O Yuck, Archilochus

The First Cologne Epode, the longest fragment attributed to the archaic poet Archilochus, offends modern sensibilities and no doubt it had something like shock value in the poet’s own time.

The opening lines are lost. There’s no consensus on how to fill the most meaningful of the text’s many lacunae. There are also colloquialisms, euphemisms, allusions and irresolvable ambiguities which challenge, and charm. (The “glossary” following the poem should answer a few questions.)

Nonetheless, we can discern enough to say: the poem takes the form of a carefully constructed dialogue in which an unmarried young woman tries to turn a sexually eager man’s attention to someone else–unsuccessfully.

Archilochus: fr. 196a West

“…while you abstain completely, wait for requited love.
But, if you’re in a rush, your passion in charge,
There’s someone in our house brimming with yearning,
A lovely virgin, and tender. Her figure’s flawless,
I would say. Make her your beloved.”

That’s what she said. And I replied with this:
“Daughter of Amphimedo, that noble woman
Whom the moldy earth now holds:
Young men have many pleasures from the goddess,
Beside the divine thing. One of them will do.

You and I will plan this calmly, with god’s help.
I’ll do what you say, eager as I am
To be first under your cornice and inside your gate.
Don’t begrudge me this, my dear,
For I’ll keep to your grassy meadow.

And know this: as for that Neoboule,
Another man can have her! She’s too ripe.
Her virgin bloom, her former loveliness,
Have fallen away. She’s not reined in her lust.
The raving woman’s shown the scale of her madness.

Damn her! May Zeus not make me a joke to my neighbors,
With such a wife. I prefer you: one not inconstant
or two-faced. She’s biting, and as for all her men…
I fear fathering blind, untimely children with her,
My zeal and rush to blame, just like the famed bitch.”

That’s what I said, and clutched the virgin girl—
Laid her down among the blooming flowers—
Covered her with my soft cloak—
Cradled her neck in my arms—
A girl as frightened as a fawn.

My hands gently clasped her breasts
And exposed youth’s fresh flesh.
As I felt up her gorgeous body
I discharged my white might,
Lightly touching her fair hair.

A glossary of archaic smut:

“Under your cornice and inside your gate”: Euphemism for sex.

“Pleasures from the goddess/Beside the divine thing”: Aphrodite’s gifts are the amorous pleasures, with intercoutse presumably the highest of them (“the divine thing”).

“I’ll keep to your grassy meadow”: Euphemism for a sex act short of penetration but involving the pubic area.

”I fear fathering blind, untimely children . . . like the famed bitch”: Allusion to what’s regarded as the world’s oldest proverb–“the hasty bitch [female dog] brings forth blind puppies.” The expression means something done without due care produces a bad result.

“πάμπαν ἀποσχόμενος· ἶσον δὲ τόλμ[ησον ποθεῖν.]
εἰ δ ̓ ὦν ἐπείγεαι καί σε θυμὸς ἰθύει,
ἔστιν ἐν ἡμετέρου, ἣ νῦν μέγ ̓ ἱμείρε[ι ]
καλὴ τέρεινα παρθένος· δοκέω δέ μι[ν]
εἶδος ἄμωμον ἔχειν τὴν δὴ σὺ ποίη[σαι φίλην.”] [5]
Tοσαῦτ ̓ ἐφώνει· τὴν δ ̓ἐγὼ ἀνταμει[βόμην·]
“Ἀμφιμεδοῦς θύγατερ, ἐσθλῆς τε καὶ [ ]
γυναικός, ἣν̣ νῦν γῆ κατ’ εὐρώεσσ’ ἔ[χει,]
[τ]έρψιές εἰσι θεῆς πολλαὶ νέοισιν ἀνδ[ράσιν]
π̣αρὲξ τὸ θεῖον χρῆμα· τῶν τ̣ι̣ς ἀρκέσε[ι.] [10]
τ]αῦτα δ’ ἐπ’ ἡσυχίης εὖτ’ ἂν μελανθη[ ]
[ἐ]γώ τε καὶ σὺ σὺν θεῷ βουλεύσομε[ν·]
[π]είσομαι ὣς με κέλεαι· πολλόν μ’ ἐ[ποτρύνει πόθος]
[θρ]ιγκοῦ δ’ ἔνερθε καί πυλέων ὑποφ[θάνειν]
[μ]ή τι μέγαιρε, φίλη· σχήσω γὰρ ἐς ποη[φόρους] [15]
κ]ήπους. τὸ δὴ νῦν γνῶθι· Νεοβούλη[ν μὲν ὦv]
[ἄ]λλος ἀνὴρ ἐχέτω· αἰαῖ, πέπειρα δ[ὴ πέλει,]
[ἄν]θος δ’ἀπερρύηκε παρθενήϊον
[κ]αὶ χάρις ἣ πρὶν ἐπῆν· κόρον γὰρ οὐ κ[ατέσχε πω],
[ατ]ης δὲ μέτρ’ ἔφηνε μαινόλ̣ι̣ς̣ γυνή·[20]
[ἐς] κόρακας ἄπεχε· μὴ τοῦτ’ ἐφεῖτ’ ἄν[αξ θεῶν]
[ὅπ]ως ἐγὼ γυναῖκα τ[ο]ιαύτην ἔχων
[γεί]τοσι χάρμ’ ἔσομαι· πολλὸν σὲ βούλο[μαι ]·
[σὺ] μὲν γὰρ οὔτ’ ἄπιστος οὔτε διπλόη,
[ἡ δ]ὲ μάλ ̓ ὀξυτέρη, πολλοὺς δὲ ποιεῖτα[ι ] [25]
[δέ]δοιχ ̓ ὅπως μὴ τυφλὰ κἀλιτήμερα
[σπ]ουδῇ ἐπειγόμενος τὼς ὤσπερ ἡ κ[ύων τέκω.”]
[τοσ]αῦτ ̓ ἐφώνεον· παρθένον δ ̓ ἐν ἄνθε[σιν]
[τηλ]εθάεσσι λαβὼν ἔκλινα· μαλθακῇ δ[έ μιν]
[χλαί]νῃ καλύψας, αὐχέν ̓ ἀγκάλῃς ἔχω[ν] [30]
[δεί]μ̣ατι πα[ ]μέ̣ν̣ην τὼς ὥστε νέβρ̣[ον ]
[μαζ]ῶν τε χ̣ερσὶν ἠπίως ἐφηψάμη̣ν
[ ]ρ̣ ἔφην̣ε νέον ἥβης ἐπήλυ̣σις χρόα·̣
[ τ]ε̣ σῶμ̣α καλὸν ἀμφαφώμενος
[λευκ]ὸν ἀφῆκα μένος, ξανθῆς ἐπιψαύ[ων τριχός.] [35]


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.

A Tawdry Tale of (Erectile) Dysfunction

Martial, Epigrams 11.71

“Leda informed her ancient husband that she is crazy
And complains that she needs to be fucked.
But as she weeps and groans, she denies that sanity is worth the price
And claims instead that she prefers to die.
Her husband pleads for her to live, not to squander her best years—
And the act he does not perform himself to others he allows.
Immediately the gentleman doctors arrive and the lady medics leave:
Feet are raised! What a serious treatment!”

Hystericam vetulo se dixerat esse marito
et queritur futui Leda necesse sibi;
sed flens atque gemens tanti negat esse salutem
seque refert potius proposuisse mori.
Vir rogat ut vivat virides nec deserat annos,
et fieri quod iam non facit ipse sinit.
Protinus accedunt medici medicaeque recedunt,
tollunturque pedes. O medicina gravis!


“Natta swallows his own Draucus’ ‘little penis’—
Compared to him, Priapus is a Eunuch!”

Drauci Natta sui vorat pipinnam,
collatus cui gallus est Priapus.