Memnon’s Speaking Stone: Two Poems by Julia Balbilla

Julia Balbilla is a Roman poet from the time of Hadrian. She composed Greek verse. For more of her poems see Rosenmeyer 2008 below and Brennan 1998 for additional historical context

Julia Balbilla, Two Poems

In Memnonis pede sinistro. C. I. 4727 coll. Add. III p. 1202.

“I, Balbilla, heard from the stone when it spoke
Either the divine voice of Memnon or Phamenoth.
I came here alongside my beautiful queen Sabina,
as the sun kept its course in the first hour.
In the fifteenth year of Hadrian’s reign
When Hathyr had made its twenty-fourth day,
It was on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Hathyr.

῎Εκλυον αὐδάσαντος ἐγὼ ‘πὺ λίθω Βάλβιλλα
φώνας τᾶς θείας Μέμνονος ἢ Φαμένωθ·
ἦνθον ὔμοι δ’ ἐράται βασιλήιδι τυῖδε Σαβίνναι,
ὤρας δὲ πρώτας ἄλιος ἦχε δρόμος,

κοιράνω ᾿Αδριάνω πέμπτωι δεκότωι δ’ ἐνιαύτωι,
φῶτ]α δ’ ἔχεσκεν ῎Αθυρ εἴκοσι καὶ πέσυρα·
εἰκόστωι πέμπτωι δ’ ἄματι μῆνος ῎Αθυρ.

In Memnonis crure sinistro. C. I. 4725 coll. Add. III p. 1201 sq.

“Julia Balbilla [wrote this]
When August Hadrian heard Memnon

I’ve learned that the Egyptian Memnon, bronzed by
The bright sun, sounds out from a Theban stone.
When he gazed upon Hadrian, the kingliest king
He addressed him as much as he could before the light of the sun.

But as Titan was driving through the sky on white horses
Holding the second part of the day in shadow,
Memnon’s voice rang out again like struck bronze,
High-pitched: and he let loose a third sound greeting.

And then Lord Hadrian hailed Memnon in return
And left on this column for future generations to see
Inscribed verses telling of everything he saw and heard.
And it was clear to everyone how much the gods love him.

᾿Ιουλίας Βαλβίλλης, ὅτε ἤκουσε τοῦ Μέμνονος ὁ σεβαστὸς
᾿Αδριανός.

Μέμνονα πυνθανόμαν Αἰγύπτιον, ἀλίω αὔγαι
αἰθόμενον, φώνην Θηβαίκω ‘πὺ λίθω·
᾿Αδρίανον δ’ ἐςίδων, τὸν παμβασίληα πρὶν αὐγὰς
ἀελίω χαίρην εἶπέ [v]οι ὠς δύνοτον·

Τίταν δ’ ὄττ’ ἐλάων λεύκοισι δι’ αἴθερος ἴπποις
ἐ]ν σκίαι ὠράων δεύτερον ἦχε μέτρον,
ὠς χάλκοιο τυπέντος ἴη Μέμνων πάλιν αὔδαν
ὀξύτονον· χαίρων καὶ τρίτον ἆχον ἴη.

κοίρανος ᾿Αδρίανος χ[ήρ]αις δ’ ἀσπάσσατο καὖτος
Μέμνονα. κἀ[πιθέμαν] καλλ[ιλό]γοισι πόνοις
γρόππατα σαμαίνο[ν]τά τ’ ὄσ’ εὔιδε κὤσσ’ ἐςάκουσε·
δᾶλον παῖσι δ’ ἔγε[ν]τ’ ὤς [v]ε φίλ[ε]ισι θέοι.

Antonio Beato, Colosses de Memnon

Rosenmeyer, P. (2008). Greek Verse Inscriptions in Roman Egypt: Julia Balbilla’s Sapphic Voice. Classical Antiquity, 27(2), 334-358.

Brennan, T. (1998). “The Poets Julia Balbilla and Damo at the Colossus of Memnon”. Classical World, 91(4), 215.

Plant, I., & Plant, Ian Michael. (2004). Women writers of ancient Greece and Rome : An anthology (University of Oklahoma Press ed.). Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

 

3 thoughts on “Memnon’s Speaking Stone: Two Poems by Julia Balbilla

  1. Newer biblio:
    Patricia A. Rosenmeyer, The Language of Ruins: Greek and Latin Inscriptions on the Memnon Colossus, New York: Oxford University Press, 2018, ISBN 9780190626310, $85

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