What Became of Lais?

There are at least seven poems preserved in the Greek Anthology ‘celebrating’ a courtesan named Lais. The poem controversially attributed to Plato is elegant, compact, and clever. The poem attributed to Antipater is some combination of prosaic, creepy, and cruel.

Plato 6.1 (Greek Anthology)

That Lais who proudly laughed at Hellas
And had swarms of young lovers at her door,
Now gives to Aphrodite this mirror—
Since I won’t look at myself as I am,
And can’t look at myself as I used to be.

ἡ σοβαρὸν γελάσασα καθ᾽ Ἑλλάδος, ἥ ποτ᾽ ἐραστῶν
ἑσμὸν ἐπὶ προθύροις Λαῒς ἔχουσα νέων,
τῇ Παφίῃ τὸ κάτοπτρον: ἐπεὶ τοίη μὲν ὁρᾶσθαι
οὐκ ἐθέλω, οἵη δ᾽ ἦν πάρος οὐ δύναμαι.

Antipater 7.218 (Greek Anthology)

Debauched woman robed in purple and gold,
Love’s accomplice, softer than soft Kypris—
Corinthian Lais, it’s she I hold.
More dazzling than the tumbling waters
Of Peirene’s pellucid spring.
That mortal Cythereia: more pursued
By noble suitors than the unwed
Daughter of Sparta’s king, Tyndarius.
Men enjoyed her favors, her paid-for love.
Now, her saffron-scented tomb: the moist bones
Still redolent with incense unguents,
And her oiled hair exhales its fragrant breath.
For her, Aphrodite scratched her lovely face,
And in his mourning Eros groaned and cried.
If only she hadn’t made of her bed
A slave to money, and open to all—
Hellas would have endured ordeals for her,
Just as it had for Helen.

τὴν καὶ ἅμα χρυσῷ καὶ ἁλουργίδι καὶ σὺν Ἔρωτι
θρυπτομένην, ἁπαλῆς Κύπριδος ἁβροτέραν
Λαΐδ᾽ ἔχω, πολιῆτιν ἁλιζώνοιο Κορίνθου,
Πειρήνης λευκῶν φαιδροτέραν λιβάδων, [p. 124]
τὴν θνητὴν Κυθέρειαν, ἐφ᾽ ᾗ μνηστῆρες ἀγαυοὶ
πλείονες ἢ νύμφης εἵνεκα Τυνδαρίδος,
δρεπτόμενοι χάριτάς τε καὶ ὠνητὴν ἀφροδίτην:
ἧς καὶ ὑπ᾽ εὐώδει τύμβος ὄδωδε κρόκῳ,
ἧς ἔτι κηώεντι μύρῳ τὸ διάβροχον ὀστεῦν,
καὶ λιπαραὶ θυόεν ἄσθμα πνέουσι κόμαι
ᾗ ἔπι καλὸν ἄμυξε κάτα ῥέθος Ἀφρογένεια,
καὶ γοερὸν λύζων ἐστονάχησεν Ἔρως.
εἰ δ᾽ οὐ πάγκοινον δούλην θέτο κέρδεος εὐνήν,
Ἑλλὰς ἄν, ὡς Ἑλένης, τῆσδ᾽ ὕπερ ἔσχε πόνον.

Marble statue of an old woman. 1st Century AD Roman copy of a 2nd Century BC Greek original. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

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.

Ashes and Nightingales

Callimachus and Heraclitus of Halicarnassus, poets of the 3rd Century BC, were friends, as Callimachus’ tribute makes clear in the following poem:

Callimachus 2 (Gow-Page 34)

Someone spoke of your death, Heraclitus,
Moving me to tears.
I remembered how often we, talking,
Made the sun go down.
But now, my Halicarnassian friend,
Somewhere, and for almost too long to count,
You’ve been a pile of ashes.
Yet, your nightingales live on.
Hades, the god who steals everything,
Will not lay his hand on them.

εἶπέ τις, Ἡράκλειτε, τεὸν μόρον, ἐς δέ με δάκρυ
ἤγαγεν, ἐμνήσθην δ᾽ ὁσσάκις ἀμφότεροι
ἥλιον ἐν λέσχῃ κατεδύσαμεν: ἀλλὰ σὺ μέν που,
ξεῖν᾽ Ἁλικαρνησεῦ, τετράπαλαι σποδιή:
αἱ δὲ τεαὶ ζώουσιν ἀηδόνες, ᾗσιν ὁ πάντων
ἁρπακτὴς Ἀίδης οὐκ ἐπὶ χεῖρα βαλεῖ.

Only one of Heraclitus’ “nightingales” survives, and it is the sepulchral poem below:

Heraclitus 7.465 (Greek Anthology)

Earth just recently dug up.
On the face of the tombstone
Half-green leafy garlands sway.
When the writing’s deciphered,
Traveler, we’ll know whose smooth bones
The stone claims to enclose:

“Stranger, I am Aretemias from Cnidus.
It was with Euphronus that I shared the marriage bed.
Rites of child birth were not denied me, and I bore twins:
One I left as a guide for his father in old age;
One I took with me—a reminder of my husband.”

ἁ κόνις ἀρτίσκαπτος, ἐπὶ στάλας δὲ μετώπων
σείονται φύλλων ἡμιθαλεῖς στέφανοι
γράμμα διακρίναντες, ὁδοιπόρε, πέτρον ἴδωμεν,
λευρὰ περιστέλλειν ὀστέα φατὶ τίνος. —
ξεῖν᾽, Ἀρετημιάς εἰμι: πάτρα Κνίδος: Εὔφρονος ἦλθον
εἰς λέχος: ὠδίνων οὐκ ἄμορος γενόμαν
δισσὰ δ᾽ ὁμοῦ τίκτουσα, τὸ μὲν λίπον ἀνδρὶ ποδηγὸν
γήρως: ὃν δ᾽ ἀπάγω μναμόσυνον πόσιος.

Attic terracotta grave marker. 750-735 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.

My Sirens, My Words: Two Poems by Erinna

Some accounts make Erinna a contemporary of Sappho

Greek Anthology 7.710

“Columns, and my Sirens, and you, sorrowful urn
Who holds Hades’ small portion of ash—
Say “hello” to those who walk by my grave,
Whether they happen to be citizens or from another town.

Tell them this too so they may know it:
this grave covered me when I was a bride,
My father used to call me Baukis and Tenos was my land
Tell them also that Erinna, my friend,
Etched this poem on my Tomb.”

Στᾶλαι, καὶ Σειρῆνες ἐμαί, καὶ πένθιμε κρωσσέ,
ὅστις ἔχεις Ἀΐδα τὰν ὀλίγαν σποδιάν,
τοῖς ἐμὸν ἐρχομένοισι παρ᾿ ἠρίον εἴπατε χαίρειν,
αἴτ᾿ ἀστοὶ τελέθωντ᾿, αἴθ᾿ ἑτέρας πόλιος·
χὤτι με νύμφαν εὖσαν ἔχει τάφος, εἴπατε καὶ τό·
χὤτι πατήρ μ᾿ ἐκάλει Βαυκίδα, χὤτι γένος
Τηνία, ὡς εἰδῶντι· καὶ ὅττι μοι ἁ συνεταιρὶς
Ἤρινν᾿ ἐν τύμβῳ γράμμ᾿ ἐχάραξε τόδε.

Greek Anthology 6.352

“These outlines come from tender hands: noble Prometheus
There are people whose talent is near to yours!
Whoever drew this girl so truly
If he added a voice, she would be Agatharkhis entirely.”

Ἐξ ἁπαλᾶν χειρῶν τάδε γράμματα· λῷστε Προμαθεῦ,
ἔντι καὶ ἄνθρωποι τὶν ὁμαλοὶ σοφίαν.
ταύταν γοῦν ἐτύμως τὰν παρθένον ὅστις ἔγραψεν,
αἰ καὐδὰν ποτέθηκ᾿, ἦς κ᾿ Ἀγαθαρχὶς ὅλα.

Image result for erinna greek poet
Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene by Simeon Solomon

No Less Romantic than Zeus

Bassus 5.125 (Greek Anthology)

I won’t change into gold, one of these days.
Another might show himself as a bull,
Or as a sweet-voiced swan on the sea shore.
Let Zeus keep these games.
I’ll fork over some obols to Corrina,
Exactly two—and I certainly don’t fly.

οὐ μέλλω ῥεύσειν χρυσός ποτε: βοῦς δὲ γένοιτο
ἄλλος, χὠ μελίθρους κύκνος ἐπῃόνιος.
Ζηνὶ φυλασσέσθω τάδε παίγνια: τῇ δὲ Κορίννῃ
τοὺς ὀβολοὺς δώσω τοὺς δύο, κοὐ πέτομαι.

5th century BC vase attributed to the Berlin Painter.
National Archaeological Museum Tarquinia.

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.

Dorcas Works For a Dork

Meleager 5.182 (Greek Anthology)

Deliver this message, Dorcas.
Look, tell it to her a second time,
And a third, Dorcas, start to finish.
Run! Stop lolly-gagging! hurry!
Wait a second, Dorcas, one second.
Dorcas, where are you rushing to
Before I’ve told you the whole thing?
What I said just now, tell her that.
Why am I so, so silly?
Don’t say a single word of that.
Say instead that—say all of it!
Don’t hold back—say everything!
Dorcas, why am I sending you?
You know what, I’m going with you.
Actually, ahead of you!

ἄγγειλον τάδε, Δορκάς: ἰδοὺ πάλι δεύτερον αὐτῇ
καὶ τρίτον ἄγγειλον, Δορκάς, ἅπαντα. τρέχε:
μηκέτι μέλλε, πέτου — βραχύ μοι, βραχύ, Δορκάς, ἐπίσχες..
Δορκάς, ποῖ σπεύδεις, πρίν σε τὰ πάντα μαθεῖν; [p. 218]
πρόσθες δ᾽ οἷς εἴρηκα πάλαι — μᾶλλον δὲ ῾τί ληρῶ;᾿
μηδὲν ὅλως εἴπῃς — ἀλλ᾽ ὅτι — πάντα λέγε:
μὴ φείδου τὰ ἅπαντα λέγειν. καίτοι τί σε Δορκάς,
ἐκπέμπω, σὺν σοὶ καὐτός, ἰδού, προάγων;

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.

How Will I know If She Really Loves Me?

Rufinus 5.87 (from the Greek Anthology)

Melissias will not admit her love,
But her body screams like it’s on the receiving end
Of a quiver of arrows: unsteady steps,
Bouts of gasping breath,
And hollow love-struck sockets.
Now then, O Longings, in your mother’s name,
(Cytherea with the beautiful garland)
Inflame the unyielding woman
Until she cries out, “I’m burning!”

ἀρνεῖται τὸν ἔρωτα Μελισσιάς, ἀλλὰ τὸ σῶμα
κέκραγ᾽ ὡς βελέων δεξάμενον φαρέτρην,
καὶ βάσις ἀστατέουσα, καὶ ἄστατος ἄσθματος ὁρμή,
καὶ κοῖλαι βλεφάρων ἰοτυπεῖς βάσιες.
ἀλλά, Πόθοι, πρὸς μητρὸς ἐϋστεφάνου Κυθερείης,
φλέξατε τὴν ἀπιθῆ, μέχρις ἐρεῖ ‘ Φλέγομαι.’

Comment

Isn’t it strange that the speaker’s great desire is for Melissias to say aloud what he purportedly already knows? This limited ambition begs the question, what in the first place justifies his belief that she’s in love? To hear him tell it, her body gives her away: her eyes, her feet, her breathing. It’s worth noting that the speaker describes Melissias’s body not as showing how she feels but as uttering it (κράζω: to shout, scream, shriek). It’s worth noting precisely because what the speaker is now asking for is more of the same: more utterances, but this time from the mouth. 

But what’s gained by having her mouth join the chorus of signifying body parts? The idea seems to be that the mouth is uniquely subject to the will while eyes and feet, for example, are not. Speech, that is, evidences an internal reality, a second being which might well be free even after the body submits. If that’s the case, then the behavior of the eyes and feet don’t suffice as evidence of the love, undermining the speaker’s explicit claim to the contrary. In other words, it appears the speaker actually doubts the reliability of the signs his conclusion rests on. And so he’s asked for . . . more signs.  

But words, like the body, can deceive. After all, Melissias has denied what she’ll next affirm. Where then is certainty to be found? That’s the speaker’s question, and ours. Here it’s worth recalling Wittgenstein’s insight: at some point the demand for certainty is no longer a desire for knowledge of the object but a desire to be the object. In other words, certainty would require collapsing the third-person and first-person perspectives, such that there would be no difference between saying “I know myself” and “I know her.” And that, I suspect, is beyond the power of the gods.

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.

Sappho’s Equal? Some Epigrams Assigned to the Poet Nossis

Nossis is one of the best attested woman poets from the ancient world. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of her.

Greek Anthology, 6.353

“Melinna herself is here. Look how her pure face
Seems to glance gently at me.
How faithfully she looks like her mother in every way.
Whenever children equal their parents it is beautiful.”

Αὐτομέλιννα τέτυκται· ἴδ᾿ ὡς ἀγανὸν τὸ πρόσωπον
ἁμὲ ποτοπτάζειν μειλιχίως δοκέει·
ὡς ἐτύμως θυγάτηρ τᾷ ματέρι πάντα ποτῴκει.
ἦ καλὸν ὅκκα πέλῃ τέκνα γονεῦσιν ἴσα.

7.718

“Stranger, if you sail to the city of beautiful dances, Mytilene,
The city which fed Sappho, the the Graces’ flower,
Tell them that the land of Lokris bore for the Muses
A woman her equal, by the name of Nossis. Go!”

Ὦ ξεῖν᾿, εἰ τύ γε πλεῖς ποτὶ καλλίχορον Μυτιλάναν,
τὰν Σαπφὼ χαρίτων ἄνθος ἐναυσαμέναν,
εἰπεῖν, ὡς Μούσαισι φίλαν τήνᾳ τε Λοκρὶς γᾶ
τίκτεν ἴσαν ὅτι θ᾿ οἱ τοὔνομα Νοσσίς· ἴθι.

6.275

“I expect that Aphrodite will be pleased to receive
As an offering from Samutha, the band that held her hair.
For it is well made and smells sweetly of nektar,
That very nektar she uses to anoint beautiful Adonis.”

Χαίροισάν τοι ἔοικε κομᾶν ἄπο τὰν Ἀφροδίταν
ἄνθεμα κεκρύφαλον τόνδε λαβεῖν Σαμύθας·
δαιδαλέος τε γάρ ἐστι, καὶ ἁδύ τι νέκταρος ὄσδει,
τοῦ, τῷ καὶ τήνα καλὸν Ἄδωνα χρίει.

9.332

“Let’s leave for the temple and go to see Aphrodite’s
Sculpture—how it is made so finely in gold.
Polyarkhis dedicated it after she earned great
wealth from the native glory of her body.”

Ἐλθοῖσαι ποτὶ ναὸν ἰδώμεθα τᾶς Ἀφροδίτας
τὸ βρέτας, ὡς χρυσῷ διαδαλόεν τελέθει.
εἵσατό μιν Πολυαρχίς, ἐπαυρομένα μάλα πολλὰν
κτῆσιν ἀπ᾿ οἰκείου σώματος ἀγλαΐας.

Nossis.jpg
Bust by Francesco Jerace

My Sirens, My Words: Two Poems by Erinna

Some accounts make Erinna a contemporary of Sappho

Greek Anthology 7.710

“Columns, and my Sirens, and you, sorrowful urn
Who holds Hades’ small portion of ash—
Say “hello” to those who walk by my grave,
Whether they happen to be citizens or from another town.

Tell them this too so they may know it:
this grave covered me when I was a bride,
My father used to call me Baukis and Tenos was my land
Tell them also that Erinna, my friend,
Etched this poem on my Tomb.”

Στᾶλαι, καὶ Σειρῆνες ἐμαί, καὶ πένθιμε κρωσσέ,
ὅστις ἔχεις Ἀΐδα τὰν ὀλίγαν σποδιάν,
τοῖς ἐμὸν ἐρχομένοισι παρ᾿ ἠρίον εἴπατε χαίρειν,
αἴτ᾿ ἀστοὶ τελέθωντ᾿, αἴθ᾿ ἑτέρας πόλιος·
χὤτι με νύμφαν εὖσαν ἔχει τάφος, εἴπατε καὶ τό·
χὤτι πατήρ μ᾿ ἐκάλει Βαυκίδα, χὤτι γένος
Τηνία, ὡς εἰδῶντι· καὶ ὅττι μοι ἁ συνεταιρὶς
Ἤρινν᾿ ἐν τύμβῳ γράμμ᾿ ἐχάραξε τόδε.

Greek Anthology 6.352

“These outlines come from tender hands: noble Prometheus
There are people whose talent is near to yours!
Whoever drew this girl so truly
If he added a voice, she would be Agatharkhis entirely.”

Ἐξ ἁπαλᾶν χειρῶν τάδε γράμματα· λῷστε Προμαθεῦ,
ἔντι καὶ ἄνθρωποι τὶν ὁμαλοὶ σοφίαν.
ταύταν γοῦν ἐτύμως τὰν παρθένον ὅστις ἔγραψεν,
αἰ καὐδὰν ποτέθηκ᾿, ἦς κ᾿ Ἀγαθαρχὶς ὅλα.

Image result for erinna greek poet
Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene by Simeon Solomon

Sappho’s Equal? Some Epigrams Assigned to the Poet Nossis

Nossis is one of the best attested woman poets from the ancient world. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of her.

Greek Anthology, 6.353

“Melinna herself is here. Look how her pure face
Seems to glance gently at me.
How faithfully she looks like her mother in every way.
Whenever children equal their parents it is beautiful.”

Αὐτομέλιννα τέτυκται· ἴδ᾿ ὡς ἀγανὸν τὸ πρόσωπον
ἁμὲ ποτοπτάζειν μειλιχίως δοκέει·
ὡς ἐτύμως θυγάτηρ τᾷ ματέρι πάντα ποτῴκει.
ἦ καλὸν ὅκκα πέλῃ τέκνα γονεῦσιν ἴσα.

7.718

“Stranger, if you sail to the city of beautiful dances, Mytilene,
The city which fed Sappho, the the Graces’ flower,
Tell them that the land of Lokris bore for the Muses
A woman her equal, by the name of Nossis. Go!”

Ὦ ξεῖν᾿, εἰ τύ γε πλεῖς ποτὶ καλλίχορον Μυτιλάναν,
τὰν Σαπφὼ χαρίτων ἄνθος ἐναυσαμέναν,
εἰπεῖν, ὡς Μούσαισι φίλαν τήνᾳ τε Λοκρὶς γᾶ
τίκτεν ἴσαν ὅτι θ᾿ οἱ τοὔνομα Νοσσίς· ἴθι.

6.275

“I expect that Aphrodite will be pleased to receive
As an offering from Samutha, the band that held her hair.
For it is well made and smells sweetly of nektar,
That very nektar she uses to anoint beautiful Adonis.”

Χαίροισάν τοι ἔοικε κομᾶν ἄπο τὰν Ἀφροδίταν
ἄνθεμα κεκρύφαλον τόνδε λαβεῖν Σαμύθας·
δαιδαλέος τε γάρ ἐστι, καὶ ἁδύ τι νέκταρος ὄσδει,
τοῦ, τῷ καὶ τήνα καλὸν Ἄδωνα χρίει.

9.332

“Let’s leave for the temple and go to see Aphrodite’s
Sculpture—how it is made so finely in gold.
Polyarkhis dedicated it after she earned great
wealth from the native glory of her body.”

Ἐλθοῖσαι ποτὶ ναὸν ἰδώμεθα τᾶς Ἀφροδίτας
τὸ βρέτας, ὡς χρυσῷ διαδαλόεν τελέθει.
εἵσατό μιν Πολυαρχίς, ἐπαυρομένα μάλα πολλὰν
κτῆσιν ἀπ᾿ οἰκείου σώματος ἀγλαΐας.

Nossis.jpg
Bust by Francesco Jerace

An Epitaph for Aristophanes

Greek Anthology, Antipater of Thessaloniki 9. 186

“The books of Aristophanes—divine labor—over which
Archanean ivy dangled its massive green hair.
See how much of Dionysus a page holds, how the stories
Echo, full of frightening charms.
Comic poet, best of heart, equal to the characters of Greece,
You both hated and mocked things that deserved it.”

Βίβλοι Ἀριστοφάνευς, θεῖος πόνος, αἷσιν Ἀχαρνεὺς
κισσὸς ἐπὶ χλοερὴν πουλὺς ἔσεισε κόμην.
ἠνίδ᾿ ὅσον Διόνυσον ἔχει σελίς, οἷα δὲ μῦθοι
ἠχεῦσιν, φοβερῶν πληθόμενοι χαρίτων.
ὦ καὶ θυμὸν ἄριστε, καὶ Ἑλλάδος ἤθεσιν ἶσα,
κωμικέ, καὶ στύξας ἄξια καὶ γελάσας.

Image result for Aristophanes