Come, Play that Country Song

Moschus, Lament for Bion 116-126

“If I could have…
I would have gone down quickly to Plouto’s home
Descending into Tartaros like Orpheus or
Odysseus or Alkeides so I might see you and hear
What song you sing if you sing for Death.

But come, sing for Kore some Sicilian melody
And play some sweet country song.
She’s a country girl too and she also used to play
On the beaches near Aetna. She knows the Doric tune.

You won’t go without a prize for your melody
Just as once upon a time she gave Orpheus Eurydice
Because he played the lyre so sweetly, so too
To the hills, Bion, she will perhaps restore you.
And If I had any power in in my song
I would have sung for Plouto on my own.”

….εἰ δυνάμαν δέ,
ὡς Ὀρφεὺς καταβὰς ποτὶ Τάρταρον, ὥς ποκ’ Ὀδυσσεύς,
ὡς πάρος Ἀλκεΐδας, κἠγὼ τάχ’ ἂν ἐς δόμον ἦλθον
Πλουτέος ὥς κέ σ’ ἴδοιμι καί, εἰ Πλουτῆι μελίσδῃ,
ὡς ἂν ἀκουσαίμαν τί μελίσδεαι. ἀλλ’ ἄγε Κώρᾳ
Σικελικόν τι λίγαινε καὶ ἁδύ τι βουκολιάζευ·
καὶ κείνα Σικελά, καὶ ἐν Αἰτναίαισιν ἔπαιζεν
ᾀόσι, καὶ μέλος οἶδε τὸ Δώριον· οὐκ ἀγέραστος
ἐσσεῖθ’ ἁ μολπά, χὠς Ὀρφέι πρόσθεν ἔδωκεν
ἁδέα φορμίζοντι παλίσσυτον Εὐρυδίκειαν,
καὶ σέ, Βίων, πέμψει τοῖς ὤρεσιν. εἰ δέ τι κἠγών
συρίσδων δυνάμαν, παρὰ Πλουτέι κ’ αὐτὸς ἄειδον.

Some things are just better than the “original”. RIP ,Toots.

Don’t Look Back

Here is a portion of Virgil’s account of what happened after Orpheus, escorting his wife from the underworld, turned around to look at her:

Virgil., Georgics, IV. 494-506

She said: “What folly, Orpheus, what terrible folly
Has destroyed me, a wretched woman, and you too?
Look, the hard fates are calling me back again.
And look, sleep is closing my swimming eyes.
Now, farewell! I’m borne away in the vast encircling
Night, and I reach out to you with helpless hands
That, alas, are no longer your hands.”

That’s what she said. Then suddenly, from his sight,
Like smoke amid light breezes, she was gone.
She did not see him vainly clutching shadows
And trying to say ever more things to her.
What’s more, Death’s boatman did not let him cross
The swamp stretched before him.

What could he do? Where was he scrambling to
With his wife snatched away a second time?
With what tears could he move the gods?
Which divinities could he move with words?

No matter. She was afloat the Stygian raft, already cold.

Illa “Quis et me” inquit “miseram et te perdidit, Orpheu,
quis tantus furor? en iterum crudelia retro
fata vocant conditque natantia lumina somnus.
iamque vale: feror ingenti circumdata nocte
invalidasque tibi tendens, heu! non tua, palmas.”
dixit et ex oculis subito, ceu fumus in auras
commixtus tenues, fugit diversa, neque illum
prensantem nequiquam umbras et multa volentem
dicere praeterea vidit; nec portitor Orci
amplius obiectam passus transire paludem.
quid faceret? quo se rapta bis coniuge ferret?
quo fletu manis, quae numina voce moveret?
Illa quidem Stygia nabat iam frigida cumba.

Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein.
Orpheus and Eurydice. 1806.
Glyptoteket, Copenhagen.

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

Entering the Underworld as “Death-Walkers”: A Fragment from Aristophanes (150)

“A: And who dares to descend into the cave of the corpses and the gates of darkness?
B: When we were gathered in assembly, we chose one man from each art, those men we knew to be “Death-Walkers”, who frequently loved to travel there.
A: There are men among you who are “Death-Walkers”?
B: Yes, by Zeus, there really are.
A: Something like “Thrace-Walkers”
B: You’ve got the idea.
A: Who are they?
B: First, from the comic poets, Sannyrion, from the tragic poets, Melêtos, and from the Cyclic poets, Kinesias.
A: You travel on slight hopes, since if the rive of diarrhea fills up, it will sweep these men away.”

Α καὶ τίς ‘νεκρῶν κευθμῶνα καὶ σκότου πύλας’
ἔτλη κατελθεῖν;
Β ἕνα τιν’ ἀφ’ ἑκάστης τέχνης
εἱλόμεθα κοινῇ γενομένης ἐκκλησίας,
οὓς ᾖσμεν ὄντας ᾁδοφοίτας καὶ θαμὰ
ἐκεῖσε φιλοχωροῦντας.
Α εἰσὶ γάρ τινες
ἄνδρες παρ’ ὑμῖν ᾁδοφοῖται;
Β νὴ Δία
μάλιστά γ’.
Α ὥσπερ Θρᾳκοφοῖται;
Β πάντ’ ἔχεις.
Α καὶ τίνες ἂν εἶεν;
Β πρῶτα μὲν Σαννυρίων
ἀπὸ τῶν τρυγῳδῶν, ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν τραγικῶν χορῶν
Μέλητος, ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν κυκλίων Κινησίας.
Α ὡς σφόδρ’ ἐπὶ λεπτῶν ἐλπίδων ὀχεῖσθ’ ἄρα•
τούτους γάρ, ἢν πολλοὶ ξυνέλθωσιν, λαβὼν
ὁ τῆς διαροίας ποταμὸς ἐξοιχήσεται.