Love it When They Hate Me

Martial, 6.60

“My Rome praises, loves, and sings my little books—
Every pocket, every hand holds me.
Look: someone turns red, yellow, is dumbstruck, looks again, and hates!
This is what I long for: now my songs have pleased even me.”

Laudat, amat, cantat nostros mea Roma libellos,
meque sinus omnes, me manus omnis habet.
Ecce rubet quidam, pallet, stupet, oscitat, odit.
Hoc uolo: nunc nobis carmina nostra placent.

Perhaps shit-talking is a trope in Roman poetry

Catullus, Carmen 83

“Lesbia talks a lot of shit about me when her husband is around
This brings the greatest pleasure to that fool.
Ass, do you know nothing? She would be sound
If she forgot us in silence—but she rants and she squawks.
She not only remembers me but—a thing sharper to touch,
She’s enraged: it’s like this, she’s burning and talks.”

Lesbia mi praesente viro mala plurima dicit:
haec illi fatuo maxima laetitia est.
mule, nihil sentis? si nostri oblita taceret,
sana esset: nunc quod gannit et obloquitur,
non solum meminit, sed, quae multo acrior est res,
irata est. hoc est, uritur et loquitur.

Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum
Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v

The Fight You Can’t Win

Archilochus told us, long before Pat Benatar in 1983 AD, that love is a battlefield.

His martial metaphor for love–or rather, for the lover struck down by Eros–is possibly the earliest such which survives. He sketched, for posterity as it were, the battlefield consequences of losing to Eros: inability to stand, lifelessness, wound, and pain:

Archilochus Fragment (193 West)

I lie here wretched with longing,
And lifeless,
Pierced through my bones
With bitter pains.
The gods’ doings, this.

δύστηνος ἔγκειμαι πόθῳ
ἄψυχος, χαλεπῇσι θεῶν ὀδύνῃσιν ἕκητι
πεπαρμένος δι᾽ ὀστέων.

By the Hellenstic period, what might have been fresh in Archilochus’ hand was now a well-worn trope.

Here is Rufinus employing the martial metaphor. In his light and clever epigram the lover contemplates resisting Eros, but with defeat a foregone conclusion (and Archilochus having articulated what defeat entails) he simply surrenders:

Rufinus (Greek Anthology 5.93)

I’ve strapped reason around my chest,
Armor against Eros.
He won’t defeat me: it’s one against one,
Mortal engaging immortal.
But, if he’s got Bacchus as his helpmate,
What can I, a man alone, do against two?

ὥπλισμαι πρὸς ἔρωτα περὶ στέρνοισι λογισμόν,
οὐδέ με νικήσει, μοῦνος ἐὼν πρὸς ἕνα:
θνατὸς δ᾽ ἀθανάτῳ συστήσομαι. ἢν δὲ βοηθὸν
Βάκχον ἔχῃ, τί μόνος πρὸς δύ᾽ ἐγὼ δύναμαι;

Image from Geoff Winningham’s Friday Night in the Coliseum.
Outclassed, alarmed, defeated…like a man who takes on Eros.

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

Mothers & Daughters

Sappho Fr. 132

I have a beautiful child: much-loved Cleis.
Her appearance brings to mind golden flowers.
Not for all of Lydia would I  “<part with> her.

Greek Anthology 7.647

So, Gorgo spoke these final words to her dear mother,
Weeping, clinging to her neck:
“Stay here with father and have another child,
One with a better destiny than mine,
A helpmate in your grey old age.”

Sappho Fr. 132

ἔστι μοι κάλα πάις χρυσίοισιν ἀνθέμοισιν
ἐμφέρη⟨ν⟩ ἔχοισα μόρφαν Κλέις ἀγαπάτα,
ἀντὶ τᾶς ἔγωὐδὲ Λυδίαν παῖσαν οὐδ’ ἐράνναν . . .

Greek Anthology 7.647

ὕστατα δὴ τάδ᾽ ἔειπε φίλην ποτὶ μητέρα Γοργὼ
δακρυόεσσα, δέρης χερσὶν ἐφαπτομένη:
αὖθι μένοις παρὰ πατρί, τέκοις δ᾽ ἐπὶ λῴονι μοίρᾳ
ἄλλαν, σῷ πολιῷ γήραϊ καδεμόνα.

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

Gustave Klimt. Detail from the painting Le Tre Eta (1905).

A Poem Your [Heart?] Desires

Martial, Epigrams 12.61

“Ligurra, you fear that I might compose
Verses against you, a brief, intense poem—
Oh how you long to seem worthy of this fear.
But you fear in vain, in vain you long.
The Libyan lions growl at bulls;
They do not pester butterflies.

I will advise you—if you are in pain to be read,
Find a drunk alley poet who writes
with broken coal or dusty chalk
the poems people read while shitting.
This face of yours can’t be known by my touch.”

Versus et breve vividumque carmen
in te ne faciam times, Ligurra,
et dignus cupis hoc metu videri.
sed frustra metuis cupisque frustra.
in tauros Libyci fremunt leones,
non sunt papilionibus molesti.
quaeras censeo, si legi laboras,
nigri fornicis ebrium poetam,
qui carbone rudi putrique creta
scribit carmina quae legunt cacantes.
frons haec stigmate non meo notanda est

Image result for medieval manuscript defecation
Gorleston Psalter, f 61r

Money or The Muses?

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.”

ἄχρι τεῦ, ἆ δείλαιε, κεναῖσιν ἐπ᾽ ἐλπίσι, θυμέ,
πωτηθεὶς ψυχρῶν ἀσσοτάτω νεφέων,
ἄλλοις ἄλλ᾽ ἔπ᾽ ὄνειρα διαγράψεις ἀφένοιο;
κτητὸν γὰρ θνητοῖς οὐδὲ ἓν αὐτόματον.
Μουσέων ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ δῶρα μετέρχεο: ταῦτα δ᾽ ἀμυδρὰ
εἴδωλα ψυχῆς ἠλεμάτοισι μέθες.

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

For Those In the Know

Anonymous Epigram (Greek Anthology 7.128)

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.

Epigram 7.128
Ἡράκλειτος ἐγώ: τί μ᾽ ἄνω κάτω ἕλκετ᾽ ἄμουσοι;
οὐχ ὑμῖν ἐπόνουν, τοῖς δ᾽ ἔμ᾽ ἐπισταμένοις.
εἷς ἐμοὶ ἄνθρωπος τρισμύριοι, οἱ δ᾽ ἀνάριθμοι
οὐδείς. ταῦτ᾽ αὐδῶ καὶ παρὰ Περσεφόνῃ.

εἰ πάντα τὰ ὄντα καπνὸς γένοιτο, ῥῖνες ἂν διαγνοῖεν

ἄνθρωπος ἐν εὐφρόνῃ φάος ἅπτεται ἑαυτῷ ἀποσβεσθείς ὄψεις, ζῶν δὲ ἅπτεται τεθνεῶτος εὕδων, ἐγρηγορὼς ἅπτεται εὕδοντος.

ψυχῇσιν θάνατος ὕδωρ γενέσθαι, ὕδατι δὲ θάνατος γῆν γενέσθαι, ἐκ γῆς δὲ ὕδωρ γίνεται, ἐξ ὕδατος δὲ ψυχή

τῷ οὖν τόξῳ ὄνομα βίος, ἔργον δὲ θάνατος

πυρός τε ἀνταμοιβὴ τὰ πάντα καὶ πῦρ ἁπάντων ὅκωσπερ χρυσοῦ χρήματα καὶ χρημάτων χρυσός.

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

Against Mosquitoes, A Love Poem

Greek Anthology 5.151: Meleager to Zenophila, his lover

“Sharp-buzzing mosquitoes, shameless suckers
Of human blood, wing-borne predators of the night,
I beg you to leave Zenophila alone for a while to sleep
In peace. Come here, fill yourselves on my limbs.
Ah, but why do I uselessly cry out loud: Unfeeling beasts
Also delight to find warmth in her delicate skin.
But I am warning you, evil things, do not be bold
Or you will learn the power of my envious hands.”

εἰς Ζηνοφίλαν τὴν αὐτοῦ ἐρωμένην
Ὀξυβόαι κώνωπες, ἀναιδέες αἵματος ἀνδρῶν
σίφωνες, νυκτὸς κνώδαλα διπτέρυγα,
βαιὸν Ζηνοφίλαν, λίτομαι, πάρεθ᾽ ἥσυχον ὕπνῳ
εὕδειν, τἀμὰ δ᾽, ἰδού, σαρκοφαγεῖτε μέλη.
καίτοι πρὸς τί μάτην αὐδῶ; καὶ θῆρες ἄτεγκτοι
τέρπονται τρυφερῷ χρωτὶ χλιαινόμενοι.
ἀλλ᾽ ἔτι νῦν προλέγω, κακὰ θρέμματα, λήγετε τόλμης,
ἢ γνώσεσθε χερῶν ζηλοτύπων δύναμιν.

These are bees, but they are still terrifying. From

Four More Funerary Epigrams


“You’re dragging your feet past the grave of Callimachus
He knew: how to sing well and the right time to laugh well over wine.”

Βαττιάδεω παρὰ σῆμα φέρεις πόδας, εὖ μὲν ἀοιδὴν
εἰδότος, εὖ δ᾿ οἴνῳ καίρια συγγελάσαι.


“The stranger was short, his poem is too: so I will not speak long.
Thêris the son of Aristaios was from Crete, for me, a long enough song.”

Σύντομος ἦν ὁ ξεῖνος· ὃ καὶ στίχος· οὐ μακρὰ λέξω·
“Θῆρις Ἀρισταίου, Κρὴς” ἐπ᾿ ἐμοὶ δόλιχος.


“Here Akanthios Dikôn’s son sleeps his sacred sleep.
Don’t say that good men die.”

Τᾷδε Σάων ὁ Δίκωνος Ἀκάνθιος ἱερὸν ὕπνον
κοιμᾶται. θνάσκειν μὴ λέγε τοὺς ἀγαθούς.


“Ye who pass me by, remember Euboulos the wise.
Let’s drink. For Hades is our common harbor.”

Μεμνησθ᾿ Εὐβούλοιο σαόφρονος, ὦ παριόντες.
πίνωμεν· κοινὸς πᾶσι λιμὴν Ἀΐδης.

Image result for funerary epigrams greek
Taken from

A Dedication to a Healer

Cometas Scholasticus, Greek Anthology 9.597

“I was struck immobile from my hips to the bottom of my feet
Completely denied my life’s work for so long,
Halfway between life and death, Hades’ neighbor,
Merely breathing, but a corpse in every other way.

But wise Philippos, whom you view in the picture,
Brought me back to life by healing the dread disease.
And Antoninus walks on the earth again as before!
I tread on it with my feet and I feel whole.”

Νωθρὸς ἐγὼ τελέθεσκον ἀπ᾿ ἰξύος ἐς πόδας ἄκρους
τῆς πρὶν ἐνεργείης δηρὸν ἀτεμβόμενος,
ζωῆς καὶ θανάτοιο μεταίχμιον, Ἄϊδι γείτων,
μοῦνον ἀναπνείων, τἄλλα δὲ πάντα νέκυς.
ἀλλὰ σοφός με Φίλιππος, ὃν ἐν γραφίδεσσι δοκεύεις,
ζώγρησεν, κρυερὴν νοῦσον ἀκεσσάμενος·
αὖθις δ᾿ Ἀντωνῖνος, ἅπερ πάρος, ἐν χθονὶ βαίνω:
καὶ ποσὶ πεζεύω, καὶ ὅλος αἰσθάνομαι.

Asklepios at Epidauros
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