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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“I don’t know and it does not seem right to labor over things we haven’t learned”
Οὐκ οἶδ’, οὐδ’ ἐπέοικεν ἃ μὴ μάθομες πονέεσθαι.
Bion fr. 8 [=Stobaeus 4.16.15]
“If my songs are good, then these few
Fate has granted as a safeguard for what I have done.
If they are not pleasing, why should I toil any longer?
If Kronos’ son or devious Fate had granted to us
Two lifetimes, so that we could dedicate
The first to happiness and pleasure and the second to work,
Then it would be right to work first and sample happiness later.
But since the gods have decreed that one time come
For human life and that this is brief and minor too,
How long, wretches, should we toil tirelessly at work.
How long will we throw our soul and hearts into
Profit and skill, longing always for more and greater wealth?
Truly, have we all forgotten that we are mortal?
Have we all forgotten our lifetime is brief?”
“A life without parties is a long journey without inns.”
βίος ἀνεόρταστος μακρὴ ὁδὸς ἀπανδόκευτος.
Plato, Laws 653d
“Great. Now, since many of these kinds of education—which accustom us to correctly manage pleasures and pains—lose their effectiveness during life, the gods took pity on the human race because it is born to toil and assigned to us as well parties as vacations from our toil. In addition, they have also given us the Muses, Apollo the master of music, and Dionysus as party-guests so that people can straighten out their habits because they are present at the festival with the gods.”
“Certainly we have furnished our mind with the greatest reliefs from our labors, maintaining games and feasts throughout the year in public and in private living with care and finery, all those things which provide pleasure to expel our grief. Because of the greatness of our city, everything comes to us from the earth and we are lucky enough to harvest all of the goods from our own land with no less familiar pleasure than those we gather from other peoples.”
Tellis BNJ 61 F 1a (=Eustathios Comm. Ad Hom. Od.11.538, p. 1696, 51)
“But Tellis records that Penthesileia killed Achilles and, after Thetis begged him, Zeus returned him to life and he killed her instead. Penthesileia’s father, Ares, took Thetis to court. Poseidon was the judge and he ruled against Ares.”
BNJ 769 F 2 Antoninos Liberalis, Metamorphoses, 35
“Cowherds: Menekrates the Xanthian reports in his Lykian Matters and Nicander does as well. Once she gave birth to Apollo and Artemis on the island Asteria, Leto went to Lykia carrying the children to the baths of Xanthus. And as soon she she appeared in the land, she went to the Melitean spring where she wanted her children to drink before they went to the Xanthus.
But when some cowherds drove her away, so that their cattle might drink from the spring, Leto retreated, abandoning the Melitê, and wolves came to meet her, and they gave her directions and led her right up to the Xanthus itself while wagging their tails. She drank the water, bathed her children and made the Xanthus sacred to Apollo. She also changed the land’s name to Lykia—it was called Tremilis before—after the wolves who led her there.
Then she went again to the spring to bring punishment to the cowherds who drove her off. At they time they were washing their cattle near the spring. After she changed them all into frogs and struck their backs and shoulders with rough stones, she threw them all into the spring and granted them life in the water. In our time still, they shout out along the rivers and ponds.”
Athenaeus, Deipnosophists Book 2 36a-d (=Adesp. com. fr. 101 and Eubulus fr. 93)
Mnêsitheos used to say, “the gods taught mortals
About wine because it is the greatest good
For those who use it correctly, and the opposite for those who don’t.
It gives sustenance to those who use it well,
Strength to their minds and their bodies.
It is also extremely useful for medicine,
Since it is mixed in with other drugs
And provides relief to those who have been wounded.
It also helps in daily gatherings it brings joy
To those who mix it and drink it wisely.
But to those who are excessive it brings outrage.
If you mix it evenly with water, it makes you crazy.
Unmixed, it paralyzes bodies.
“For this reason, Dionysus is called a doctor everywhere. The Pythia told some people to call Dionysus the “Healer”. Euboulos (fr. 93) has Dionysus saying this:
“I prescribe only three bowls of wine
For people of good sense. One is for health,
to drink first. The second is for
Sex and pleasure, and the third is for sleep—
Those who are wise drain that bowl and then
Go home. The fourth isn’t mine any more,
But it belongs to Hubris. And a fifth bowl leads to shouting;
A sixth bowl to street-parties; a seventh for brawls;
An eighth’s for getting arrested; the ninth makes dark bile.
And the tenth is madness to make you hurl […]
A lot of wine poured into a little bottle
Easily throws drunks down on their asses.”
“Women know everything, even how Zeus married Hera.”
Homer has, “They traveled together to bed, avoiding their parents’ notice”. Aristokles in his work “On the Cults of Hermione”, provides something of an odd tale about the marriage of Zeus and Hera. For, as the story goes, Zeus was planning on having sex with Hera when he noticed that she was separated from the other gods. Because he did not want to be obvious and did not want to be seen by her, he changed his appearance into a cuckoo and was waiting on a mountain which was first called Thornax but is now just called Cuckoo.
Zeus made a terrible storm on that day and when Hera was going toward the mountain alone, she stopped at the very place where there is currently a temple to Hera Teleia. The cuckoo, flew down and sat on her lap when he saw her, shivering and freezing because of the weather. Hera saw the bird and pitied him and covered him with her cloak. Then Zeus suddenly transformed his appearance and grabbed a hold of Hera. Because she was refusing him due to their mother, he promised that he would marry her.
Among the Argives, who honor the goddess the most of all the Greeks, the cult image of Hera sits in the temple on a throne holding a scepter in one hand on which a cuckoo is seated.”
Pausanias (2.17.4) describes a statue in a temple to Hera outside of Corinth:
“The statue of Hera—extraordinarily huge—sits on a throne made of gold and ivory, a work of Polykleitos. She has a crown embossed with Graces and the Seasons and carries in one hand a pomegranate fruit and in the other a scepter. I must pass over the reason for the pomegranate, since the tale is protected by sacred rite. But people say that the cuckoo bird sitting on the scepter is Zeus: because he was in love with Hera when she was a maiden and turned himself into this bird which she hunted to have as a pet. I record this story as much as the others of the gods which I offer incredulously—but I record them still.”