evil and not even Makhaon
Could heal me by applying his gentle drugs.
I am Telephos, girl—be my faithful Achilles:
Stop this longing you caused with your beauty.”

῞Ελκος ἔχω τὸν ἔρωτα· ῥέει δέ μοι ἕλκεος ἰχὼρ
δάκρυον, ὠτειλῆς οὔποτε τερσομένης.
εἰμὶ καὶ ἐκ κακότητος ἀμήχανος, οὐδὲ Μαχάων
ἤπιά μοι πάσσει φάρμακα δευομένῳ.
Τήλεφός εἰμι, κόρη, σὺ δὲ γίνεο πιστὸς ᾿Αχιλλεύς·
κάλλεϊ σῷ παῦσον τὸν πόθον, ὡς ἔβαλες.

Homer, Iliad 9.340-3

“Are the sons of Atreus the only men who love their wives? A man who is good and sound of judgment loves his wife and feels a certain concern for her, just as I loved Briseis from the bottom of my heart, even though I carried her off with my spear.”

ἦ μοῦνοι φιλέουσ᾽ ἀλόχους μερόπων ἀνθρώπων
Ἀτρεΐδαι; ἐπεὶ ὅς τις ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς καὶ ἐχέφρων
τὴν αὐτοῦ φιλέει καὶ κήδεται, ὡς καὶ ἐγὼ τὴν
ἐκ θυμοῦ φίλεον δουρικτητήν περ ἐοῦσαν.

Mimnermus, fr. 1

“What is life? What enjoyment is there without golden Aphrodite?
May I die when these things no longer interest me…”

τίς δὲ βίος, τί δὲ τερπνὸν ἄτερ χρυσῆς ᾿Αφροδίτης;
τεθναίην, ὅτε μοι μηκέτι ταῦτα μέλοι,

Catullus, Carm. 5

“My Lesbia, let’s live and let’s love,
Let all the rumors of harsh old men
count for only a penny.
Suns can set and rise again:
but when our brief light sets
we must sleep a lonely endless night.
Give me a thousand kisses and then a hundred,
then another thousand and a second hundred,
And even then another thousand, a hundred more.
When we’ve had so many thousands,
we will mix them together so we don’t know,
so that no wicked man can feel envy
when he knows what a number of kisses there’ve been.”

Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
rumoresque senum severiorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis!
soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
aut ne quis malus invidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.

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