Just You and Me

In the fragment below, Simonides (late 6th century – mid 5th century BC) reimagines the myth of Danae put to sea in a chest with her child, Perseus, to prevent the boy growing up to kill his father.

The myth has many turns, but the fragment concentrates on the mother’s tenderness towards her child, and the contrast between her torment and his peaceful sleep.

Fr.543 (PMG)

When in the elegant box
blowing wind and roiling sea
knocked her flat with fear,
her cheeks not un-wet,
she put a loving arm around Perseus and said:
“O my child, I have nothing but suffering!

But you, you sleep.
With your nursling’s heart you slumber
in this joyless bronze-studded bark
(in its dim night, its inky gloom)
in which you were put to sea.

Thick spray over your hair
from passing waves
does not trouble you.
Nor does the cry of the wind.
You lie here in peace,
a beautiful face in a purple cloak.
But if the terrible were terrible to you,
you would lend my words
your little ear.

I bid you sleep, my little pup.
Let the sea sleep.
Let evil beyond measure sleep too.
And may some change of heart be evident,
father Zeus, from you.

If my prayer is presumptuous,
or far from just,
do forgive me.”

ὅτε λάρνακι
ἐν δαιδαλέᾳ
ἄνεμός τέ μιν πνέων
κινηθεῖσά τε λίμνα δείματι
ἔρειπεν, οὐκ ἀδιάντοισι παρειαῖς
ἀμφί τε Περσέι βάλλε φίλαν χέρα
εἶπέν τ᾿· ὦ τέκος, οἷον ἔχω πόνον·

σὺ δ᾿ ἀωτεῖς, γαλαθηνῷ
δ᾿ ἤτορι κνοώσσεις
ἐν ἀτερπέι δούρατι χαλκεογόμφῳ
νυκτί <τ᾿ ἀ>λαμπέι
κυανέῳ τε δνόφῳ σταλείς·
ἄχναν δ᾿ ὕπερθε τεᾶν κομᾶν
βαθεῖαν παριόντος
κύματος οὐκ ἀλέγεις, οὐδ᾿ ἀνέμου
φθόγγον, πορφυρέᾳ
κείμενος ἐν χλανίδι, πρόσωπον καλόν.
εἰ δέ τοι δεινὸν τό γε δεινὸν ἦν,
καί κεν ἐμῶν ῥημάτων
λεπτὸν ὑπεῖχες οὖας.
κέλομαι <δ᾿>, εὗδε βρέφος,
εὑδέτω δὲ πόντος, εὑδέτω <δ᾿> ἄμετρον κακόν·
μεταβουλία δέ τις φανείη,
Ζεῦ πάτερ, ἐκ σέο·
ὅττι δὲ θαρσαλέον ἔπος εὔχομαι
ἢ νόσφι δίκας,
σύγγνωθί μοι.


Red figure vase depicting Acrisius sending off Danae and Perseus.
c.470 BC. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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.

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