“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.”
Perhaps it will be the case that you’re called to be an artist. If so, take that fate upon yourself and bear it–its weight and its greatness.
–Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Crinagoras 9.234 (Greek Anthology)
“Tormented soul, how long will you put off
All your dreams except your dreams of riches?
Empty hopes wing you to the closest cold cloud.
Know this: things worth having don’t just come to man.
You must pursue the gifts of the Muses!
And as for your mind’s dim fancies,
Leave them to crazy people.”
The Greek Anthology records fifty-one poems by the versatile Crinagoras of Mytilene (c. 1st century BC – 1st century AD). Here are 2 uncharitable epigrams of his regarding the tomb and decaying remains of one Eunicides:
7.380 (Greek Anthology)
Though the tomb’s been cut from a block of white marble,
And it’s been made fine with a mason’s straight rule,
It does not belong to a good man.
Do not appraise the dead, my friend, based on stone.
Stone is witless: this is how it covers
Even a corpse already turned black.
Here lies that limp rag, Eunicides,
Rotting away under the ashes.
7.401 (Greek Anthology)
The tomb atop his odious head
Crushes the bones of the reprobate
Who lies beneath the accursed dirt:
It crushes his jutting chest,
His foul-smelling row of teeth,
His legs bandaged like a slave’s,
And his hairless head as well.
Eunicides’ half-burnt remains, these,
And they’re still full of greenish pus.
Earth, you’ve made an unfortunate marriage;
Don’t now lie lightly, or even slightly,
On this misshapen man’s ashes.
I am Heraclitus. Why do you buffoons
Wrestle with me? It was not for you
I labored, but for those in the know.
To me, one man is worth thirty thousand,
And an infinite number not worth one man.
This I would say even in Persephone’s house.
For those in the know, here are some fragments of Heraclitus to wrestle with:
If all that exists should become smoke, nostrils would pick out one thing from the other.
A man in the night kindles a light in himself after his sight is extinguished. A living man, but he engages with a dead man when he sleeps. And when he wakes, he understands sleeping man.
For souls, it’s death to become water, and for water, it’s death to become earth. But from earth water is born, and from water, a soul.
In any event, the name of the bow is life but its work is death
The exchange: all things for fire and fire for all things; and in like manner, goods for gold and gold for goods.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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!
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!”
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.