The Secret Keys to Sex and Pretense

Pindar, Pythian 9.37-51

“The mighty Centaur laughed brightly
With a soft brow, and immediately offered
His own wisdom: “The locks of holy sex
Are secrets of wise Persuasion, Apollo.
Gods and humans similarly avoid
Climbing quickly into bed openly, for the first time at least.

Even so, your moving lust persuaded you
To offer this speech when it is wrong For you to lie.

Are you really asking where the girl is from, lord?
You’re the one who knows the proper end of all things
And the paths that leads to them-=-
How many leaves the earth sprouts in the spring
And how many sands in the rivers and the sea
Swirl in the waves and the driven winds
Or what will be and where it will come from–
You know all of this well.

But, if it is my duty match one so wise,
I will speak…”

τὸν δὲ Κένταυρος ζαμενής, ἀγανᾷ
χλοαρὸν γελάσσαις ὀφρύι, μῆτιν ἑάν
εὐθὺς ἀμείβετο· “κρυπταὶ κλαΐδες ἐντὶ σοφᾶς
Πειθοῦς ἱερᾶν φιλοτάτων,
Φοῖβε, καὶ ἔν τε θεοῖς τοῦτο κἀνθρώποις ὁμῶς
αἰδέοντ᾿, ἀμφανδὸν ἁδεί-
ας τυχεῖν τὸ πρῶτον εὐνᾶς.
καὶ γὰρ σέ, τὸν οὐ θεμιτὸν ψεύδει θιγεῖν,
ἔτραπε μείλιχος ὀργὰ παρφάμεν τοῦ-
τον λόγον, κούρας δ᾿ ὁπόθεν γενεάν
ἐξερωτᾷς, ὦ ἄνα; κύριον ὃς πάντων τέλος
οἶσθα καὶ πάσας κελεύθους·
ὅσσα τε χθὼν ἠρινὰ φύλλ᾿ ἀναπέμπει, χὠπόσαι
ἐν θαλάσσᾳ καὶ ποταμοῖς ψάμαθοι
κύμασιν ῥιπαῖς τ᾿ ἀνέμων κλονέονται,
χὤ τι μέλλει, χὠπόθεν
ἔσσεται, εὖ καθορᾷς.
εἰ δὲ χρὴ καὶ πὰρ σοφὸν ἀντιφερίξαι,
ἐρέω·

A fresco from naples (wall painting): From left to right: Apollo (of the Apollo Lykeios type), Chiron, and Asclepius.
Fresco, 1st Century CE from Pompeii

An Archaic Love Song

Sophocles, Antigone, 781-800.

Love, unbeatable in war,
Love, who ravishes wealth,
Who in the soft cheeks
Of girls keeps vigil,
And who roams the seas
And rustic hideaways:
Gods can’t elude you,
Nor can mortal men.
Who admits you goes mad.

You wrench just men’s minds
Into shameful wrongs.
(This family strife between men,
It’s you who stirred it.)
Desire, clear in the eyes
Of a fetching bride, prevails.
Desire reigns
Beside the great laws.
Irresistible god
Aphrodite frolics.

Ἔρως ἀνίκατε μάχαν,
Ἔρως, ὃς ἐν κτήμασι πίπτεις,
ὃς ἐν μαλακαῖς παρειαῖς
νεάνιδος ἐννυχεύεις,
φοιτᾷς δʼ ὑπερπόντιος ἔν τʼ
ἀγρονόμοις αὐλαῖς·
καί σʼ οὔτʼ ἀθανάτων φύξιμος οὐδεὶς
οὔθʼ ἁμερίων σέ γʼ ἀν-
θρώπων. ὁ δʼ ἔχων μέμηνεν.

σὺ καὶ δικαίων ἀδίκους
φρένας παρασπᾷς ἐπὶ λώβᾳ·
σὺ καὶ τόδε νεῖκος ἀνδρῶν
ξύναιμον ἔχεις ταράξας·
νικᾷ δʼ ἐναργὴς βλεφάρων
ἵμερος εὐλέκτρου
νύμφας, τῶν μεγάλων πάρεδρος ἐν ἀρχαῖς
θεσμῶν. ἄμαχος γὰρ ἐμ-
παίζει θεὸς Ἀφροδίτα.

Tarnished bronze statuette: Nude venus holding hand of winged cupid
Aphrodite Spanking Eros.
c.1st Century BC. Bronze.
J. Paul Getty Museum.

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.

A Desire in My Little Maddened Heart

Sappho, fr. 1 [1 D. H. Comp. 23 (vi 114ss. Usener–Radermacher) (+P. Oxy. 2288)]

“Fine-throned, Immortal Aphrodite,
Trick-weaving child of Zeus, I beg you,
Don’t overcome my heart, Queen
With foolishness and pain

But come to me, if ever in days gone by
You heard my voice as you listened from afar
then left your father’s golden home
And came–

Once you readied your chariot and
Your beautiful swift sparrows carried you
As they flew with fast beats around the dark earth
Midway beneath the sky–

They arrived quickly. Then you, goddess,
Grinned in your deathless way
And asked what’s wrong with me now and
Why I was calling again

And what I really wanted in my little maddened heart
To happen. ‘Whom shall I cajole this time
To accept you back into her love? Who hurt you
Sappho?

If she avoids you, she’ll chase you soon enough.
If she won’t take your presents,  she’ll send some soon.
If she doesn’t love you now, soon she will love
Even if she is reluctant.’

Come to me now, too! Free me from my hard
Worry. Bring to pass all the things
My heart clings to. And you–
By my ally yourself.”

ποικιλόθρον᾿ ἀθανάτ᾿ Αφρόδιτα,
παῖ Δίος δολόπλοκε, λίσσομαί σε,
μή μ᾿ ἄσαισι μηδ᾿ ὀνίαισι δάμνα,
πότνια, θῦμον,

ἀλλὰ τυίδ᾿ ἔλθ᾿, αἴ ποτα κἀτέρωτα
τὰς ἔμας αὔδας ἀίοισα πήλοι
ἔκλυες, πάτρος δὲ δόμον λίποισα
χρύσιον ἦλθες

ἄρμ᾿ ὐπασδεύξαισα· κάλοι δέ σ᾿ ἆγον
ὤκεες στροῦθοι περὶ γᾶς μελαίνας
πύκνα δίννεντες πτέρ᾿ ἀπ᾿ ὠράνωἴθε-
ρος διὰ μέσσω,

αἶψα δ᾿ ἐξίκοντο· σὺ δ᾿, ὦ μάκαιρα,
μειδιαίσαισ᾿ ἀθανάτῳ προσώπῳ
ἤρε᾿ ὄττι δηὖτε πέπονθα κὤττι
δηὖτε κάλημμι,

κὤττι μοι μάλιστα θέλω γένεσθαι
μαινόλᾳ θύμῳ· τίνα δηὖτε πείθω
ἄψ σ᾿ ἄγην ἐς ϝὰν φιλότατα; τίς σ᾿, ὦ
Ψάπφ᾿, ἀδικήει;

καὶ γὰρ αἰ φεύγει, ταχέως διώξει·
αἰ δὲ δῶρα μὴ δέκετ᾿, ἀλλὰ δώσει·
αἰ δὲ μὴ φίλει, ταχέως φιλήσει
κωὐκ ἐθέλοισα.

ἔλθε μοι καὶ νῦν, χαλέπαν δὲ λῦσον
ἐκ μερίμναν, ὄσσα δέ μοι τέλεσσαι
θῦμος ἰμέρρει, τέλεσον· σὺ δ᾿ αὔτα
σύμμαχος ἔσσο.

Dionysus of Halicarnassus: “The elegance and beauty of this selection resides in how it fits together and the fluidity of its connections.” ταύτης τῆς λέξεως ἡ εὐέπεια καὶ ἡ χάρις ἐν τῇ συνεχείᾳ καὶ λειότητι γέγονε τῶν ἁρμονιῶν.

Inside of a cup, white background. Image of a female figure riding a swan
Attic white-ground red-figured kylix of Aphrodite riding a swan (c. 460 BCE) found at Kameiros (Rhodes)

Like the Rose-Toed Moon

Sappho fr. 96  P. Berol. 9722 fol. 5

“She was looking at you as a goddess
And took special pleasure in your song.

Now she stands out among the Lydian women
The way the rose-toed moon outshines
All of the stars at the moment
When the sun goes down–
Her light falls over the briny sea
And the flowering fields equally.

Dew drips down in beauty
And roses open their blooms
Along with soft chervil and
Blossoming melilot.

As she moves back and forth
She often recalls Atthis with longing,
And she burdens her sensitive thoughts
Because of you…”

σε θέαι σ᾿ ἰκέλαν ἀριγνώται,
σᾶι δὲ μάλιστ᾿ ἔχαιρε μόλπα.
νῦν δὲ Λύδαισιν ἐμπρέπεται γυναί-
κεσσιν ὤς ποτ᾿ ἀελίω
δύντος ἀ βροδοδάκτυλος σελάννα
πάντα περρέχοισ᾿ ἄστρα· φάος δ᾿ ἐπί-
σχει θάλασσαν ἐπ᾿ ἀλμύραν
ἴσως καὶ πολυανθέμοις ἀρούραις·
ἀ δ᾿ ἐέρσα κάλα κέχυται, τεθά-
λαισι δὲ βρόδα κἄπαλ᾿ ἄνθρυσκα
καὶ μελίλωτος ἀνθεμώδης·
πόλλα δὲ ζαφοίταισ᾿, ἀγάνας ἐπι-
μνάσθεισ᾿ Ἄτθιδος ἰμέρῳ
λέπταν ποι φρένα κ[ᾶ][ι σᾶι] βόρηται·
κῆθι δ᾿ ἔλθην ἀμμ . [ . . ] . . ισα τδ᾿ οὐ

a red moon rising. Photograph.

Leave, But Remember Me

Saphho, fr. 94 [=P. Berol. 9722 fol. 2]

“I just want to die.
She left me, weeping,
And said this:

“We have suffered so terribly,
Sappho. It is not my choice
To leave you”. And I responded,

“Leave and be well, but remember me
Since you know how I cherished you.
If you can’t, I want to remind you
[….]
And of all the beautiful things we shared.

You came with many garlands
Of roses and violets with me
And then you sat by my side,
And placed many garlands
Woven from flowers around your
Soft neck–

Then you graced yourself
With perfume for a queen
And on a soft bed
You would encounter,
Gentle desire…”

τεθνάκην δ᾿ ἀδόλως θέλω·
ἄ με ψισδομένα κατελίμπανεν
πόλλα καὶ τόδ᾿ ἔειπ [μοι·
῾ὤιμ᾿ ὠς δεῖνα πεπ[όνθ]αμεν,
Ψάπφ᾿, ἦ μάν σ᾿ ἀέκοισ᾿ ἀπυλιμπάνω.᾿
τὰν δ᾿ ἔγω τάδ᾿ ἀμειβόμαν·
῾χαίροισ᾿ ἔρχεο κἄμεθεν
μέμναισ᾿, οἶσθα γὰρ ὤς σε πεδήπομεν·
αἰ δὲ μή, ἀλλά σ᾿ ἔγω θέλω
ὄμναισαι [ . . . . ] . [ . . . ] . . αι
. . [ ]καὶ κάλ᾿ ἐπάσχομεν.
π[λλοις γὰρ στεφάν]οις ἴων
καὶ βρ[όδων κρο]ίων τ᾿ ὔμοι
κα . . [ ] πὰρ ἔμοι περεθήκαο,
καὶ π[λλαις ὐπα]θύμιδας
πλέκ[ταις ἀμφ᾿ ἀ]πάλαι δέραι
ἀνθέων [βαλες] πεποημμέναις,
καὶ π[ ]. μύρωι
βρενθείωι. [ ]υ[ . . ]ν
ἐξαλείψαο κ[ὶ βασ]ληίωι,
καὶ στρώμν[αν ἐ]πὶ μολθάκαν
ἀπάλαν πα . [ ] . . . ων
ἐξίης πόθ[ν ] . νίδων

red figure vase. A woman stands holding alyre looking to the right where we can see part of a man holding one too
Alcaeus and Sappho. Side A of an Attic red-figure kalathos, ca. 470 BC. From Akragas (Sicily). Beazley, ARV2, 385, 228

Anakreon Says, Hit it And Quit

Anacreonta 60b

“Come, my heart, why are you crazed
By that best kind of madness?
Come on, take your shot
So you can hit what you want and leave.

Let go of Aphrodite’s bow–
She used it to conquer the gods.
Imitate Anakreon,
The sweetest singer.
Tip a cup to the boys,
Your gorgeous cup of words.

Once we take some comfort
From the downing nektar,
We can run from the burning dogstar.”

ἄγε, θυμέ, πῇ μέμηνας
μανίην μανεὶς ἀρίστην;
τὸ βέλος, φέρε, κράτυνον,
σκοπὸν ὡς βαλὼν ἀπέλθῃς.

τὸ δὲ τόξον Ἀφροδίτης
ἄφες, ᾧ θεοὺς ἐνίκα.
τὸν Ἀνακρέοντα μιμοῦ,
τὸν ἀοίδιμον μελιστήν.
φιάλην πρόπινε παισίν,

φιάλην λόγων ἐραννήν·
ἀπὸ νέκταρος ποτοῖο
παραμύθιον λαβόντες
φλογερὸν φύγωμεν ἄστρον.

Close up of a red figure vase. Black background with an a nude archer in the foreground, aiming his bow to the left and drawing an arrow.
Archer, side B of an Attic red-figure eye-cup. Signed by Epiktetos as painter and by Pamphaios as potter.

Lust, Longing, and Laughter

Anacreonta 57

“Who shaped the sea?
What maddened craft
Poured waves on its platter?
Who was it over the water’s back
That sketched the shape of soft,
shining Kypris, after turning thoughts
To the gods, the beginning of divine creation?

He made her naked,
Cloaking only as much as it is improper
To see, with the waves.

And she wanders over them,
Like seaweed, pressing
Her soft-skinned body in a voyage
Over the calm white waves,
And shapes a wake in her passing.

A huge wave marks the place
Where her neck meets
Rosy breasts and there
Kypris shines bright amid the calm
In the water’s furrow, like
A lily twisted in the violets.

On the silver surface
Upon dancing dolphins,
Lust, Longing, and Laughter
Ride, sorrowful thoughts for mortals at times,
Along with a curved chorus of fish
Diving into the waves
At play in the very place
Where the Paphian swims while laughing.”

ἄρα τίς τόρευσε πόντον;
ἄρα τίς μανεῖσα τέχνα
ἀνέχευε κῦμα δίσκῳ;
ἐπὶ νῶτα τῆς θαλάττης
ἄρα τίς ὕπερθε λευκὰν
ἁπαλὰν χάραξε Κύπριν
νόον ἐς θεοὺς ἀερθείς,
μακάρων φύσιος ἀρχάν;
ὁ δέ νιν ἔδειξε γυμνάν,
ὅσα μὴ θέμις δ᾿ ὁρᾶσθαι
μόνα κύμασιν καλύπτει.

ἀλαλημένη δ᾿ ἐπ᾿ αὐτὰ
βρύον ὥς, ὕπερθε λευκᾶς
ἁπαλόχροον γαλήνας
δέμας εἰς πλόον φέρουσα,
ῥόθιον παρ᾿ οἶμον ἕλκει.

ῥοδέων δ᾿ ὕπερθε μαζῶν
ἁπαλῆς ἔνερθε δειρῆς
μέγα κῦμα χρῶτα τέμνει.
μέσον αὔλακος δὲ Κύπρις
κρίνον ὣς ἴοις ἑλιχθὲν
διαφαίνεται γαλήνας.

ὑπὲρ ἀργύρου δ᾿ ὀχοῦνται
ἐπὶ δελφῖσι χορευταῖς
† δολερὸν νόον μερόπων †
Ἔρος Ἵμερος γελῶν τε,
χορὸς ἰχθύων τε κυρτὸς
ἐπὶ κυμάτων κυβιστῶν
† Παφίης τε σῶμα † παίζει,
ἵνα νήχεται γελῶσα.

Wall painting. A naked Venus lies in repose on a giant oyster shell over a blue background. Little naked cherubs are on either side
Fresco from Pompei, Casa di Venus, 1st century CE

Love, And Some of His Own Medicine

Anacreonta 35

“Once, among the roses
Love didn’t notice
A sleeping bee
And it wounded him, biting his finger.
How he howled over his hand!

He rushed and flew
To beautiful Kythera and said
“I am dying, my mother.
I have been killed. I am dying.
That tiny snake struck me
The snake with wings. The one
The farmers call a honey-bee.”

She responded, “if the bee’s
Little sting hurts, then
How much do you imagine
All the people suffer
From your attacks?”

Ἔρως ποτ᾿ ἐν ῥόδοισι
κοιμωμένην μέλιτταν
οὐκ εἶδεν, ἀλλ᾿ ἐτρώθη·
τὸν δάκτυλον παταχθεὶς
τᾶς χειρὸς ὠλόλυξε.

δραμὼν δὲ καὶ πετασθεὶς
πρὸς τὴν καλὴν Κυθήρην
῾ὄλωλα, μῆτερ,’ εἶπεν,
῾ὄλωλα κἀποθνήσκω·
ὄφις μ᾿ ἔτυψε μικρὸς
πτερωτός, ὃν καλοῦσιν
μέλιτταν οἱ γεωργοί.’

ἁ δ᾿ εἶπεν· ῾εἰ τὸ κέντρον
πονεῖ τὸ τᾶς μελίττας,
πόσον δοκεῖς πονοῦσιν,
Ἔρως, ὅσους σὺ βάλλεις;’

Small GReek coin from the city of Ephesus. The side facing the camera shows a bee in the middle with the GReek letters epsilon and phi on other side
394-295 BC – silver tetradrachm – bee – München

Play, Laugh, Dance. Die.

Anacreonta 40

“Since I was made to journey
A mortal down life’s road
I can see how much time has passed
But not how much is left to go.

My worried thoughts, that’s enough–
Let’s have no business between us.

Before I meet my end,
I’m going to play, laugh and dance
With Luiaos, my pretty friend.”

ἐπειδὴ βροτὸς ἐτεύχθην
βιότου τρίβον ὁδεύειν,
χρόνον ἔγνων ὃν παρῆλθον,
ὃν δ᾿ ἔχω δραμεῖν οὐκ οἶδα.
† μέθετέ με, φροντίδες· †
μηδέν μοι χὔμιν ἔστω.
πρὶν ἐμὲ φθάσῃ τὸ τέλος,
παίξω, γελάσω, χορεύσω
μετὰ τοῦ καλοῦ Λυαίου.

oil painting, somewhat impressionistic. Figures in foreground working on road
Karoly Patko, “Road Construction” 1928

Betrayed by This Heat

Anacreonta 18

“Ladies, please give me
Give me wine to drink without pausing–
I am betrayed by the heat
And already whining out loud.

Give me garlands of his flowers
Give them to me so I can
Bind them closely to my roasted brow.

Yet, my heart, what can I use
To keep off the heat of my loves?

I will settle along the shade of Bathullos
That tree is pretty.
It lets tender locks sway
At the end of the softest branches.

Nearby a spring flows
Whispering persuasively.

Who upon seeing such a refuge
Could ever pass it by?”

δότε μοι, δότ᾿, ὦ γυναῖκες,
Βρομίου πιεῖν ἀμυστί·
ἀπὸ καύματος γὰρ ἤδη
προδοθεὶς ἀναστενάζω.

δότε δ᾿ ἀνθέων ἐκείνου
στεφάνους, δόθ᾿, ὡς πυκάζω
τὰ μέτωπά μου᾿ πίκαυτα·

τὸ δὲ καῦμα τῶν Ἐρώτων,
κραδίη, τίνι σκεπάζω;

παρὰ τὴν σκιὴν Βαθύλλου
καθίσω· καλὸν τὸ δένδρον,
ἁπαλὰς δ᾿ ἔσεισε χαίτας
μαλακωτάτῳ κλαδίσκῳ·
παρὰ δ᾿ αὐτὸν †ἐρεθίζει†
πηγὴ ῥέουσα πειθοῦς.
τίς ἄν οὖν ὁρῶν παρέλθοι
καταγώγιον τοιοῦτο;

Inside of a drinking krater–a mixing bowl for wine. This is a black vase with a red figure in the middle. The figure is a nude man with his head and shoulders in a giant wine jar