Weird Wishes

These short poems are structured as wishes, and each is creepy in its own way.

The two taken from Campbell’s edition of anonymous Greek songs are presumed to be sympotic drinking songs (scolia), and the final poem is an Hellenistic epigram.

Campbell 889

If only we could know what manner of man
each man was–by opening his chest,
seeing his heart, then sealing it up again–
We would know a dear man by his honest heart.

Campbell 900

If only I were a fine lyre made of ivory
and pretty boys carried me
in the Dionysian chorus.

Greek Anthology 5.83

If only I were the wind
and you, walking in the sun with breasts exposed,
could feel my gusts.

Campbell 889

εἴθ᾿ ἐξῆν ὁποῖός τις ἦν ἕκαστος
τὸ στῆθος διελόντ᾿, ἔπειτα τὸν νοῦν
ἐσιδόντα, κλείσαντα πάλιν,
ἄνδρα φίλον νομίζειν ἀδόλῳ φρενί.

Campbell 900

εἴθε λύρα καλὴ γενοίμην ἐλεφαντίνη
καί με καλοὶ παῖδες φέροιεν Διονύσιον ἐς χορόν.

Greek Anthology 5.83

εἴθ᾽ ἄνεμος γενόμην, σὺ δ᾽ ἐπιστείχουσα παρ᾽ ἀυγὰς
στήθεα γυμνώσαις, καί με πνέοντα λάβοις.

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.

Somebody to Drink With: Anacreon’s Epitaph and Some Poems

Greek Anthology 7.26, Antipater of Sidon

“Stranger passing by the humble grave of Anakreon,
If my books were of any use to you,
Pour some wine on my ashes, pour it out in drops
So that my bones can smile, refreshed a bit by wine,
so I, who loved the shouting raves of Dionysus,
so I, who was a partner of music matched to drink,
may not lie dead apart from Bacchus in this place below,
the land which all the race of mortals one day must know.”

Ξεῖνε, τάφον παρὰ λιτὸν ᾿Ανακρείοντος ἀμείβων,
εἴ τί τοι ἐκ βίβλων ἦλθεν ἐμῶν ὄφελος,
σπεῖσον ἐμῇ σποδιῇ, σπεῖσον γάνος, ὄφρα κεν οἴνῳ
ὀστέα γηθήσῃ τἀμὰ νοτιζόμενα,
ὡς ὁ Διωνύσου μεμελημένος εὐάσι κώμοις,
ὡς ὁ φιλακρήτου σύντροφος ἁρμονίης
μηδὲ καταφθίμενος Βάκχου δίχα τοῦτον ὑποίσω
τὸν γενεῇ μερόπων χῶρον ὀφειλόμενον.

Fr. 395

“Hades’ hall is horrifying
And the passage there is hard.
Worse: it is decided that
who ventures there does not return.”

Ἀίδεω γάρ ἐστι δεινὸς
μυχός, ἀργαλῆ δ᾿ ες αὐτὸν
κάτοδος. και γὰρ ἐτοῖμον
καταβάντι μὴ ἀναβῆναι

Anacreon. Marble. Roman copy of the 2nd century A.D. after a Greek original of the 5th century B.C. Inv. No. 491. Copenhagen, New Carlsberg Glyptotek.

Anacreon fr. 2

“I don’t love the man who while drinking next to a full cup
Talks about conflicts and lamentable war.
But whoever mixes the shining gifts of Aphrodite and the Muses
Let him keep in mind loving, good cheer.”

οὐ φιλέω, ὃς κρητῆρι παρὰ πλέωι οἰνοποτάζων
νείκεα καὶ πόλεμον δακρυόεντα λέγει,
ἀλλ’ ὅστις Μουσέων τε καὶ ἀγλαὰ δῶρ’ ᾿Αφροδίτης
συμμίσγων ἐρατῆς μνήσκεται εὐφροσύνης.

Fr. 428

“I love and again do not love
I am insane and yet sane too”

ἐρέω τε δηὖτε κοὐκ ἐρέω
καὶ μαίνομαι κοὐ μαίνομαι

This last fragment recalls (the much later) Carmen 85 of Catullus:

“I hate and I love: you might ask why I do this–
I don’t know, but I see it happen and it’s killing me.

Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

Ready When Called? Tawdry Tuesday Tension

In the vast and boring literature on Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-1694), everything the man had to say on the natural law is picked apart, but you’d be hard pressed to find a single discussion of his verdict on male sexual potency: 

“Man is an animal ready for sex at any time,” Pufendorf wrote. “He’s aroused much more frequently than seems necessary for the conservation of the species” (“Ast homo animal est nullo non tempore in libidinem paratum, cujus stimulis longe frequentius vellicatur, quam conservandae speciei necessarium videbatur”). 

Pufendorf always took into consideration the views of ancient writers, but he must have missed the contradicting account offered by Hellenistic poet Rufinus: 

Greek Anthology 5.47

How often, Thaleia, I’ve wanted to take you in the night
And gorge my spirit on hot-blooded lust.
But now you’re up against me, your sweet body naked,
And I’m limp, my spent ‘limb’ falling asleep.
Sad excuse for a heart, what’s happened?
Get up! Don’t flop!
You’ll have to search for another
When, right here, is some super good luck.

πολλάκις ἠρασάμην σε λαβὼν ἐν νυκτί Θάλεια,
πληρῶσαι θαλερῇ θυμὸν ἐρωμανίῃ.
νῦν δ᾽ ὅτε <μοι> γυμνὴ γλυκεροῖς μελέεσσι πέπλησαι,
ἔκλυτος ὑπναλέῳ γυῖα κέκμηκα κόπῳ.
θυμὲ τάλαν, τί πέπονθας; ἀνέγρεο, μηδ᾽ ἀπόκαμνε:
ζητήσεις ταύτην τὴν ὑπερευτυχίην.

*The Pufendorf quotation is from his De Officio Hominis & Civis Juxta Legem Naturalem (“On the Duty of Man and Citizen According to the Natural Law”).

Fresco of the god Priapus.
Naples National Archaeological Museum.

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.

Tawdry Tuesday: Zeus, Ganymede, and a Cock

Greek Anthology, Antipater 5.77

“Hera twisted by the beauty of Ganymede once spoke
As she suffered the heart-rending stab of jealousy in her heart:
“Troy ignited a male fire for Zeus—and so I will send
A fire at Troy, a pain bearing Paris.
No eagle will come to Troy again, but vultures
Will go to the feast when the Greeks get the spoils for their toils.”

Πριομένα κάλλει Γανυμήδεος εἶπέ ποθ᾿ Ἥρα,
θυμοβόρον ζάλου κέντρον ἔχουσα νόῳ·
“Ἄρσεν πῦρ ἔτεκεν Τροία Διΐ· τοιγὰρ ἐγὼ πῦρ
πέμψω ἐπὶ Τροίᾳ, πῆμα φέροντα Πάριν·
ἥξει δ᾿ Ἰλιάδαις οὐκ ἀετός, ἀλλ᾿ ἐπὶ θοίναν
γῦπες, ὅταν Δαναοὶ σκῦλα φέρωσι πόνων.”

Sometimes an Eagle Does show up in stories of Zeus and Ganymede. 

Greek Anthology 12.211

“Go to bright heaven, go carrying the child,
Eagle, keep your twin wings spread wide.
Go holding gentle Ganymede and do not drop
Zeus’ wine-bearer of the sweetest cups.
But be careful not to bloody him with your clawed feet
So that Zeus, upset, won’t hurt you.”

Στεῖχε πρὸς αἰθέρα δῖον, ἀπέρχεο παῖδα κομίζων,
αἰετέ, τὰς διφυεῖς ἐκπετάσας πτέρυγας,
στεῖχε τὸν ἁβρὸν ἔχων Γανυμήδεα, μηδὲ μεθείης
τὸν Διὸς ἡδίστων οἰνοχόον κυλίκων·
φείδεο δ᾿ αἱμάξαι κοῦρον γαμψώνυχι ταρσῷ,
μὴ Ζεὺς ἀλγήσῃ, τοῦτο βαρυνόμενος.

MFA #01.8114

Image result for ganymede rooster Zeus
Terracotta of Zeus with Ganymede (LIMC 56; from Olympia)
Image result for ganymede rooster Zeus
Attic red-figured hydria
Attributed to Eupolis P. by Beazley
Approx. 450 -440 BC
This image from the MFA shows Zeus contemplating what to do with his cock.
Image result for ganymede rooster Zeus Black figure
Zeus pursuing Ganymedes, Athenian red-figure kantharos C5th B.C., Museum of Fine Arts Boston

How To Earn A Dinner Invitation: Some Roman Advice

Here are some techniques if you’re worried about where you are dining next week

Martial 9.35

“You will always earn a dinner with these skills, Philomusus:
Fabricate many tales, but relay them as if they are true.
You know what Pacorus is considering in his Arsacian abode;
You count the number of Rhenish and Sarmatian men,
You reveal the words consigned to paper by the Dacian chef,
And you see the victor’s crown before it arrives.
You know how many times Pharian rain dampens dark Syene
And the number of ships departing from Lybian shores
For whose head Julian olives are harvested,
And for whom the heavenly father has promised his wreaths.
Forget your skill! You will dine with me today
Under one rule: Philomusus, tell me nothing of the news.”

Artibus his semper cenam, Philomuse, mereris,
plurima dum fingis, sed quasi vera refers.
scis quid in Arsacia Pacorus deliberet aula,
Rhenanam numeras Sarmaticamque manum,
verba ducis Daci chartis mandata resignas, 5
victricem laurum quam venit ante vides,
scis quotiens Phario madeat Iove fusca Syene,
scis quota de Libyco litore puppis eat,
cuius Iuleae capiti nascantur olivae,
destinet aetherius cui sua serta pater. 10
Tolle tuas artes; hodie cenabis apud me
hac lege, ut narres nil, Philomuse, novi.

Image result for Ancient Roman Feasting

I Made Your Poems Worse: You’re Welcome!

Pliny, Letters, 4.18

“To Arrius Antonius, My friend:

Is there any way I can prove myself to you beyond the work I have put in to your Greek epigrams, which I have tried to match in Latin translation? It’s still a turn for the worse: the cause is the weakness of my own genius followed by the inadequacy of what Lucretius calls the “poverty of our country’s language.” But, if these Latin translations of mine seem to you to possess any bit of charm, then you know how much pleasure I have in the originals you made in Greek. Farewell.”

Plinius Arrio Antonino Suo S.

Quemadmodum magis adprobare tibi possum, quanto opere mirer epigrammata tua Graeca, quam quod quaedam Latine aemulari et exprimere temptavi? in deterius tamen. Accidit hoc primum imbecillitate ingenii mei, deinde inopia ac potius, ut Lucretius ait, egestate patrii sermonis. Quodsi haec, quae sunt et Latina et mea, habere tibi aliquid venustatis videbuntur, quantum putas inesse iis gratiae, quae et a te et Graece proferuntur! Vale.

Greek Epigram by Sopater

Tawdry Tuesday: Raising the Dead

Greek Anthology 5.129 Automedon

“I praise the dancer from Asia, the one who moves
From the tips of her fingernails with devious positions,
Not because she shows every passion or because she throws
Her delicate hands delicately this way and that,
But because she knows how to dance around a worn out stump
And doesn’t try to flee its aging wrinkles.
She tongues it, kneads it, throws her hands around it–
And if she throws her leg over me, she raises my staff back from hell.”

129 ΑΥΤΟΜΕΔΟΝΤΟΣ
εἰς πόρνην ὀρχηστρίδα

Τὴν ἀπὸ τῆς Ἀσίης ὀρχηστρίδα, τὴν κακοτέχνοις
σχήμασιν ἐξ ἁπαλῶν κινυμένην ὀνύχων,
αἰνέω, οὐχ ὅτι πάντα παθαίνεται οὐδ᾽ ὅτι βάλλει
τὰς ἁπαλὰς ἁπαλῶς ὧδε καὶ ὧδε χέρας,
ἀλλ᾽ ὅτι καὶ τρίβακον περὶ πάσσαλον ὀρχήσασθαι
οἶδε καὶ οὐ φεύγει γηραλέας ῥυτίδας·
γλωττίζει, κνίζει, περιλαμβάνει· ἢν δ᾽ ἐπιρίψῃ
τὸ σκέλος, ἐξ ᾅδου τὴν κορύνην ἀνάγει.

 Detail from a Paestan red-figure skyphos, ca. 330-320 BC.

Tawdry Tuesday’s for the Birds

Not one, but two poems by Martial playing with Catullus’ bird!

Martial, Epigrams 1.7

“The Dove, my Stella’s pet, I can say–
even though Verona is listening
Beats Catullus’ Sparrow, Maximus.
My Stella is as much better than your Catullus
As a dove is better than a sparrow.”

Stellae delicium mei Columba,
Verona licet audiente dicam,
vicit, Maxime, Passerem Catulli.
tanto Stella meus tuo Catullo
quanto passere maior est columba.

Martial, Epigrams 14.7

“Aulus, an unmentionable crime has happened to by girl.
She has lost her toy and her pet–
Tender Catullus’ girlfriend, Lesbia
Didn’t cry as much when she lost her sparrow’s kiss
As when my Stella sang in sorrow when her dark dove
Took flight in Elysium.
My light isn’t taken with games and those minor loves
And such losses never move my lover’s heart.
She’s lost a lad who counted up six years times two
With a little cock not quite 18 inches long”

Accidit infandum nostrae scelus, Aule, puellae;
amisit lusus deliciasque suas:
non quales teneri ploravit amica Catulli,
Lesbia, nequitiis passeris orba sui,
vel Stellae cantata meo quas flevit Ianthis,
cuius in Elysio nigra columba volat:
lux mea non capitur nugis nec amoribus istis,
nec dominae pectus talia damna movent:
bis senos puerum numerantem perdidit annos,
mentula cui nondum sesquipedalis erat.

“Lessbia and Her Sparrow,” Poynter, 1907

Who Are You? The Emperor Julian’s Epigram on Beer

Julian the Apostate, Epigrams 1

“Who are you and where are you from Dionysus? By the Bakhos true
I know only the son of Zeus and I do not know you.
He smells like nektar, but you smell like goat.
Did the Celts make you from grain because of their lack of grapes?
Ah, we should call you not Dionysus, but Demetrios instead.
And Bromos*** not Bromios since you are born of wheat**.”

Τίς πόθεν εἶς Διόνυσε; μὰ γὰρ τὸν ἀληθέα Βάκχον,
οὔ σ᾿ ἐπιγιγνώσκω· τὸν Διὸς οἶδα μόνον.
κεῖνος νέκταρ ὄδωδε· σὺ δὲ τράγου. ἦ ῥά σε Κελτοὶ
τῇ πενίῃ βοτρύων τεῦξαν ἀπ᾿ ἀσταχύων.
τῷ σε χρὴ καλέειν Δημήτριον, οὐ Διόνυσον,
πυρογενῆ μᾶλλον καὶ Βρόμον, οὐ Βρόμιον.

 

* Demetrios: the joke is that he is not Zeus-born, but instead of Demeter (the goddess of grain)

**πυρογενῆ is funny because here it can mean “grain-born” but it also sounds like “fire-born” and Dionysus was famously born (for the first time) when lightning killed his mother.

***Bromos sounds a little like the Greek word for “oats” instead of the typical epithet “thunderous one” (Bromios)

Image result for ancient greek beer
Image from Britannica.com

Tawdry Tuesday: Zeus, Ganymede, and a Cock

Greek Anthology, Antipater 5.77

“Hera twisted by the beauty of Ganymede once spoke
As she suffered the heart-rending stab of jealousy in her heart:
“Troy ignited a male fire for Zeus—and so I will send
A fire at Troy, a pain bearing Paris.
No eagle will come to Troy again, but vultures
Will go to the feast when the Greeks get the spoils for their toils.”

Πριομένα κάλλει Γανυμήδεος εἶπέ ποθ᾿ Ἥρα,
θυμοβόρον ζάλου κέντρον ἔχουσα νόῳ·
“Ἄρσεν πῦρ ἔτεκεν Τροία Διΐ· τοιγὰρ ἐγὼ πῦρ
πέμψω ἐπὶ Τροίᾳ, πῆμα φέροντα Πάριν·
ἥξει δ᾿ Ἰλιάδαις οὐκ ἀετός, ἀλλ᾿ ἐπὶ θοίναν
γῦπες, ὅταν Δαναοὶ σκῦλα φέρωσι πόνων.”

Sometimes an Eagle Does show up in stories of Zeus and Ganymede. 

Greek Anthology 12.211

“Go to bright heaven, go carrying the child,
Eagle, keep your twin wings spread wide.
Go holding gentle Ganymede and do not drop
Zeus’ wine-bearer of the sweetest cups.
But be careful not to bloody him with your clawed feet
So that Zeus, upset, won’t hurt you.”

Στεῖχε πρὸς αἰθέρα δῖον, ἀπέρχεο παῖδα κομίζων,
αἰετέ, τὰς διφυεῖς ἐκπετάσας πτέρυγας,
στεῖχε τὸν ἁβρὸν ἔχων Γανυμήδεα, μηδὲ μεθείης
τὸν Διὸς ἡδίστων οἰνοχόον κυλίκων·
φείδεο δ᾿ αἱμάξαι κοῦρον γαμψώνυχι ταρσῷ,
μὴ Ζεὺς ἀλγήσῃ, τοῦτο βαρυνόμενος.

MFA #01.8114

Image result for ganymede rooster Zeus
Terracotta of Zeus with Ganymede (LIMC 56; from Olympia)
Image result for ganymede rooster Zeus
Attic red-figured hydria
Attributed to Eupolis P. by Beazley
Approx. 450 -440 BC
This image from the MFA shows Zeus contemplating what to do with his cock.
Image result for ganymede rooster Zeus Black figure
Zeus pursuing Ganymedes, Athenian red-figure kantharos C5th B.C., Museum of Fine Arts Boston