Hades’ Newest Bride: A Remarkable Epitaph

This poem actually inspired me to type “just wow” when I was looking through the PHI Epigraphic Database.

CIRB 130 from the N. Black Sea ca. 50 BC-50 AD — GVI 1989

“Theophilê Hekataiou gives her greeting.

They were wooing me, Theiophilê the short-lived daughter of
Hekataios, those young men [seeking] a maiden for marriage.
But Hades seized me first, since he was longing for me
When he saw a Persephone better than Persephone.


And when the message is carved on the stone
He weeps for the girl, Theiophilê the Sinopian,
Whose father, Hekataios, gave the torch-holding bride-to-be
To Hades and not a marriage.


Maiden Theiophilê, no marriage awaits you, but a land
With no return; not as the bride of Menophilos,
But as a partner in Persephone’s bed. Your father Hekataios
Now has only the name of the pitiable lost girl.

And as he looks on your shape in stone he sees
The unfulfilled hopes Fate wrongly buried in the ground.

Theiophilê, a girl allotted beauty envied by mortals,
A tenth Muse, a Grace for marriage’s age,
A perfect example of prudence.
Hades did not throw his dark hands around you.

No, Pluto lit the flames for the wedding torches
With his lamp, welcoming a most desired mate.

Parents, stop your laments now, stop your grieving,
Theiophilê has found an immortal bed.”

1           Θεοφίλη Ἑκαταίου, / χαῖρε.
Θειοφίλην με θύγατρα μινυνθαδίην Ἑκαταίου
ἐμνώοντο, γάμωι παρθένον ἠΐθεοι,
5 ἔφθασε δ’ ἁρπάξας Ἀΐδης, ἠράσσατο γάρ μευ,
Φερσεφόνας ἐσιδὼν κρέσσονα Φερσεφόναν.
6a ———

7 καὶ γράμμα πέτρης ἐκγλυφὲν στηλίτιδος
κόρην δακρύει Θεοφίλην Σινωπίδα
τὰς μελλονύμφους ἧς πατὴρ δαιδουχίας
10   Ἑκαταῖος Ἅιδηι καὶ οὐ γάμωι συνάρμοσεν.
10a ———

11 παρθένε Θειοφίλα, σὲ μὲν οὐ γάμος, ἀλλ’ ἀδίαυλος
χῶρος ἔχει νύμφη δ’ οὐκέτι Μηνοφίλου,
[ἀ]λλὰ Κόρης σύλλεκτρος· ὁ δὲ σπείρας Ἑκαταῖος
οὔνομα δυστήνου μοῦνον ἔχει φθιμένης,
15 [μ]ορφὰν δ’ ἐν πέτραι λεύ<σ>σει σέο τὰς δ’ ἀτελέστους
ἐλπίδας οὐχ ὁσίη Μοῖρα κατεχθόνισεν.

τὴν κάλλος ζηλωτὸν ἐνὶ θνατοῖσι λαχοῦσαν
Θειοφίλην, Μουσῶν τὴν δεκάτην, Χάριτα,
πρὸς γάμον ὡραίαν, τὴν σωφροσύνης ὑπόδειγμα,
20   οὐκ Ἀΐδας ζοφεραῖς ἀμφέβαλεν παλάμαις,

Πλούτων δ’ εἰς θαλάμους τὰ γαμήλια λαμπάδι φέγγη
ἇψε, ποθεινοτάτην δεξάμενος γαμέτιν.
[ὦ γ]ονέες, θρήνων νῦν λήξατε, παύετ’ ὀδυρμῶν·
Θειοφίλη λέκτρων ἀθανάτων ἔτυχεν.

Image result for hades persephone grave relief
A relief of Persephone and Hades from the Hierapolis Archaeological Museum

Bodies on Beaches

“The beach is like a cemetery. Look at the sea – it’s beautiful, but deceptive.”

-Words of a woman who came across the bodies of migrants washed up on an Italian beach. (The Guardian, Feb. 27, 2023).

Callimachus 59 (Wilamowitz 58)

Shipwrecked migrant, who are you?
Leonticus found your corpse there, on the shore,
And he buried you right here, in this grave.
He then wept for his own death-doomed life.
For although he’s unsettled, he must,
Like an aquatic bird, still cross the sea.

τίς, ξένος ὦ ναυηγέ; Λεόντιχος ἐνθάδε νεκρόν
εὗρέ σ᾽ ἐπ᾽ αἰγιαλοῦ χῶσέ τε τῶιδε τάφωι
δακρύσας ἐπίκηρον ἑὸν βίον: οὐδὲ γὰρ αὐτός
ἥσυχον, αἰθυίηι δ᾽ ἶσα θαλασσοπορεῖ.

Color photograph of a capsized boat
The image is from the BBC.

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.

When War Overtakes Us

Kallinos, fr. 5

“Now the army of the violent Kimmerians is advancing…”

νῦν δ᾿ ἐπὶ Κιμμερίων στρατὸς ἔρχεται

Kallinos, fr. 1

How long will you wait? When will you embrace your brave heart,
Young men? Aren’t you ashamed to wait so long in front
Of your neighbors? You think that you are sitting back in peace
But war is overtaking the whole land.

Let each person take their last shot even as they die–
There’s real honor for someone to fight against enemies
For their land and their children and their wedded spouses.
Death will come whenever the fates decide it.

But let each one of us go forward, raising our spear high
And keeping a brave spirit behind our shield, now that war is whirling.
There’s no way for anyone to avoid death, at least
When its fated, not even if they’re offspring of the immortal gods.
Often, someone flees the strife and clash of spears
Only to have death’s fate overcome them at home.

That one isn’t forever loved or missed by the people.
But the small and great alike mourn the other, when something happens.
The whole people long for a strong-minded person
when they’re gone, someone the worth of living heroes.
The people look upon them like a mighty tower—
For they do the work of many, even when standing alone.

μέχρις τέο κατάκεισθε; κότ᾿ ἄλκιμον ἕξετε θυμόν,
ὦ νέοι; οὐδ᾿ αἰδεῖσθ᾿ ἀμφιπερικτίονας
ὧδε λίην μεθιέντες; ἐν εἰρήνῃ δὲ δοκεῖτε
ἧσθαι, ἀτὰρ πόλεμος γαῖαν ἅπασαν ἔχει
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
καί τις ἀποθνήσκων ὕστατ᾿ ἀκοντισάτω.
τιμῆέν τε γάρ ἐστι καὶ ἀγλαὸν ἀνδρὶ μάχεσθαι
γῆς πέρι καὶ παίδων κουριδίης τ᾿ ἀλόχου
δυσμενέσιν· θάνατος δὲ τότ᾿ ἔσσεται, ὁππότε κεν δὴ
Μοῖραι ἐπικλώσωσ᾿. ἀλλά τις ἰθὺς ἴτω

ἔγχος ἀνασχόμενος καὶ ὑπ᾿ἀσπίδος ἄλκιμον ἦτορ
ἔλσας, τὸ πρῶτον μειγνυμένου πολέμου.
οὐ γάρ κως θάνατόν γε φυγεῖν εἱμαρμένον ἐστὶν
ἄνδρ᾿, οὐδ᾿ εἰ προγόνων ᾖ γένος ἀθανάτων.
πολλάκι δηϊοτῆτα φυγὼν καὶ δοῦπον ἀκόντων
ἔρχεται, ἐν δ᾿ οἴκῳ μοῖρα κίχεν θανάτου.

ἀλλ᾿ ὁ μὲν οὐκ ἔμπης δήμῳ φίλος οὐδὲ ποθεινός,
τὸν δ᾿ ὀλίγος στενάχει καὶ μέγας, ἤν τι πάθῃ·
λαῷ γὰρ σύμπαντι πόθος κρατερόφρονος ἀνδρὸς
θνήσκοντος, ζώων δ᾿ ἄξιος ἡμιθέων·
ὥσπερ γάρ μιν πύργον ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρῶσιν·
ἔρδει γὰρ πολλῶν ἄξια μοῦνος ἐών.

“Seated Warriors” by Marcus Grønvold (1870)

Tale of a Fateful Trip

“Once more the storm is howling . . .”
-W.B. Yeats, ‘A Prayer for My Daughter’

Ovid. Tristia.Book I.II.13-36.

I, a wretched man, squander unavailing words.
Hostile waters lash my very mouth as I speak,
And the awful South Wind scatters my words
And stops my prayers reaching any of the gods.
I’m not wounded in just one way: the same winds
Carry our prayers, and sails, I don’t know where.

Wretched me! What mountains of water are whipped up!
Now, now you’d think they went all the way to the highest stars.
What hollows there are when the waters part!
Now, now you’d think they went all the way to black Tartarus.

Wherever I look there’s nothing but sea and sky
–This sea swell, that cloud menace–
And between them the savage winds roar and growl.

The wave doesn’t know which god to obey,
For now, from the scarlet east, Eurus gathers strength;
Now Zephyr, sent out from late evening, appears;
Now, from the dry Arctic, the cold North Wind rages;
And now the South Wind joins the battle head on.

The pilot vacillates. What to seek, what to flee
He’s unsure. His art wavers and stuns itself with frets.
Surely we’ll perish. There’s no hope of safety.
A wave blots out my face as I’m speaking.
The swells will crush my soul, and as we pray in vain
Our mouth will take in the killing waters.

verba miser frustra non proficientia perdo.
ipsa graves spargunt ora loquentis aquae,
terribilisque Notus iactat mea dicta, precesque
ad quos mittuntur, non sinit ire deos.
ergo idem venti, ne causa laedar in una,
velaque nescio quo votaque nostra ferunt,
me miserum, quanti montes volvuntur aquarum!
iam iam tacturos sidera summa putes.
quantae diducto subsidunt aequore valles!
iam iam tacturas Tartara nigra putes.
quocumque aspicio, nihil est, nisi pontus et aer,
fluctibus hic tumidus, nubibus ille minax.
inter utrumque fremunt inmani murmure venti.
nescit, cui domino pareat, unda maris.
nam modo purpureo vires capit Eurus ab ortu.
nunc Zephyrus sero vespere missus adest,
nunc sicca gelidus Boreas bacchatur ab Arcto,
nunc Notus adversa proelia fronte gerit.
rector in incerto est nec quid fugiatve petatve
invenit: ambiguis ars stupet ipsa malis.
scilicet occidimus, nec spes est ulla salutis,
dumque loquor, vultus obruit unda meos.
opprimet hanc animam fluctus, frustraque precanti
ore necaturas accipiemus aquas.

Were they bound for Tomis?

Drinking is a Double-Edged Sword

Theognis, 837-840

“Drinking is double-edged for wretched mortals:
Thirst weakens your limbs and drunkenness is mean.
I’ll walk a fine line: you won’t persuade me
Not to drink nor to get too drunk.

Δισσαί τοι πόσιος κῆρες δειλοῖσι βροτοῖσιν,
δίψα τε λυσιμελὴς καὶ μέθυσις χαλεπή·
τούτων δ’ ἂν τὸ μέσον στρωφήσομαι, οὐδέ με πείσεις
οὔτε τι μὴ πίνειν οὔτε λίην μεθύειν.


Archilochus, With Mixed Messages on Grief

Archilochus, fr. 15= Stob. 4.56.30

“Perikles, no citizen will find fault with our painful mourning
Not even when the whole state is celebrating its feasts.
That’s the kind of people the wave of the resounding sea
Took from us, and our lungs are swollen with pain.

Well, the gods have given us strong resilience
For medicine: different people have pain at different times,
And now it is ours: we recoil from a bloody wound but
Later it will belong to others. Come, hold fast,
Push off weakening grief.”*

κήδεα μὲν στονόεντα, Περίκλεες, οὔτε τις ἀστῶν
μεμφόμενος θαλίῃς τέρψεται οὐδὲ πόλις·
τοίους γὰρ κατὰ κῦμα πολυφλοίσβοιο θαλάσσης
ἔκλυσεν, οἰδαλέους δ᾿ ἀμφ᾿ ὀδύνῃς ἔχομεν
πνεύμονας. ἀλλὰ θεοὶ γὰρ ἀνηκέστοισι κακοῖσιν,
ὦ φίλ᾿, ἐπὶ κρατερὴν τλημοσύνην ἔθεσαν
φάρμακον. ἄλλοτε ἄλλος ἔχει τόδε· νῦν μὲν ἐς ἡμέας
ἐτράπεθ᾿, αἱματόεν δ᾿ ἕλκος ἀναστένομεν,
ἐξαῦτις δ᾿ ἑτέρους ἐπαμείψεται. ἀλλὰ τάχιστα
τλῆτε, γυναικεῖον πένθος ἀπωσάμενοι.

*I decided to leave the misogyny out of this translation, but it is still there! The adjective here in Greek is gunaikeion, or,” womanly”

File:Greek - Fragment of a Grave Relief for the Daughter of Kleomachos - Walters 23174.jpg

Like People who Cannot Be Saved

Theognis, Elegies 61-68

“Don’t make any of these citizens your friend, Polypaides
At least not in your heart for any real need.
But seem to be friendly to all in your speech,
While sharing your business with no one, especially not
Anything serious. For then, you would know the thoughts of vile men,
How there is nothing trustworthy in their actions,
But they adore tricks, deceptions, and conspiracies,
Just like people who cannot be saved.”

μηδένα τῶνδε φίλον ποιεῦ, Πολυπαΐδη, ἀστῶν
ἐκ θυμοῦ χρείης οὕνεκα μηδεμιῆς·
ἀλλὰ δόκει μὲν πᾶσιν ἀπὸ γλώσσης φίλος εἶναι,
χρῆμα δὲ συμμείξῃς μηδενὶ μηδ᾿ ὁτιοῦν
σπουδαῖον· γνώσῃ γὰρ ὀιζυρῶν φρένας ἀνδρῶν,
ὥς σφιν ἐπ᾿ ἔργοισιν πίστις ἔπ᾿ οὐδεμία,
ἀλλὰ δόλους ἀπάτας τε πολυπλοκίας τ᾿ ἐφίλησαν
οὕτως ὡς ἄνδρες μηκέτι σῳζόμενοι.

- description A: youth and bearded man in padded costumes dancing - B: man playing auloi, dancing youth with cup
Athens – painter: Komast Group, KX Painter – period / date: early archaic, ca. 580-570 – Beazley Archive Pottery Database 300303

Beauty and Love, A Wedding Song

Theognis, fr. 1-18

“Lord, son of Leto, child of Zeus, I will never
Forget you when beginning or ending my song.
But I sing you first and last and in the middle too
Hear me now and grant me good things.

Lord Phoebus, when the goddess Leto first gave birth to you,
The finest of the gods, she was holding close to the palm tree
with her slight arms, next to the curve of the lake—
and all of Delos was overwhelmed with a divine scent
as the expansive earth laughed beneath,
and the see delighted in its salty depths.

Artemis, slayer of beasts, daughter of Zeus, the one
Agamemnon honored with a temple as he sailed to Troy in swift ships
Hear me as I pray to you—ward off the evil spirts of death.
It is a minor thing for you, goddess; but a big deal for me.”

Muses and Graces, daughters of Zeus, who once
Went to the marriage of Kadmos and sang this beautiful line:
“Whatever is beautiful is loved; and what isn’t beautiful isn’t loved’
That’s the line that rang from your immortal mouths.”

῏Ω ἄνα, Λητοῦς υἱέ, Διὸς τέκος, οὔποτε σεῖο
λήσομαι ἀρχόμενος οὐδ’ ἀποπαυόμενος,
ἀλλ’ αἰεὶ πρῶτόν τε καὶ ὕστατον ἔν τε μέσοισιν
ἀείσω· σὺ δέ μοι κλῦθι καὶ ἐσθλὰ δίδου.

Φοῖβε ἄναξ, ὅτε μέν σε θεὰ τέκε πότνια Λητώ
φοίνικος ῥαδινῆις χερσὶν ἐφαψαμένη
ἀθανάτων κάλλιστον ἐπὶ τροχοειδέι λίμνηι,
πᾶσα μὲν ἐπλήσθη Δῆλος ἀπειρεσίη
ὀδμῆς ἀμβροσίης, ἐγέλασσε δὲ Γαῖα πελώρη,
γήθησεν δὲ βαθὺς πόντος ἁλὸς πολιῆς.

῎Αρτεμι θηροφόνη, θύγατερ Διός, ἣν ᾿Αγαμέμνων
εἵσαθ’, ὅτ’ ἐς Τροίην ἔπλεε νηυσὶ θοῆις,
εὐχομένωι μοι κλῦθι, κακὰς δ’ ἀπὸ κῆρας ἄλαλκε·
σοὶ μὲν τοῦτο, θεά, σμικρόν, ἐμοὶ δὲ μέγα.

Μοῦσαι καὶ Χάριτες, κοῦραι Διός, αἵ ποτε Κάδμου
ἐς γάμον ἐλθοῦσαι καλὸν ἀείσατ’ ἔπος,
‘ὅττι καλόν, φίλον ἐστί· τὸ δ’ οὐ καλὸν οὐ φίλον ἐστί,’
τοῦτ’ ἔπος ἀθανάτων ἦλθε διὰ στομάτων.

Small clay figure of larger divine woman holding human male in arms.
Artemis Kourotrophos. Small terracotta . 430-400 BC. Archaeological Museum of Brauron.

A Brother or a Counterfeit: Theognis on Friendship

Theognis, 93-100

“If someone praises you for as long as you see him
But lashes you with an evil tongue when you are apart,
That kind of man is not a very good friend at all.
He’s the kind who speaks smoothly with his tongue, but harbors different thoughts.

Let me have that kind of friend who knows his companion
And puts up with him when he’s mean or in a rage,
Like a brother. But you, friend, keep these things your heart
And you will remember me in future days.”

ἄν τις ἐπαινήσῃ σε τόσον χρόνον ὅσσον ὁρῴης,
νοσφισθεὶς δ᾿ ἄλλῃ γλῶσσαν ἱῇσι κακήν,
τοιοῦτός τοι ἑταῖρος ἀνὴρ φίλος οὔ τι μάλ᾿ἐσθλός.
ὅς κ᾿ εἴπῃ γλώσσῃ λεῖα, φρονῇ δ᾿ ἕτερα.
ἀλλ᾿ εἴη τοιοῦτος ἐμοὶ φίλος, ὃς τὸν ἑταῖρον
γινώσκων ὀργὴν καὶ βαρὺν ὄντα φέρει
ἀντὶ κασιγνήτου. σὺ δέ μοι, φίλε, ταῦτ᾿ ἐνὶ θυμῷ
φράζεο, καί ποτέ μου μνήσεαι ἐξοπίσω.


“Nothing is harder than recognizing a counterfeit.
But, Kurnos, there is nothing more urgent than guarding against one.”

κιβδήλου δ᾿ ἀνδρὸς γνῶναι χαλεπώτερον οὐδέν,
Κύρν᾿, οὐδ᾿ εὐλαβίης ἐστὶ περὶ πλέονος.


“One can survive the ruin from counterfeit silver and gold
Kurnos—and a wise person can easily discover it.
But if a dear friend’s mind is hidden in his chest
When he is false and he has a deceptive heart,
Well this the most counterfeit thing god has made for mortals
And it is the most painful thing of all to recognize.
For you cannot know the mind of a man or a woman
Before you investigate them, like an animal under a yoke—
And you cannot imagine what they are like at the right time
Since the outer image often misleads your judgment.”

Χρυσοῦ κιβδήλοιο καὶ ἀργύρου ἀνσχετὸς ἄτη,
Κύρνε, καὶ ἐξευρεῖν ῥάιδιον ἀνδρὶ σοφῶι.
εἰ δὲ φίλου νόος ἀνδρὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι λελήθηι
ψυδρὸς ἐών, δόλιον δ’ ἐν φρεσὶν ἦτορ ἔχηι,
τοῦτο θεὸς κιβδηλότατον ποίησε βροτοῖσιν,
καὶ γνῶναι πάντων τοῦτ’ ἀνιηρότατον.
οὐδὲ γὰρ εἰδείης ἀνδρὸς νόον οὐδὲ γυναικός,
πρὶν πειρηθείης ὥσπερ ὑποζυγίου,
οὐδέ κεν εἰκάσσαις ὥσπερ ποτ’ ἐς ὥριον ἐλθών·
πολλάκι γὰρ γνώμην ἐξαπατῶσ’ ἰδέαι.


“Alas, I am a wretch: because of the terrors I have suffered
I bring pleasure to my enemies and toil to my friends”

῎Ωιμοι ἐγὼ δειλός· καὶ δὴ κατάχαρμα μὲν ἐχθροῖς,
τοῖσι φίλοις δὲ πόνος δεινὰ παθὼν γενόμην.


“I’ll fault no enemy when he is noble,
nor will I praise a friend when he is wrong”

Οὐδένα τῶν ἐχθρῶν μωμήσομαι ἐσθλὸν ἐόντα,
οὐδὲ μὲν αἰνήσω δειλὸν ἐόντα φίλον.


“Never dismiss a present friend and seek another
Because you are persuaded by the words of cowardly people.”

μήποτε τὸν παρεόντα μεθεὶς φίλον ἄλλον ἐρεύνα
δειλῶν ἀνθρώπων ῥήμασι πειθόμενος.


“Dude, let’s be friends with each other at a distance.
With the exception of wealth, there’s too much of any good thing.
But we can be friends for a long time, just spend time with different men
Who have a better grasp of your mind.”

ἄνθρωπ᾿, ἀλλήλοισιν ἀπόπροθεν ὦμεν ἑταῖροι·
πλὴν πλούτου παντὸς χρήματός ἐστι κόρος.
δὴν δὴ καὶ φίλοι ὦμεν· ἀτάρ τ᾿ ἄλλοισιν ὁμίλει
ἀνδράσιν, οἳ τὸν σὸν μᾶλλον ἴσασι νόον.


“It is difficult for an enemy to deceive
But it is easy for a friend to fool a friend.”

᾿Εχθρὸν μὲν χαλεπὸν καὶ δυσμενεῖ ἐξαπατῆσαι,
Κύρνε· φίλον δὲ φίλωι ῥάιδιον ἐξαπατᾶν.

Royal 19 C II  f. 59v

The Sun’s Endless Labor and Magic Bed

Mimnermus fr. 12 [=12 Ath. 11.470a]

“Helios was allotted labor for all days–
He and his horse never have
A break after rosy-toed Dawn
Leaves Ocean and ascends the Sky.

A curved, much-loved bed carries him
Across the waves, crafted by Hephaestus’ hands
Made of dear gold, with wings, he deeply sleeps
Above the water’s surface, from the land of the Hesperides
To the Ethiopians’ home, where his chariot and horses
Wait until dawn arrives, newly-born,
When Hyperion’s son climbs into his second car…

Ἠέλιος μὲν γὰρ ἔλαχεν πόνον ἤματα πάντα,
οὐδέ ποτ᾿ ἄμπαυσις γίνεται οὐδεμία
ἵπποισίν τε καὶ αὐτῷ, ἐπὴν ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠὼς
Ὠκεανὸν προλιποῦσ᾿ οὐρανὸν εἰσαναβῇ.

τὸν μὲν γὰρ διὰ κῦμα φέρει πολυήρατος εὐνή,
κοιίλη, Ἡφαίστου χερσὶν ἐληλαμένη,
χρυσοῦ τιμήεντος, ὑπόπτερος, ἄκρον ἐφ᾿ ὕδωρ
εὕδονθ᾿ ἁρπαλέως χώρου ἀφ᾿ Ἑσπερίδων
γαῖαν ἐς Αἰθιόπων, ἵνα δὴ θοὸν ἅρμα καὶ ἵπποι
ἑστᾶσ᾿, ὄφρ᾿ Ἠὼς ἠριγένεια μόλῃ·
ἔνθ᾿ ἐπέβη ἑτέρων ὀχέων Ὑπερίονος υἱός.

Half of a clay plate with an immage on it in brown, black, and tan. A long-haird divine figure, Helios, driving a chairiot team. Images fragmented,
Helios, painting on a terracotta disk, 480 BC. Museum of the Ancient Agora in Athens.