“The books of Aristophanes—divine labor—over which
Archanean ivy dangled its massive green hair.
See how much of Dionysus a page holds, how the stories
Echo, full of frightening charms.
Comic poet, best of heart, equal to the characters of Greece,
You both hated and mocked things that deserved it.”
Julia Balbilla, Epigram 991 [from Kaibel 1878 with supplements from Rosenmeyer 2008]
In Memnonis crure sinistro. C. I. 4730 coll. Add. III p. 1202 sq.
“When I was near Memnon with August Sabina:
Child of Dawn and noble Tithonos,
Seated before Zeus’s city of Thebes
Or, Amenoth, Egyptian King, as the priests name you
The ones who know the ancient stories
Greet us and speak out to show your welcome, Memnon,
To the revered wife of Lord Hadrian.
A barbarian man lopped off your tongue and ears
That atheist Kambyses, but he paid the price
With a painful death under the same pitiful blade
He used to kill divine Apis.
But I do not believe that this statue of yours could ever be destroyed
And I cherish in my thoughts a soul immortal for all time.
This is because my parents and grandparents were reverent,
Wise Balbillus and the king Antiochus.
Balbillus was my Queen mother’s father
And King Antiochus was my father’s father.
I too have been allotted noble blood from their people—
And these are the words from reverent me, Balbilla.”
Julia Balbilla is a Roman poet from the time of Hadrian. She composed Greek verse. For more of her poems see Rosenmeyer 2008 below and Brennan 1998 for additional historical context
Julia Balbilla, Two Poems
In Memnonis pede sinistro. C. I. 4727 coll. Add. III p. 1202.
“I, Balbilla, heard from the stone when it spoke
Either the divine voice of Memnon or Phamenoth.
I came here alongside my beautiful queen Sabina,
as the sun kept its course in the first hour.
In the fifteenth year of Hadrian’s reign
When Hathyr had made its twenty-fourth day,
It was on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Hathyr.
In Memnonis crure sinistro. C. I. 4725 coll. Add. III p. 1201 sq.
“Julia Balbilla [wrote this]
When August Hadrian heard Memnon
I’ve learned that the Egyptian Memnon, bronzed by
The bright sun, sounds out from a Theban stone.
When he gazed upon Hadrian, the kingliest king
He addressed him as much as he could before the light of the sun.
But as Titan was driving through the sky on white horses
Holding the second part of the day in shadow,
Memnon’s voice rang out again like struck bronze,
High-pitched: and he let loose a third sound greeting.
And then Lord Hadrian hailed Memnon in return
And left on this column for future generations to see
Inscribed verses telling of everything he saw and heard.
And it was clear to everyone how much the gods love him.
“You lie there beneath Aphrodite’s golden ceiling,
Grapes, full with Dionysus’ drink.
Your mother, the vine, will no longer wrap her love branch around you
And protect your head beneath her sweet leaf.”
“Anigrian Nymphs, daughters of the river, you ambrosial
Creatures who always step on the depths with rosy feet.
Say hello to and preserve Kleonymos who set out for you goddesses
These wooden images beneath the pines.”
my heart, show to all of our friends a changeable character,
and mix into it the disposition that each of them has.
make it your way, the ways of the infinitely changing octopus
which looks just like whatever rock it clings to.
for the moment go along with this one,
but the next moment, take on a different skin.
craftiness is better for you than rigidity.
“The soul is no traveler; the wise man stays at home.”–Emerson, “Self Reliance”
true, I went as far as the land of Sicily once,
and I went to the vine-covered plain of Euboea,
and Sparta, that splendid city on the reed-sprouting Eurotas,
and they welcomed me graciously, every place I visited—
yet not one pleasure came to my heart from them.
and so, this truth: nothing is more dear than one’s own country.
LarryBenn 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.
“May the gods grant as much as you desire in your thoughts,
A husband and home, and may they give you fine likemindness,
For nothing is better and stronger than this
When two people who are likeminded in their thoughts share a home,
A man and a wife—this brings many pains for their enemies And joys to their friends. And the gods listen to them especially”
“To exact vengeance from someone was thought to be more important than not suffering at all. If oaths were ever taken in turn, were strong because each person was at a loss and had no power at all. But as soon as one of them had the advantage, he attached if he saw anyone unguarded: it was sweeter to take vengeance despite a pledge than to do so openly. It was thought generally to be safe and to have won a prize for intelligence, prevailing by deceit. Many wicked people become famous for being clever than good people do for being ingenuous. Men are ashamed by the latter but delight in the former.
To blame for all of these things the love of power and a love of honor. From both, they fell into a voluntary love of conflict. For those who were in charge of the state each claimed identities for themselves, some the equal rights of the masses, the others the wisdom of the aristocrats; while guarding the common goods in word, they were making them the contest’s prize, competing with one another to be pre-eminent, they dared the most terrible things—and they surpassed them with greater acts of vengeance too. They did not regard either justice or advantage for the city…”
“Drink and get drunk with me, Melanippos.
Why would you say that once you cross the great eddying
River of Acheron you will see the pure light of the sun again?
Come on, don’t hope for great things.
For even the son of Aiolos, Sisyphos used to claim
He was better than death because he knew the most of men.
Even though he was so very wise, he crossed
The eddying river Acheron twice thanks to fate
And Kronos’ son granted that he would have toil
Beneath the dark earth. So don’t hope for these things.
As long as we are young, now is the time we must
Endure whatever of these things the god soon grants us to suffer.”
It seemed best to the Argives and it was so unanimous
that I felt young again in my old heart
for the air was thick with the right hands
of the whole people as they approved this plan:
that we strangers should have the right to settle
here freely, safe from arrest or attack from mortals,
that no one domestic or foreign might drive us away.
And if force is used against us,
that any citizen who does not help us
may lose his rights in exile from this country.
The leader of the Pelasgians persuaded the people
when he spoke about us, warning about how the rage
of Zeus the suppliant god might fall in future days
on the city, promising a double curse
on citizen and foreigner alike, emerging for the city
to be an insatiable parent of pain.
When they heard this, the Argive public voted
without the official call to approve the asylum.”
“Here, the convoy fleeing from their own homes met an armed force which was being taken for the food-gathering there to be safer; the disorganized and unarmed crowd which was mixed as well with noncombatants was murdered by armed men.”
hoc sedibus suis extorre agmen in praesidium incidit quod ad Thaumacos quo tutior frumentatio esset ducebatur: incondita inermisque multitudo, mixta et imbelli turba, ab armatis caesa est
This is from Plato the Attic Comedian, not the Attic Philosopher. Who knew there were at least 30 men with the same name?
Plato, Fr. 202 (Stobaeus, 2.3.3)
“If one wicked person
perishes, then two politicians grow in his place.
For there is no Iolaus* in the city
Who might cauterize the politicians’ heads.
If you’ve been bent over, then you’ll be a politician.”
*Iolaus is Herakles’ nephew who helped the hero kill the Hydra by cauterizing its necks to prevent new heads from growing.
Platôn, Alliance (fr. 168)
“They are like those boys who each time they draw a line
in the street to divide themselves into two groups
stand with some of them on one side of the line and some on the other.
One who stands in the middle of the two hurls a pot sherd–
If the white side faces up, one group must flee right away
And the others must chase them.”