Among the many poems of the Greek Anthology in which the male speaker is predictably and distastefully “masculine,” there are those in which his love for an unresponsive woman renders him foolish, or pathetic, in the eyes of the reader. The epigrams of Asclepiades offer two such examples. Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse is eloquent and insightful on the subject of waiting (possibly in vain) for the absent beloved. Perhaps Barthes’ words open up new ways of thinking about these epigrams:
“Historically, the discourse on absence is carried on by the Woman . . . It follows that in any man who utters the other’s absence something feminine is declared: this man who waits and who suffers from his waiting is miraculously feminized. A man is not feminized because he’s inverted but because he is in love.”
Lamp, you were there when Heracleia swore
Three times she would come, and she has not come.
Lamp, if you’re a god, take revenge on her:
When the deceitful woman is sporting
With a lover she has over, go out.
Give them no more light.
λύχνε, σὲ γὰρ παρεοῦσα τρὶς ὤμοσεν Ἡράκλεια
ἥξειν, κοὐχ ἥκει: λύχνε, σὺ δ᾽, εἰ θεὸς εἶ,
τὴν δολίην ἀπάμυνον ὅταν φίλον ἔνδον ἔχουσα
παίζῃ, ἀποσβεσθεὶς μηκέτι φῶς πάρεχε.
“Amorous absence always functions in a single direction, expressed by the one who stays, never by the one who leaves . . .To speak this absence is from the start to propose that the subject’s place and the other’s place cannot permute; it is to say ‘I am loved less than I love.’”
Night, I call you, and not another,
To witness how Nico’s Pythias,
A deceitful woman, mistreats me:
Summoned—not uninvited—I came.
When she’s suffered the same thing,
I hope she complains to you
While still standing at my door.
νύξ: σὲ γὰρ οὐκ ἄλλην μαρτύρομαι, οἷά μ᾽ ὑβρίζει
Πυθιὰς ἡ Νικοῦς, οὖσα φιλεξαπάτις:
κληθείς, οὐκ ἄκλητος, ἐλήλυθα. ταὐτὰ παθοῦσα
σοὶ μέμψαιτ᾽ ἔτ᾽ ἐμοῖς στᾶσα παρὰ προθύροις.
Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.