No Love For Troy and Thebes

Anacreonta 26

“You tell stories of Thebes
And the tales of Troy too,
But I sing about my defeats.

No horse destroyed me
Nor infantry, nor ships,
But a strange new enemy,
Assaulting me with his gaze.”

σὺ μὲν λέγεις τὰ Θήβης,
ὁ δ᾿ αὖ Φρυγῶν ἀυτάς,
ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἐμὰς ἁλώσεις.

οὐχ ἵππος ὤλεσέν με,
οὐ πεζός, οὐχὶ νῆες,
στρατὸς δὲ καινὸς ἄλλος
ἀπ᾿ ὀμμάτων με βάλλων.

Anacreonta 23

“I want to speak of the Atreides,
And I want to sing about Cadmos,
But the sound of my strings
Echoes only with Love.

Just yesterday I changed my strings
And then the whole lyre
And I was trying to sing
The labors of Herakles
But the lyre returned
Only the sound of Love.

Goodbye, heroes
For the rest of my time
My lyre sings only tales of Love”

θέλω λέγειν Ἀτρείδας,
θέλω δὲ Κάδμον ᾄδειν,
ἁ βάρβιτος δὲ χορδαῖς
Ἔρωτα μοῦνον ἠχεῖ.

ἤμειψα νεῦρα πρώην
καὶ τὴν λύρην ἅπασαν·
κἀγὼ μὲν ᾖδον ἄθλους
Ἡρακλέους· λύρη δὲ
Ἔρωτας ἀντεφώνει.

χαίροιτε λοιπὸν ἡμῖν,
ἥρωες· ἡ λύρη γὰρ
μόνους Ἔρωτας ᾄδει.


Both of these poems use Troy and Thebes as metonyms for poetic traditions. The second is even more associative, substituting family names for the locations. In both cases, the contrast is between heroic tales of war and the subjects appropriate to lyric songs (love, etc). Troy and Thebes show up as the primary location for the death of the race of heroes in Hesiod too:


Hesiod, Works and Days, 158-165:

“Kronos’ son Zeus made a better and more just third race,
the divine generation of heroic men who are called
hemitheoi, the earlier generation on the boundless earth.
And then evil war and dread conflict wiped them out,
some of them under seven-gated Thebes, the Cadmean land,
where they struggled over the flocks of Oedipus,
and leading others in ships for booty across the sea
at Troy, for the sake of well-tressed Helen.”

Ζεὺς Κρονίδης ποίησε, δικαιότερον καὶ ἄρειον,
ἀνδρῶν ἡρώων θεῖον γένος, οἳ καλέονται
ἡμίθεοι, προτέρη γενεὴ κατ’ ἀπείρονα γαῖαν.
καὶ τοὺς μὲν πόλεμός τε κακὸς καὶ φύλοπις αἰνὴ
τοὺς μὲν ὑφ’ ἑπταπύλῳ Θήβῃ, Καδμηίδι γαίῃ,
ὤλεσε μαρναμένους μήλων ἕνεκ’ Οἰδιπόδαο,
τοὺς δὲ καὶ ἐν νήεσσιν ὑπὲρ μέγα λαῖτμα θαλάσσης
ἐς Τροίην ἀγαγὼν ῾Ελένης ἕνεκ’ ἠυκόμοιο.

Elton Barker and I talk about this passage and its implications for Greek poetics a lot in Homer’s Thebes, available for free from the Center for Hellenic Studies.

Picture of a fragment of a vase. White vase with orange/red ink. Image in center is a line drawing of a lyre with plant life on the side. There are thick borders at the top and bottom
Krater with lyre player. Nafplion, Evangelistria, chamber tomb IV, 1350-1250 BC. Detail. Archaeological Museum of Nafplio.

Leave a Reply