Life’s Sweetness

A reminder that life offers many kinds of sweetness….

Hes. Frag. 273

“It is also sweet to know how many things the immortals
Have allotted for mortals, a clear sign of base and noble…”

ἡδὺ δὲ καὶ τὸ πυθέσθαι, ὅσα θνητοῖσιν ἔνειμαν
ἀθάνατοι, δειλῶν τε καὶ ἐσθλῶν τέκμαρ ἐναργές

Arsenius 3.60

“It is sweet to live in leisure. Life is long
And sacred, if lived among untroubled affairs.”

᾿Απραγμόνως ζῆν ἡδύ· μακάριος βίος
καὶ σεμνός, ἐὰν ᾖ μεθ’ ἑτέρων ἀπραγμόνων·

sweetmess

 

Arsenius 18.66f

“It is sweet for children to obey their father”

῾Ως ἡδὺ τῷ φύσαντι πείθεσθαι τέκνα [Attributed to Euripides, Agathon]

Heraclitus, fr. 111

“Sickness makes health sweet and good…”

νοῦσος ὑγιείην ἐποίησεν ἡδὺ καὶ ἀγαθόν

Arsenius 18.66p

“it is sweet for those who have done badly to forget
Their bygone troubles in a short time.”

῾Ως τοῖς κακῶς πράσσουσιν ἡδὺ καὶ βραχύν
χρόνον λαθέσθαι τῶν παρεστώτων κακῶν [Attributed to Sophocles]

18.66u

“It is sweet for slaves to obtain good masters”

῾Ως ἡδὺ δούλοις δεσπότας χρηστοὺς λαβεῖν, [Attributed to Euripides]

18.67c

“It is sweet for those who hate fools to be alone.”

῾Ως ἡδὺ τῷ μισοῦντι τοὺς φαύλους ἐρημία [Attributed to Menander]

Crates, fr. 23

“This is the case with erotic games: they’re sweet to play, but not nice to mention.”

καὶ μάλιστ᾿ ἀφροδισίοις ἀθύρμασιν. ἡδὺ γὰρ κἀκεῖνο τὸ δρᾶν, λέγεσθαι δ᾿ οὐ καλόν.

Euripides, Supp. 1101-2

“Nothing is sweeter to an old father than a daughter”

πατρὶ δ᾽ οὐδὲν †ἥδιον†

γέροντι θυγατρός

Aristotle [According to Diogenes Laertius 5.21]

“He said that the root of education is bitter but the fruit is sweet.”

Τῆς παιδείας ἔφη τὰς μὲν ῥίζας εἶναι πικράς, τὸν δὲ καρπὸν γλυκύν

Bias [According to Diogenes Laertius 1.86]

‘When someone asked what is sweet for people, he said “hope”.’

Ἐρωτηθεὶς τί γλυκὺ ἀνθρώποις, “ἐλπίς,” ἔφη.

Theognis, Uncertain Fragments

“Nothing, Kurnos, is sweeter than a good woman.
I am a witness to this, and you are witness to the truth”

Οὐδέν, Κύρν’, ἀγαθῆς γλυκερώτερόν ἐστι γυναικός.
μάρτυς ἐγώ, σὺ δ’ ἐμοὶ γίνου ἀληθοσύνης.

Sophocles, Philoktetes 81

“It is sweet to obtain the possession of victory.”

ἀλλ’ ἡδὺ γάρ τοι κτῆμα τῆς νίκης λαβεῖν

Euripides, Fr. 133

“It is certainly sweet to recall your struggles after you’ve been saved”

ἀλλ’ ἡδύ τοι σωθέντα μεμνῆσθαι πόνων.

Archippus fr. 45

“Mother, it is sweet to see the sea from the land
when you don’t have to sail any longer.”

ὡς ἡδὺ τὴν θάλατταν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς ὁρᾶν
ὦ μῆτερ ἐστι, μὴ πλέοντα μηδαμοῦ

Euripides, fr. 358 (Erechtheus)

“Children have nothing sweeter than their mother.
Love your mother children, there is no kind of love anywhere
Sweeter than this one to love.”

οὐκ ἔστι μητρὸς οὐδὲν ἥδιον τέκνοις•
ἐρᾶτε μητρός, παῖδες, ὡς οὐκ ἔστ’ ἔρως
τοιοῦτος ἄλλος ὅστις ἡδίων ἐρᾶν.

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 688-89

“For the sick it is sweet to know clearly what pain remains”

τοῖς νοσοῦσί τοι γλυκὺ
τὸ λοιπὸν ἄλγος προυξεπίστασθαι τορῶς

Ananius, fr. 5.3

“It is sweet to eat the meat of a [locally-killed?] goat”

ἡδὺ δ’ ἐσθίειν χιμαίρης †φθινοπωρισμῶι κρέας·

Anaxandrides, fr. 24

“The home-fed son grows sweetly”

υἱὸς γὰρ οἰκόσιτος ἡδὺ γίνεται.

Theocritus, 3.20

“There is a sweet joy in empty little kisses.”

ἔστι καὶ ἐν κενεοῖσι φιλήμασιν ἁδέα τέρψις.

Menander, fr. 809

“It is sweet when brothers have a like-minded love”

ἡδύ γ’ ἐν ἀδελφοῖς ἐστιν ὁμονοίας ἔρως.

Menander fr. 814

“Sweet is the word of a friend for those in grief.”

ἡδύ γε φίλου λόγος ἐστὶ τοῖς λυπουμένοις.

Menander, fr 930

“It is sweet to die for the one who has not been permitted to live as he wished.”

ἡδύ γ’ ἀποθνῄσκειν ὅτῳ ζῆν μὴ πάρεσθ’ ὡς βούλεται.

Sophokles, Fr. 356 (Creusa)

“The most noble thing is to be just.
The best thing is to live without sickness; the sweetest is when
Someone has the ability to get what he wants each day.”

κάλλιστόν ἐστι τοὔνδικον πεφυκέναι,
λῷστον δὲ τὸ ζῆν ἄνοσον, ἥδιστον δ’ ὅτῳ
πάρεστι λῆψις ὧν ἐρᾷ καθ’ ἡμέραν

Democritus, fr. 69

“Truth and goodness are the same for all people. But what is sweet is different for different folks.”

ἀνθρώποις πᾶσι τωὐτὸν ἀγαθὸν καὶ ἀληθές· ἡδὺ δὲ ἄλλωι ἄλλο.

 

Half-Assing It: A Love Story

Aristokles, BNJ 831 F 3b (=Stobaios, Florides 4.20 b74)

“In the second book of his Wonders, Aristokles has this: A young man named Aristonymos, an Ephesian of a noble family, was Demostratos’ son, but in reality he was Ares’ son.

In the middle of the night, because he hated all women, he went to his father’s herd and had sex with a female donkey. She got pregnant and gave birth to the most beautiful girl, named Onoskelia, a nickname borrowed from the way she was born.”

᾽Αριστοκλέους ἐν β̄ Παραδόξων. <᾽Αριστώνυμος> ᾽Εφέσιος τῶι γένει, νεανίας τῶν ἐπισήμων, υἱὸς Δημοστράτου, ταῖς δ᾽ ἀληθείαις ῎Αρεως. οὗτος τὸ θῆλυ μισῶν γένος νυκτὸς βαθείας εἰς τοὺς πατρώιας ἔτρεχεν ἀγέλας, καὶ ὄνωι συνεγένετο θηλείαι· ἡ δὲ ἔγκυος γενομένη ἔτεκε κόρην εὐειδεστάτην ᾽Ονοσκελίαν τοὐνομα, τὴν προσηγορίαν λαβοῦσαν ἀπὸ τοῦ συμπτώματος.

Bodleian Library, MS. Bodley 764, Folio 44r

The Short Dream and the Sudden Darkness

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 14.620c

“Chameleon claims in his book On Stesichorus that it wasn’t only Homer’s poetry that was accompanied by music but also Archilochus’ and Hesiod’s too He adds the work of Mimnermus and Phocylides.”

Χαμαιλέων δὲ ἐν τῷ περὶ Στησιχόρου (fr. 28 Wehrli) καὶ μελῳδηθῆναί φησιν οὐ μόνον τὰ Ὁμήρου ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ Ἡσιόδου καὶ Ἀρχιλόχου, ἔτι δὲ Μιμνέρμου καὶ Φωκυλίδου.

Athenaeus, fr. 13.5.567f= Hermesian fr. 7.35-40

“Then Mimnermos, who discovered the sweet sound
And breath of gentle pentameter, after he suffered terribly,
Was burning for Nanno. With his lips often on the grey lotus
Pipe, he partied with Examyes.
But he was hateful to serious Hermobios and Pherekles.”

Μίμνερμος δέ, τὸν ἡδὺν ὃς εὕρετο πολλὸν ἀνατλὰς
ἦχον καὶ μαλακοῦ πνεῦμ᾿ ἀπὸ πενταμέτρου,
καίετο μὲν Ναννοῦς, πολιῷ δ᾿ ἐπὶ πολλάκι λωτῷ
κνημωθεὶς κώμους εἶχε σὺν Ἐξαμύῃ·
†ἠδ᾿ ἠχθεε† δ᾿ Ἑρμόβιον τὸν ἀεὶ βαρὺν ἠδὲ Φερεκλῆν

Suda, Mu 1077 (iii.397.20 Adler)

“Mimnermos, the son of Ligurtuades, from Kolophon or Smurnos or Astupalaios. An elegiac poet. He lived during the 37th Olympiad [ c. 632-629 BCE) and so lived before the Seven Sages. Some people say that he lived at the same time they did. He used to be called Liguastades because of his harmony and clarity. He wrote…those many books.”

Μίμνερμος Λιγυρτυάδου, Κολοφώνιος ἢ Σμυρναῖος ἢ Ἀστυπαλαιεύς, ἐλεγειοποιός. γέγονε δ᾿ ἐπὶ τῆς λζ΄ ὀλυμπιάδος, ὡς προτερεύειν τῶν ζ΄ σοφῶν· τινὲς δὲ αὐτοῖς καὶ συγχρονεῖν λέγουσιν. ἐκαλεῖτο δὲ καὶ Λιγυᾳστάδης διὰ τὸ ἐμμελὲς καὶ λιγύ. ἔγραψε βιβλία †ταῦτα πολλά.

Mimnermus, fr. 5 = Stobaeus 4.50.69

[missing line of dactylic hexameter]

“….but dear youth is like a short dream
Then suddenly hard and ugly old age
Drapes down over your head.
It makes a man hateful and unloved, even unknown
As it weakens his eyes and clouds his mind.”

ἀλλ᾿ ὀλιγοχρόνιον γίνεται ὥσπερ ὄναρ
ἥβη τιμήεσσα· τὸ δ᾿ ἀργαλέον καί ἄμορφον
γῆρας ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆς αὐτίχ᾿ ὑπερκρέμεται,
ἐχθρὸν ὁμῶς καὶ ἄτιμον, ὅ τ᾿ ἄγνωστον τιθεῖ ἄνδρα,
βλάπτει δ᾿ ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ νόον ἀμφιχυθέν.

Nick Drake, “Black Eyed Dog”

Black eyed dog he called at my door
The black eyed dog he called for more

A black eyed dog he knew my name
A black eyed dog he knew my name
A black eyed dog
A black eyed dog

I’m growing old and I wanna go home, I’m growing old and I dont wanna know
I’m growing old and I wanna go home

Black eyed dog he called at my door
The black eyed dog he called for more

Ditlev Blunck, Old Age. From the series: The Four Ages of Man (1840-1845) Statens Museum fur Kunst

Sappho Springs to Mind

Sappho, fr. 96

“…..Sardis….
Often she turns her mind there
…[where she brought you ]….
Like a goddess best known
She was delighting especially in your song.

Now she stands out among the Lydian
Women like the rosy-fingered moon
when the sun is setting
and it outshines all the stars—
Its light pours over the salted sea
And equally over the much-flowered plains.

Dew drips with beauty
While the roses bloom alongside
The soft chervil and blossoming clover.

But while she wanders back and forth
She thinks so much of gentle Atthis with longing
And it weighs down her fragile thoughts.

She wants to go there….
…[a great sound of thoughts]…
How unwise it is to rival deities in lovely form…

…you have…
….desire….
….Aphrodite…was pouring nektar
From gold….with her hands….
Persuasion….”

[ ]σαρδ.[..]
[ πόλ]λακι τυίδε̣ [ν]ῶν ἔχοισα
ὠσπ.[…].ώομεν, .[…]..χ[..]
σε †θεασικελαν ἀρι-
γνωτασε† δὲ μάλιστ’ ἔχαιρε μόλπαι̣·
νῦν δὲ Λύδαισιν ἐμπρέπεται γυναί-
κεσσιν ὤς ποτ’ ἀελίω
δύντος ἀ βροδοδάκτυλος †μήνα
πάντα περ<ρ>έχοισ’ ἄστρα· φάος δ’ ἐπί-
σχει θάλασσαν ἐπ’ ἀλμύραν
ἴσως καὶ πολυανθέμοις ἀρούραις·
ἀ δ’ <ἐ>έρσα κάλα κέχυται τεθά-
λαισι δὲ βρόδα κἄπαλ’ ἄν-
θρυσκα καὶ μελίλωτος ἀνθεμώδης·
πόλλα δὲ ζαφοίταισ’ ἀγάνας ἐπι-
μνάσθεισ’ ῎Ατθιδος ἰμέρωι
<>λέπταν ποι φρένα κ[.]ρ̣… βόρηται·
κῆθι δ’ ἔλθην ἀμμ.[..]..ισα τό̣δ’ οὐ
νῶντ’ ἀ[..]υστονυμ̣[…] πόλυς
γαρύει̣ […]αλον̣[……].ο̣ μέσσον·
ε]ὔ̣μαρ[ες μ]ὲ̣ν οὐκ̣ α.μι θέαισι μόρ-
φαν ἐπή[ρατ]ον ἐξίσω-
σθ̣αι συ[..]ρ̣ο̣ς ἔχηισθ’ ἀ[…].νίδηον
[ ]το̣[….]ρατι-
μαλ[ ].ερος
καὶ δ[.]μ̣[ ]ος ᾿Αφροδίτα
καμ̣[ ] νέκταρ ἔχευ’ ἀπὺ
χρυσίας [ ]ν̣αν
<>….]απουρ̣[ ] χέρσι Πείθω

by Sarathkumaran Ranganathan

“A Beacon of Love or Hate”: An Epigram

Greek Anthology, 12.156, Anyonymous

“Just like a spring storm, Diodoros,
My love is decided by an uncertain sea.
Sometimes you show pouring rain, but at others
You are clear, and you pour a soft smile from your eyes.

So I, like the shipwrecked on the swell,
Measure out the blind waves as I spin,
Drawn here and there by the great storm.

But you, shine me a beacon of love or even hate
So I can know by which wave we should swim.”

Εἰαρινῷ χειμῶνι πανείκελος, ὦ Διόδωρε,
οὑμὸς ἔρως, ἀσαφεῖ κρινόμενος πελάγει·
καὶ ποτὲ μὲν φαίνεις πολὺν ὑετόν, ἄλλοτε δ᾿ αὖτε
εὔδιος, ἁβρὰ γελῶν δ᾿ ὄμμασιν ἐκκέχυσαι.
τυφλὰ δ᾿, ὅπως ναυηγὸς ἐν οἴδματι, κύματα μετρῶν
δινεῦμαι, μεγάλῳ χείματι πλαζόμενος.
ἀλλά μοι ἢ φιλίης ἔκθες σκοπὸν ἢ πάλι μίσους,
ὡς εἰδῶ ποτέρῳ κύματι νηχόμεθα.

Related image
Tristan and Iseult at Longy

 

Propertius: A Slave to Love

Propertius I.12.

Haven’t you reproached me enough, Ponticus,
For idly hanging around Rome?
A certain girl is far, far from my bed,
Like the Hypanis river is far, far from the Po.
Cynthia is not stoking with hugs the love
I’ve come to expect, nor is she cooing in my ear.

I was once her beloved. No one’s ever thought
He could love with the same confidence.
We occasioned envy. Does a god now destroy me?
Or, what herb from the Caucasus mountains keeps us apart?

I am not who I was. Extended travel changes girls.
How great a love fled in little time!
And now, a first: I’m forced to know long nights alone,
And to be a burden to my own ears.

Happy is the man who can weep in front of a girl
(Love thoroughly enjoys being sprinkled with tears),
Or who is so rejected he can redirect his ardor
(serving someone new has its pleasures too).
I can’t love someone else, and I can’t break with her:
Cynthia was first. Cynthia will be last.

Quid mihi desidiae non cessas fingere crimen,
quod facias nobis, Pontice, Roma moram?
tam multa illa meo divisa est milia lecto,
quantum Hypanis Veneto dissidet Eridano;
nec mihi consuetos amplexu nutrit amores
Cynthia, nec nostra dulcis in aure sonat.

olim gratus eram: non illo tempore cuiquam
contigit ut simili posset amare fide.
invidiae fuimus: num me deus obruit? an quae
lecta Prometheis dividit herba iugis?

non sum ego qui fueram: mutat via longa puellas.
quantus in exiguo tempore fugit amor!
nunc primum longas solus cognoscere noctes
cogor et ipse meis auribus esse gravis.

felix, qui potuit praesenti flere puellae
(non nihil aspersus gaudet Amor lacrimis),
aut si despectus, potuit mutare calores,
(sunt quoque translato gaudia servitio).
mi neque amare aliam neque abhac desistere fas est:
Cynthia prima fuit, Cynthia finis erit.


Rodin. The Eternal Idol. 1893.
Musee Rodin. Paris.

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 featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Sappho + Catullus: Homecomings

Catullus 9

Veranius, of all my friends the one
I value more than a gazillion others–
Have you really come home to your household gods,
Brothers kindred of your soul, and old mother?

You really are back! What joyful news for me!
I’ll get to see you safe, and hear you recall
The places, goings on, and peoples of Spain,
In that way of yours. My arms around your neck,
I’ll kiss your delightful lips, and your eyes too.

Whatever the number of happy people,
Who is more ecstatic, more joyful than I?

Sappho Fr.5

Queen Nereids, let my brother come to me
safely. Let him have [what] in his heart
he wants. And may he atone for his past
wrongs. Make him a delight to his [friends]
and [a grief] to his enemies. Last thing:
let there be no [discord] between us.

Catullus

Verani, omnibus e meis amicis
antistans mihi milibus trecentis,
venistine domum ad tuos penates
fratresque unanimos anumque matrem?
venisti. o mihi nuntii beati!
visam te incolumem audiamque Hiberum
narrantem loca, facta, nationes,
ut mos est tuus, applicansque collum
jucundum os oculosque saviabor.
o quantumst hominum beatiorum,
quid me laetius est beatiusve?

Sappho

Πότνιαι Νηρήιδες ἀβλάβη[ν μοι
τὸν κασί]γνητον δ[ο]τε τυίδ’ ἴκεσθα[ι
κὤσσα Ϝ]οι θύμωι κε θέληι γένεσθαι
πάντα τε]λέσθην,

ὄσσα δὲ πρ]όσθ’ ἄμβροτε πάντα λῦσα[ι
καὶ φίλοισ]ι Ϝοῖσι χάραν γένεσθαι
. . . . . . . ἔ]χροισι, γένοιτο δ’ ἄμμι
. . . . . . . μ]ηδ’ εἴς·

Earworm of a song by Peaches & Herb. 1978.

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 featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Lucretius Tries to Write a Sex Scene: An ‘Epic’ Tawdry Tuesday

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 4.1105-1120

“And then when they consume the flower of their age
As their limbs are laced together, just when the body senses delight
And that Venus is about to sow the furrows of the feminine field,
They press their bodies together greedily and join their wet mouths
Trying to breathe each other in as they press lips into teeth—
All pointlessly, since they can’t rub anything from there,
Nor can they truly enter each other or leave for a single body.

For this is what they often seem to want and try to do.
That’s how eagerly they cleave to Venus’s re-combinations of flesh
While their limbs become liquid under pleasure’s force.
Finally, once the lust which has amassed in their veins erupts,
Then, for a moment, there is a brief lull in the violent fire.

But soon the rabid hunger and the same madness returns,
And they quest to fulfill what they desire,
But they cannot discover any trick to overcome the pain,
And they remain uncertain, wasting away from a hidden wound.”

denique cum membris conlatis flore fruuntur
aetatis, iam cum praesagit gaudia corpus
atque in eost Venus ut muliebria conserat arva,
adfigunt avide corpus iunguntque salivas
oris et inspirant pressantes dentibus ora—
nequiquam, quoniam nil inde abradere possunt
nec penetrare et abire in corpus corpore toto;
nam facere interdum velle et certare videntur:
usque adeo cupide in Veneris compagibus haerent,
membra voluptatis dum vi labefacta liquescunt.
tandem ubi se erupit nervis conlecta cupido,
parva fit ardoris violenti pausa parumper.
inde redit rabies eadem et furor ille revisit,
cum sibi quod cupiunt ipsi contingere quaerunt,
nec reperire malum id possunt quae machina vincat:
usque adeo incerti tabescunt volnere caeco.

“This is how humans do it. I think.” Pompeii, House of Veii

Likemindedness and Trees: An Excerpt from a Wedding Homily for Valentine’s Day

Late in 2021, I had the great honor of being asked to preside over the wedding of a former student and friend, Zach as he married his long time partner, Molly. In the midst of COVID19 still and all the chaos in the world, it was a moment of respite and celebration and a sign that life continues on. Here’s the better part of it to mark a commercial holiday with all the meaning that we make of it.

Welcome friends, family, and all of you who gather today to celebrate Molly and Zack. After nearly two years of uncertainty and fear, there are few things more life affirming and hopeful than this–two people confirming their love for each other and asking their community to stand with them to recognize that in a shifting and unsettled world, this is something to count on.

As a sage once said, how did we get here? When Zach first asked me before the Pandemic to officiate I said yes without hesitation–not because I have any authority or experience in doing so, but because I can think of an honor no greater than this, to stand here and help Molly and Zach speak into existence something they made for themselves, something to shape, define and comfort them for the rest of their lives. 

As is the custom with these things, I am in a position to offer some reflection and advice to the soon to be wed couple on what marriage means. Three short stories; three things to think about: politics, passion, and age.

I was Zach’s teacher in the Department of Brandeis University in the Department of Classical Studies. I used to joke to Zach that the nicest thing said about marriage in all of classical literature comes in Homer’s Odyssey when Odysseus, naked and bedraggled, gives a blessing to the young princess Nausikaa

“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”

σοὶ δὲ θεοὶ τόσα δοῖεν ὅσα φρεσὶ σῇσι μενοινᾷς,
ἄνδρα τε καὶ οἶκον, καὶ ὁμοφροσύνην ὀπάσειαν
ἐσθλήν: οὐ μὲν γὰρ τοῦ γε κρεῖσσον καὶ ἄρειον,
ἢ ὅθ᾽ ὁμοφρονέοντε νοήμασιν οἶκον ἔχητον
ἀνὴρ ἠδὲ γυνή: πόλλ᾽ ἄλγεα δυσμενέεσσι,
185χάρματα δ᾽ εὐμενέτῃσι, μάλιστα δέ τ᾽ ἔκλυον αὐτοί. 6. Od. 180-185

Doesn’t this sound great! The  lesson here, it’s a political one, the promise of the married couple working as a team to achieve their goals and punish all those who oppose them.  But there’s a limit too-a close reading shows that homophrosyne, likemindedness, means having shared aims and plans, but it really looks externally, to surviving the world outside the home.

If the Odyssey tells us about the politics of marriage, and dominating your neighbors, another famous story is about passion. Ovid’s Metamorphoses gives us the Babylonian Pyramus and Thisbe. Two young lovers, forbidden to be with each other, housed right next door. When they sneak out to meet, Thisbe runs from a lioness and leaves her veil behind only to have Pyramus arrive to see what he thinks is a predator with a bloody grin. The two end up taking their own lives in sorrow and inspiring tales like Romeo and Juliet. 

Pyramus and Thisbe, House of Dionysus

This story is in a way an warning allegory about passion and excess–it reflects the kind of love that burns bright and then fades. The frantic love of youth is a memory. It inflames, but is hard to sustain.

The one story from the ancient world that has always seemed to me to understand love the most is Baucis and Philemon, also told by Ovid. They were an aging couple in a wicked city and when the gods came to test them, they were the only ones who offered strangers hospitality. In thanks, Hermes and Zeus turned their home into a temple and when they died, they turned into two trees, rooted near each other, and over time they grew so intertwined that you couldn’t tell where one started and the other ended but you could still clearly see the wood and character of each tree.

Jan van den Hoecke, “Peasants Philemon and Baucis visited by Jupiter and Mercury.”

This too is an allegory for love: the way people grow together and change, shaping and shaped in turn, creating a life and story that is so intertwined that you cannot remember where one starts and the other ends. As I have learned in spending more than half my life with my partner, few gifts are more comforting and sustaining, to be part of something bigger while still yet becoming yourself. Passion inspires us to love; life requires us to team up and face the daily struggle, age and the passage of time brings this great, unexpected gift: becoming more than yourself by loving someone else.

May you bring joy to your friends and eliminate your enemies, may you feel the passion of youth for as long as it burns, and may you grow so close and strong together that no power on earth can move you apart.

 

I am presiding over another wedding this spring (!) and will have to come up with new stories to tell. 

“The One You Love”: The Best Love Poem Ever

Sappho, fr. 16

Some say a force of horsemen, some say infantry
and others say a fleet of ships is the loveliest
thing on the dark earth, but I say it is
the one you love

It is altogether simple to make this understood
since she whose beauty outmatched all,
Helen, left her husband
a most noble man

And went sailing to Troy
Without a thought for her child and dear parents
[Love] made her completely insane
And led her astray

This reminds me of absent Anaktoria

I would rather watch her lovely walk
and see the shining light of her face
than Lydian chariots followed by
infantrymen in arms

Οἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον, οἰ δὲ πέσδων,
οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ’ ἐπὶ γᾶν μέλαιναν
ἔμμεναι κάλλιστον, ἐγὼ δὲ κῆν’ ὄτ-
τω τις ἔραται

πά]γχυ δ’ εὔμαρες σύνετον πόησαι
πά]ντι τ[οῦ]τ’· ἀ γὰρ πολὺ περσκέθοισα
κά]λλος ἀνθρώπων Ἐλένα [τὸ]ν ἄνδρα
τὸν πανάριστον
/ [κρίννεν ἄρ]ιστον

καλλίποισ’ ἔβας ‘ς Τροίαν πλέοισα
/ ὂσ τὸ πὰν] σέβασ τροΐα[σ ὄ]λεσσ[ε,
κωὐδὲ παῖδος οὐδὲ φίλων τοκήων
πάμπαν ἐμνάσθη, ἀλλὰ παράγαγ’ αὔταν
οὐκ ἀέκοισαν
/ πῆλε φίλει]σαν

Κύπρις· εὔκαμπτον γὰρ ἔφυ βρότων κῆρ
] κούφως τ . . . οη . . . ν
κἄμε νῦν Ἀνακτορίας ὀνέμναι-
σ’ οὐ παρεοίσας

/ Ὠροσ. εὔκ]αμπτον γαρ [ἀεὶ τὸ θῆλυ]
αἴ κέ] τισ κούφωσ τ[ὸ πάρον ν]οήσῃ.
οὐ]δὲ νῦν, Ἀνακτορί[α, τ]ὺ μέμναι
δὴ] παρειοῖσασ,

τᾶς κε βολλοίμαν ἔρατόν τε βᾶμα
κἀμάρυχμα λάμπρον ἴδην προσώπω
ἢ τὰ Λύδων ἄρματα κἀν ὄπλοισι
πεσδομάχεντας.

 

petrarch1

Aelian, Fragment 187/190 (from Stobaeus 3.29.58)

“Solon the Athenian, the son of Eksêkestides, when his nephew sang some song of Sappho at a drinking party, took pleasure in it and asked the young man to teach it to him. When someone asked why he was eager to learn it, he responded: “So, once I learn it, I may die.”

Σόλων ὁ ᾿Αθηναῖος ᾿Εξηκεστίδου παρὰ πότον τοῦ ἀδελφιδοῦ αὐτοῦ μέλος τι Σαπφοῦς ᾄσαντος, ἥσθη τῷ μέλει καὶ προσέταξε τῷ μειρακίῳ διδάξει αὐτόν. ἐρωτήσαντος δέ τινος διὰ ποίαν αἰτίαν τοῦτο σπουδάσειεν, ὃ δὲ ἔφη ‘ἵνα μαθὼν αὐτὸ ἀποθάνω.’