Baudelaire Among the Greeks

At age 17, Charles Baudelaire wrote to his stepfather: 

“I’m writing with a request which will very much surprise you. You’ve promised me lessons in fencing and horse riding. But instead of that, I ask you–if you’re willing, if it’s possible, if you don’t mind–for a private tutor . . . 

What I would ask of him, among other things, would be Greek–yes, to teach me Greek, which I don’t know at all (like all those who learn it in middle school) . . .

You know I’ve got a taste for ancient languages, and Greek inspires a great curiosity in me. I believe, whatever people say nowadays, that it brings not only great pleasure, but also practical advantage. Why stifle these tastes?”

Baudelaire lettre au Colonel Aupick, 26 February 1839:

Je t’écris pour te faire une demande qui te surprendra fort. Tu m’as promis des leçons d’arme, de manège; au lieu de cela, je te demande, si tu le veux, si c’est possible, si cela ne te gêne pas, un répétiteur . . .

Ce que je lui demanderais aussi, ce serait du grec – oui, de m’apprendre le grec, que je ne sais pas du tout, comme tous ceux qui l’apprennent au collège . . .

Tu sais que je me suis pris de goût pour les langues anciennes, et le grec m’inspire une grande curiosité. Je crois, quoi qu’on dise aujourd’hui, que cela procure non seulement de grandes jouissances, mais encore un avantage réel. Pourquoi étouffer ces goûts-là?

We don’t know whether Baudelaire got his tutor, but we do know that he read a lot of Greek literature in his school days and won prizes for his translations. 

Let’s assume that when in his maturity he sat down to write, somewhere in his memory there was a poem the likes of this Hellenistic “aubade,” the song of lovers interrupted by the arrival of daybreak:

Antipater of Thessalonica 5.3 (Greek Anthology)

The early-morning light came some time ago, Chrysilla,
And dawn’s rooster, with his proclaiming, brings jealous daybreak.
Most envious birds, be gone! You chase me from my own house
And out into the profusion of young men’s blabbing.
You’re growing old, Tithonus.
Why else drive Dawn from your bed at first light?

Antipater of Thessalonica 5.3 (Greek Anthology)
ὄρθρος ἔβη, Χρύσιλλα, πάλαι δ᾽ ἠῷος ἀλέκτωρ
κηρύσσων φθονερὴν Ἠριγένειαν ἄγει.
ὀρνίθων ἔρροις φθονερώτατος, ὅς με διώκεις
οἴκοθεν εἰς πολλοὺς ἠιθέων ὀάρους.
γηράσκεις, Τιθωνέ: τί γὰρ σὴν εὐνέτιν Ἠῶ
οὕτως ὀρθριδίην ἤλασας ἐκ λεχέων;

Spiritual Dawn

In the room of the debauched, the white and vermillion dawn
Forms a league with the gnawing Ideal,
And by the workings of an avenging mystery
An angel awakens in the drowsy brute.

The inaccessible azure of the spiritual heavens,
For the stricken man who still dreams and suffers,
Opens and gapes with the lure of the abyss.
Thus, dear Goddess, Being light and pure,

Above the smoking debris of stupid orgies
Your memory, clearer, more roseate, more charming,
Flutters incessantly before my widened eyes.

The sun has darkened the candles’ flame;
Thus, ever victorious, your phantom is equal,
Resplendent soul, to the immortal sun!

L’Aube Spirituelle

Quand chez les débauchés l’aube blanche et vermeille
Entre en société de l’Idéal rongeur,
Par l’opération d’un mystère vengeur
Dans la brute assoupie un ange se réveille.

Des Cieux Spirituels l’inaccessible azur,
Pour l’homme terrassé qui rêve encore et souffre,
S’ouvre et s’enfonce avec l’attirance du gouffre.
Ainsi, chère Déesse, Être lucide et pur,

Sur les débris fumeux des stupides orgies
Ton souvenir plus clair, plus rose, plus charmant,
A mes yeux agrandis voltige incessamment.

Le soleil a noirci la flamme des bougies ;
Ainsi, toujours vainqueur, ton fantôme est pareil,
Ame resplendissante, à l’immortel soleil !

Pierre Bonnard. “Man and Woman.” (1900) Musee d’Orsay.

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

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

Tawdry Tuesday: A Poem to a Rear-End and Some Etymologies


Greek Anthology, 12.38, attributed to Rhianos

“The Seasons and the Graces have poured sweet oil on you,
Butt. And you do not allow even old men to nap.
Tell me, whose sweetheart are you and which boy
Do you decorate? The Butt said “Menecrates’ “

Ὧραί σοι Χάριτές τε κατὰ γλυκὺ χεῦαν ἔλαιον,
ὦ πυγά· κνώσσειν δ᾿ οὐδὲ γέροντας ἐᾷς.
λέξον μοι τίνος ἐσσὶ μάκαιρα τύ, καὶ τίνα παίδων
κοσμεῖς; ἁ πυγὰ δ᾿ εἶπε· “Μενεκράτεος.”

Words not to confuse:

πυγαλγίας, ὁ: “having ass-pain”
πύγαργος, ὁ: “white-assed”
πυγή, ἡ: “buttocks, rump, rear-end, ass”
πυγίδιον: “small-rumped”
πυγίζω: “to penetrate anally”

πυγμαχία, ἡ: “fist fight”
πυγμάχος, ὁ: “boxer”
πυγμή: “fist, fist-fight”
πυγοσύνη: “science of boxing”

πυγοστόλος: “ass-adorning”
δωσίπυγος: “ass-giving”
δασύπυγος: “hairy-assed”
καλλίπυγος: “with beautiful buttocks”
λεπτόπυγος: “fine-assed”
λισπόπυγος: “smooth-assed”

πυγή: Beekes writes that this “has no convincing etymology” (Chantraine: “Pas d’étymologie assurée…”)

πυγμή: Cf. Latin pugnare, pugna. *pug-[Beekes is uncertain]. Chantraine presents the interseting suggestion from Van Brock that in the ancient background of πύξ might lurk the combination of πᾶς (“all”) and the numeral πέντε (“five”) to signal “fist”.

Image result for aphrodite kallipygos

Have You Seen My Special Chair?

A former dean of mine once sent an email to the faculty announcing a large grant to the college by a local business, providing for endowed chairs in the liberal arts. He had the temerity to announce in the very same email that he was giving himself one of these chairs. And he had a chair made with an inscription. The following is a slightly more humble epigraph.

 Constantinus of Sicily, Greek Anthology 15.13

“If you are wise, sit on me. But if you’ve tasted the muse
Only with the tip of your finger…..
Move far away and find a different seat.
I am a chair who bears the burden of men who seek wisdom.”

Εἰ μέν τις σοφὸς ἐσσί, ἐφέζεο· εἰ δέ γε Μούσης
δακτύλῳ ἀκροτάτῳ ἀπεγεύσαο, . . . .
πόρρω στῆθ᾿ ἀπ᾿ ἐμεῖο, καὶ ἄλλοθι δίζεο ἕδρην·
κλισμὸς ἐγὼ φορέων σοφίης ἐπιΐστορας ἄνδρας.

Image result for Ancient Greek chair scholar

Did You Say Love or Death?

Joel sings “love is a battlefield” at every department holiday party, and yet no general ever says at muster, “troops, war is loving.” We don’t, that is, ordinarily reverse the terms of a metaphor. In practice, one term stands still and the other term does the work of elucidating it. 

But what if metaphor flowed both ways (metaphorically speaking), such that on one occasion X elucidated Y, and on another occasion Y elucidated X? That is what we find in the Greek Anthology when we compare epigrams across their sepulchral and amatory boundaries. 

It’s a dissonant reading, but one we’re justified in making when topoi arranged to make a poem about death are rearranged to make an equally effective poem about love. Furthermore, I think we can say that when responsibility for clarifying terms (love, death) passes back and forth between the terms themselves, the end result is a body of poems whose referents are one another. 

Here are two pairings of an amatory and sepulchral epigram. In the first, it is the imagery of the sea, and in the second the imagery of robbery, that are employed to account for the phenomenologically distinct experiences of loving and dying. With each pairing, try to think not only of how death is a metaphor for love, but how love is a metaphor for death:

[1] The Sea

Meleager 5.190

Bitter wave of desire,
Restless winds of jealousy,
And a wintry sea of celebrations:
Where to, am I being carried?
Since my heart’s tiller swings this way and that,
Will I see that tender Scylla again?

Leonidas 5.273

The East wind’s savage, sudden gusts,
Night, and waves from Orion’s dark setting
Did me in: I, Callaeschrus, lost my hold on life
While sailing in the middle of the Libyan sea.
Tumbling about in the water, prey for fish,
I died. And so, this gravestone is a liar.

[2] Robbery

Anonymous 7.737

Here I am, a wretched man three times over:
Overpowered by a thief’s violence,
Prostrate, and wept for by no one.

Diophanes of Myrina 5.309

A thief three times over,
That’s what Desire should really be called:
He’s watchful, he’s brazen, he strips you bare.

Meleager 5.190

κῦμα τὸ πικρὸν Ἔρωτος, ἀκοίμητοί τε πνέοντες
ζῆλοι, καὶ κώμων χειμέριον πέλαγος,
ποῖ φέρομαι; πάντῃ δὲ φρενῶν οἴακες ἀφεῖνται,
ἦ πάλι τὴν τρυφερὴν Σκύλλαν ἐποψόμεθα;

Leonidas 5.273

Εὔρου με τρηχεῖα καὶ αἰπήεσσα καταιγίς,
καὶ νύξ, καὶ δνοφερῆς κύματα πανδυσίης [p. 150]
ἔβλαψ᾽ Ὠρίωνος: ἀπώλισθον δὲ βίοιο
Κάλλαισχρος, Λιβυκοῦ μέσσα θέων πελάγευς.
κἀγὼ μὲν πόντῳ δινεύμενος, ἰχθύσι κύρμα,
οἴχημαι: ψεύστης δ᾽ οὗτος ἔπεστι λίθος.

Anonymous 7.737

ἐνθάδ᾽ ἐγὼ λῃστῆρος ὁ τρισδείλαιος ἄρηι
ἐδμήθην κεῖμαι δ᾽ οὐδενὶ κλαιόμενος.

Diophanes of Myrina 5.309

τρὶς λῃστὴς ὁ Ἔρως καλοῖτ᾽ ἂν ὄντως:
ἀγρυπνεῖ, θρασύς ἐστιν, ἐκδιδύσκει.

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

Gratitude for a Recovery

Greek Anthology 6.300, Leonidas [Lathria = Aphrodite]

“Lathrian, please take this from the wanderer, the pauper,
The man of little flour, Leonidas, as thanks:
Moist cakes of barely and well-stored olive oil,
Along with this green fig straight from the tree.
Lady, take these five grapes from a cluster good for wine
And this final libation from the bottom of the cup.
And if you save me from hateful poverty as you saved me
From sickness, expect a young goat too.”

Λαθρίη, ἐκ πλανίου ταύτην χάριν ἔκ τε πενέστεω
κἠξ ὀλιγησιπύου δέξο Λεωνίδεω,
ψαιστά τε πιήεντα καὶ εὐθήσαυρον ἐλαίην,
καὶ τοῦτο χλωρὸν σῦκον ἀποκράδιον,
κεὐοίνου σταφυλῆς ἔχ᾿ ἀποσπάδα πεντάρραγον,
πότνια, καὶ σπονδὴν τήνδ᾿ ὑποπυθμίδιον.
ἢν δέ μέ γ᾿, ὡς ἐκ νούσου ἀνειρύσω, ὧδε καὶ ἐχθρῆς
ἐκ πενίης ῥύσῃ, δέξο χιμαιροθύτην.

File:Greek - Oinochoe in the Camirus, or "Wild Goat" Style - Walters 482108 - Detail.jpg
“Wild Goat Style”

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.

Words of Mourning: Some Poems of Anyte of Tegea

The following epigrams are attributed to the poet Anyte of Tegea, one of a handful of Hellenistic women preserved in the Greek Anthology.

Gr. Anth. 7.490

“I mourn for the virgin Antibia, to whose father’s home
Many suitors came longing to marry,
Thanks to the fame of her beauty and wisdom.
But ruinous fate made all their hopes turn in the dust.”

Παρθένον Ἀντιβίαν κατοδύρομαι, ἇς ἐπὶ πολλοὶ
νυμφίοι ἱέμενοι πατρὸς ἵκοντο δόμον,
κάλλευς καὶ πινυτᾶτος ἀνὰ κλέος· ἀλλ᾿ ἐπὶ πάντων
ἐλπίδας οὐλομένα Μοῖρ᾿ ἐκύλισε πρόσω.


“Dâmis built this grave for his battle-fierce but dead
Horse, after murderous Ares pierce his chest.
The blood spurted black from his thick-hided skin
And he dyed the earth with his painful life’s blood.”

Μνᾶμα τόδε φθιμένου μενεδαΐου εἵσατο Δᾶμις
ἵππου, ἐπεὶ στέρνον τοῦδε δαφοινὸς Ἄρης
τύψε· μέλαν δέ οἱ αἷμα ταλαυρίνου διὰ χρωτὸς
ζέσσ᾿, ἐπὶ δ᾿ ἀργαλέᾳ βῶλον ἔδευσε φονᾷ.


“Your courage, Proarkhos, killed you in the fight and dying
You put the home of your father Pheidias into dark grief.
Yet this rock above you sings out a noble song:
That you died in a struggle for your dear homeland.”

Ἦ ῥα μένος σε, Πρόαρχ᾿, ὄλεσ᾿ ἐν δαΐ, δῶμά τε πατρὸς
Φειδία ἐν δνοφερῷ πένθει ἔθου φθίμενος·
ἀλλὰ καλόν τοι ὕπερθεν ἔπος τόδε πέτρος ἀείδει,
ὡς ἔθανες πρὸ φίλας μαρνάμενος πατρίδος.


“When he was alive this man was once Manês.
But now that’s dead, he can be equal to great Dareios.”

Μάνης οὗτος ἀνὴρ ἦν ζῶν ποτέ· νῦν δὲ τεθνηκὼς
ἶσον Δαρείῳ τῷ μεγάλῳ δύναται.

Image result for Ancient tegea
Tegea from Wikipedia

Just a Hole in the Ground

Callimachus 13 (Gow-Page 31)

Does Charidas really lie dead beneath you?
“You mean Arimma’s son from Cyrenaica?
Then yes, he’s underneath me.”
O Charidas, what’s down there?
“Much darkness.”
But what about the ways up?
And Pluto?
Ah, nothing remains of us.
“What I’ve given you is my truthful account.
But if you want the pleasing version, here goes:
even small sums buy a big bull in Hades!”

Note: the final line of the Greek is likely corrupt, and therefore while I’ve followed Markovitch in assuming the questionable word is a reference to money (an “obol,” which I’ve freely rendered as “small sums”)–and amending the Greek to reflect that–others assume a reference to the bull’s place of origin (“Pella”).

‘Η ῥ᾽ ὑπὸ σοὶ Χαρίδας ἀναπαύεται; ‘εἰ τὸν Ἀρίμμα
τοῦ Κυρηναίου παῖδα λέγεις, ὑπ᾽ ἐμοί.’
ὦ Χαρίδα, τί τὰ νέρθε; ‘πολὺ σκότοσ᾽. αἱ δ᾽ ἄνοδοι τί;
‘ψεῦδοσ᾽. ὁ δὲ Πλούτων; ‘μῦθοσ᾽. ἀπωλόμεθα.
‘οὗτος ἐμὸς λόγος ὔμμιν ἀληθινός: εἰ δὲ τὸν ἡδύν
βούλει, <χαν> +πελανου βοῦς μέγας εἰν Ἀίδηι.


A still from Bergman’s the Seventh Seal in which our Everyman plays chess with Death. To the despair of chess fans, Bergman never reveals whether Death played a cautious opening, like the Ruy Lopez, or something daring, like the Danish Gambit.

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

What A Little Moonlight Can Do

Philodemus 5.123 (Greek Anthology)

Lady of the night,
Two-horned lover of nocturnal revels,
Shine, Selene!
Shine, and as you beam through latticed shutters
Illume golden Kallistion.
There’s no wrong in a goddess watching
The doings of lovers.
To you, she and I are happy, I know, Selene.
For your soul was inflamed by Endymion too.

Note: Selene, the moon, is described as crescent shaped (“two-horned”). She fell in love with, and made love with, Endymion while he slept. The speaker of the epigram seems to suggest that he too will accost his beloved, Kallistion, while she sleeps.

Νυκτερινή, δίκερως, φιλοπάννυχε, φαῖνε, Σελήνη,
φαῖνε, δι᾽ εὐτρήτων βαλλομένη θυρίδων
αὔγαζε χρυσέην Καλλίστιον ἐς τὰ φιλεύντων
ἔργα κατοπτεύειν οὐ φθόνος ἀθανάτῃ.
ὀλβίζεις καὶ τήνδε καὶ ἡμέας, οἶδα, Σελήνη:
καὶ γὰρ σὴν ψυχὴν ἔφλεγεν Ἐνδυμίων.

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

When No means No

Philodemus 5.308 (Greek Anthology)

Fancy lady, wait for me!
What’s your lovely name?
Where can I see you?
I’d give you what you want,
But you’re not talking.
Where will you be?
I’ll send someone with you.
You’re taken—is that it?
Snooty lady, take care.
You won’t even say “goodbye”?
I’ll come to you again and again—
I know how to soften
Even harder women than you.
Goodbye, lady, for now.

ἡ κομψή, μεῖνόν με. τί σοι καλὸν οὔνομα,; ποῦ σε
ἔστιν ἰδεῖν; ὃ θέλεις δώσομεν. οὐδὲ λαλεῖς.
ποῦ γίνῃ; πέμψω μετὰ σοῦ τινα. μή τις ἔχει σε;
ὦ σοβαρή, ὑγίαιν᾽. οὐδ᾽ ‘ὑγίαινε ’ λέγεις;
καὶ πάλι καὶ πάλι σοιπροσελεύσομαι: οἶδα μαλάσσειν
καὶ σοῦ σκληροτέρας. νῦν δ᾽ ὑγίαινε, γύναι.

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