This Poem is Probably about Sex

Theognis, Elegies 949-954 

“Just like a lion confident in its strength I grabbed a fawn
From a doe with my hands but did not drink its blood.
After I climbed the high walls, I did not sack the city.
Although I yoked the horses to the chariot, I did not climb on board.
“Although I have acted, I have not done; Although I am done, I have not finished.
Although I have tried, I have not accomplished. While I have met success, I have not succeeded.”

νεβρὸν ὑπὲξ ἐλάφοιο λέων ὣς ἀλκὶ πεποιθὼς
ποσσὶ καταμάρψας αἵματος οὐκ ἔπιον·
τειχέων δ᾿ ὑψηλῶν ἐπιβὰς πόλιν οὐκ ἀλάπαξα·
ζευξάμενος δ᾿ ἵππους ἅρματος οὐκ ἐπέβην·
πρήξας δ᾿ οὐκ ἔπρηξα, καὶ οὐκ ἐτέλεσσα τελέσσας,
δρήσας δ᾿ οὐκ ἔδρησ᾿, ἤνυσα δ᾿ οὐκ ἀνύσας.

One Perpetual Sleep: From Catullus to Marvell

Catullus, Carm. 5

“My Lesbia, let’s live and let’s love,
Let all the rumors of harsh old men
count for only a penny.
Suns can set and rise again:
but when our brief light sets
we must sleep a lonely endless night.
Give me a thousand kisses and then a hundred,
then another thousand and a second hundred,
And even then another thousand, a hundred more.
When we’ve had so many thousands,
we will mix them together so we don’t know,
so that no wicked man can feel envy
when he knows what a number of kisses there’ve been.”

Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
rumoresque senum severiorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis!
soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
aut ne quis malus invidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.

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Uncommon Love Needs: Be My Achilles, Please

“I have a wound from love: from it pours not blood
But tears and a scar will never close it.
I am undone by this evil and not even Makhaon
Could heal me by applying his gentle drugs.
I am Telephos, girl—be my faithful Achilles:
Stop this longing you caused with your beauty.”

Achilles, heal my wounds! (Vase Image: Achilles Heals Patroklos)

Achilles, heal my wounds! (Vase Image: Achilles Heals Patroklos)

῞Ελκος ἔχω τὸν ἔρωτα· ῥέει δέ μοι ἕλκεος ἰχὼρ
δάκρυον, ὠτειλῆς οὔποτε τερσομένης.
εἰμὶ καὶ ἐκ κακότητος ἀμήχανος, οὐδὲ Μαχάων
ἤπιά μοι πάσσει φάρμακα δευομένῳ.
Τήλεφός εἰμι, κόρη, σὺ δὲ γίνεο πιστὸς ᾿Αχιλλεύς·
κάλλεϊ σῷ παῦσον τὸν πόθον, ὡς ἔβαλες.

A few notes to make this make sense: In the Iliad Makhaon is a healer who ministers to the wounded captains. In myth, Telephos, a son of Herakles, is wounded by Achilles’ spear and can only be healed by the man who hurt him. Achilles encounters Telephos at the beginning of the war when the Greeks mistakenly attack Mysia (believing it to be Troy!). He is later healed in exchange for leading the Greeks to Troy.

So, this odd epigram becomes a tad bit odder thanks to knowing the references. It is ascribed to a poet named Macedonius and is in book 5 of The Greek Anthology (the Erotic Epigrams).

Love Is Tearing Me Apart: Tibullus, II.IV (1-12)

“Here I see my addiction, my mistress ready for me;
And so: farewell to my inherited freedom.
Here a sad slavery is granted and I am held by chains,
as Love never removes his bonds, though he burns me
whether I have earned it or made no mistake at all.
I burn, Oh I burn: remove the brands, you savage girl.
Oh, if I were but able not to feel such sorrow,
I would rather be a stone on the frozen cliffs
where the waves of the ruinous sea crush the shipwrecks!
Now the day is bitter and night’s shadow bitterer too.
Every second is dyed with a stinging poison.”

Hic mihi seruitium uideo dominamque paratam:
iam mihi, libertas illa paterna, uale.
seruitium sed triste datur, teneorque catenis,
et numquam misero uincla remittit Amor,
et seu quid merui seu nil peccauimus, urit.
uror, io, remoue, saeua puella, faces.
o ego ne possim tales sentire dolores,
quam mallem in gelidis montibus esse lapis,
stare uel insanis cautes obnoxia uentis,
naufraga quam uasti tunderet unda maris!
nunc et amara dies et noctis amarior umbra est:
omnia nam tristi tempora felle madent.

I have been in a longstanding debate with Palaiophron about the merits of Tibullus versus Propertius. I don’t know whether this segment proves his case, but it certainly does not help mine.

Here’s some Joy Division as an antidote. Or accelerant.

One Perpetual Night, Countless Kisses: Catullan Hendecasyllables for The Weekend (Carm. 5)

“My Lesbia, let’s live and let’s love,
Let all the rumors of harsh old men
count for only a penny.
Suns can set and rise again:
but when our brief light sets
we must sleep a lonely endless night.
Give me a thousand kisses and then a hundred,
then another thousand and a second hundred,
And even then another thousand, a hundred more.
When we’ve had so many thousands,
we will mix them together so we don’t know,
so that no wicked man can feel envy
when he knows what a number of kisses there’ve been.”

Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
rumoresque senum severiorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis!
soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
aut ne quis malus invidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.

As with earlier poems of Catullus I have mentioned, this one came to me when I was a teenager studying AP Latin. I don’t know if anything more ruinous or momentous could happen to a teenager in his rutting years than encountering Catullus (ok, that sentence needs a limiting phrase–“in a Latin class”). It has been twenty years since I first read this poem, but I could almost translate every line without looking at the Latin.

Perhaps there is an unpleasant serendipity in the Latin AP on Catullus no longer being offered? For better or worse, I never would have pursued classics if not for the verve and danger of Gaius Valerius Catullus. Discipuli, thank your Latin teachers!

Valentine’s Day Vines: Greeks and Romans Say (Mostly) Nice Things about Love

What a Girl Wants: Mimnermus vs. Homer (Propertius 1.9.9-14)

What good to you is threnody, or crying over the walls built by Amphion’s lyre? In matters of love, a verse of Mimnermus is worth a lot more than Homer. Gentle Cupid would like to hear a softer strain. So please, put down those sad little books, and sing something that a girl would like to hear!

quid tibi nunc misero prodest grave dicere carmen
aut Amphioniae moenia flere lyrae? 10
plus in amore valet Mimnermi versus Homero:
carmina mansuetus lenia quaerit Amor.
i quaeso et tristis istos sepone libellos,
et cane quod quaevis nosse puella velit!

Greek Anthology, 5.88 (Rufinus): The Fire of Unrequited Love

“Fire-bearing love, if you haven’t the strength to light two equally afire
Either extinguish it or share the flame burning in only one.”

Εἰ δυσὶν οὐκ ἴσχυσας ἴσην φλόγα, πυρφόρε, καῦσαι,
τὴν ἑνὶ καιομένην ἢ σβέσον ἢ μετάθες.

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Callimachus, Epigram 28: I Hate Cyclic Poetry, and Everything Else too…

“I hate the cyclic poem and I don’t enjoy
The road that goes too far this way and that.
I despise as well the loved one who wanders—I
Don’t drink from just any stream: I loathe all common things.
Yes, Lysanius, you are fine—but before I say that clearly
Some Echo says “he belongs to another”.

᾿Εχθαίρω τὸ ποίημα τὸ κυκλικόν, οὐδὲ κελεύθῳ
χαίρω, τίς πολλοὺς ὧδε καὶ ὧδε φέρει•
μισέω καὶ περίφοιτον ἐρώμενον, οὐδ’ ἀπὸ κρήνης
πίνω• σικχαίνω πάντα τὰ δημόσια.
Λυσανίη, σὺ δὲ ναίχι καλὸς καλός—ἀλλὰ πρὶν εἰπεῖν
τοῦτο σαφῶς, ᾿Ηχώ φησί τις• ‘ἄλλος ἔχει.’

This poem, with its original reference to what many scholars consider the poems of the epic cycle has furnished much ammunition to the same scholars who wish to argue that Callimachus (and others) looked down on these poems. To be fair, in this poem Callimachus seems to hate everything–he uses four different ways to express his disdain (and that variation is Hellenistic as anything else). But he seems to be so angry (if we can believe this isn’t just a conceit of a poem) because a pretty boy is already taken…

In the light of unrequited love, doesn’t everything look a bit dimmer and sordid?

Ovid, Heroides IX,26-34: Deianeira to Herakles: Pick an Equal Spouse

“But I am considered well-married, because I am called Hercules’ wife
And because my father-in-law is the one who sounds deeply with swift steeds.
Yet, this is how the unequal colts arrive unhappily at the plow,
The way that a lesser bride matches to a great husband.
This isn’t an honor but merely the appearance of it which pains who carries it more;
If you want to be married happily, marry your equal.
My husband is always absent—he’s more famous as my guest than husband
As he pursues is terrible monsters and beasts.”

At bene nupta feror, quia nominer Herculis uxor,
sitque socer, rapidis qui tonat altus equis.
quam male inaequales veniunt ad aratra iuvenci,
tam premitur magno coniuge nupta minor.
non honor est sed onus species laesura ferentes:
siqua voles apte nubere, nube pari.
vir mihi semper abest, et coniuge notior hospes
monstraque terribiles persequiturque feras.

Greek Anthology, 5.12 (Rufinus): Gather Ye Bath Bubbles While Ye May

“After we bathe, Prodicê, let’s put on garlands and sip on
Unmixed wine, raising ever larger cups.
The time for rejoicing is brief: old age will slow
Our remaining days, and the final step is death.

Λουσάμενοι, Προδίκη, πυκασώμεθα καὶ τὸν ἄκρατον
ἕλκωμεν κύλικας μείζονας αἰρόμενοι.
βαιὸς ὁ χαιρόντων ἐστὶν βίος• εἶτα τὰ λοιπὰ
γῆρας κωλύσει, καὶ τὸ τέλος θάνατος. “

Greek Anthology, Book 5.26: I Love You Whatever the Color of Your Hair

“If I saw you shining with dark hair
Or at another time with blond locks, mistress,
The same grace would gleam from both.
Love will make its home in your hair even when it’s gray.”

Εἴτε σε κυανέῃσιν ἀποστίλβουσαν ἐθείραις,
εἴτε πάλιν ξανθαῖς εἶδον, ἄνασσα, κόμαις,
ἴση ἀπ’ ἀμφοτέρων λάμπει χάρις. ἦ ῥά γε ταύταις
θριξὶ συνοικήσει καὶ πολιῇσιν ῎Ερως.

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