Artist, Paint My Girlfriend. Then My Boyfriend Too.

Anacreonta 16

“Come on, best of the painters,
Paint! Best of the Painters,
Expert in the Rhoadian art,
Paint my girlfriend who is away
Just as I tell you to.

First, paint her hair
Soft and black as it is.
As much as the wax can handle,
Make it smell of perfume.
Then make her whole cheek
Beneath her dark hair
Her ivory forehead.

Don’t separate her eyebrows
Or let them touch
Leave them as they are
Touching almost without notice,
The dark circles of her lashes.

Make her glance true
Bright like fire, flashing
Like Athena’s gaze,
But wet like Cythera’s
Color her nose and cheeks,
Mixing milk together with rose.

Dye her lips like Persuasion’s,
Just begging for kisses.
Have all the Graces fly
Beneath her chin
Around her marble smooth neck.

Dress the rest of her
In purple robes
But leave a little skin to see
Proof of her body below.

Stop! I am looking at her.
Wax–you’ll be chatting me up soon!”

ἄγε, ζωγράφων ἄριστε,
γράφε, ζωγράφων ἄριστε,
Ῥοδίης κοίρανε τέχνης,
ἀπεοῦσαν, ὡς ἂν εἴπω,
γράφε τὴν ἐμὴν ἑταίρην.

γράφε μοι τρίχας τὸ πρῶτον
ἁπαλάς τε καὶ μελαίνας·
ὁ δὲ κηρὸς ἂν δύνηται,
γράφε καὶ μύρου πνεούσας.

γράφε δ᾿ ἐξ ὅλης παρειῆς
ὑπὸ πορφυραῖσι χαίταις
ἐλεφάντινον μέτωπον.
τὸ μεσόφρυον δὲ μή μοι
διάκοπτε μήτε μίσγε,

ἐχέτω δ᾿, ὅπως ἐκείνη,
τὸ λεληθότως σύνοφρυ,
βλεφάρων ἴτυν κελαινήν.

τὸ δὲ βλέμμα νῦν ἀληθῶς
ἀπὸ τοῦ πυρὸς ποίησον,
ἅμα γλαυκόν, ὡς Ἀθήνης,
ἅμα δ᾿ ὑγρόν, ὡς Κυθήρης.
γράφε ῥῖνα καὶ παρειὰς
ῥόδα τῷ γάλακτι μίξας·

γράφε χεῖλος, οἷα Πειθοῦς,
προκαλούμενον φίλημα.
τρυφεροῦ δ᾿ ἔσω γενείου
περὶ λυγδίνῳ τραχήλῳ
Χάριτες πέτοιντο πᾶσαι.
στόλισον τὸ λοιπὸν αὐτὴν
ὑποπορφύροισι πέπλοις,
διαφαινέτω δὲ σαρκῶν
ὀλίγον, τὸ σῶμ᾿ ἐλέγχον.
ἀπέχει· βλέπω γὰρ αὐτήν·
τάχα, κηρέ, καὶ λαλήσεις.

Anacreonta 17

“Paint my dear Bathullos,
My boyfriend, as I instruct.
Make his hair bright–
Dark underneath,
But sun-brightened on top.
Add his curls free
Of the rest, set in a mess
As they wish.

Make his forehead crowned
With eyebrows, darker than serpents.
Leave his eyes black, fierce
Mixed with peace.
Their ferocity is from Ares
Their peace is from Cythera–
He uses them to frighten at times
And to dangle hope in others.

Give his tender cheek
And apple’s red glow–
And, if you can manage,
Add Modesty’s light blush.

I don’t know how you can make his lips
Gentle yet still compelling.
So let the wax itself
Hold it all, chatting in silence.

Below his face give him a neck
Nicer ivory than Adonis had.
Provide him with Hermes’ chest
And his two hands.
Grant him Polydeuces’ thighs
and Dionysus’ belly.
Above his tender thighs,
Thighs holding roiling fire,
Give him a sufficient penis,
Already longing for the Paphian.

Unfortunately, your art begrudges:
It is incapable of showing his
Back. That would have been nicer.

Why do I need to tell you about his feet?
Take my money, however much you say.
Record this Apollo and
Make me a Bathullos.

And if you ever visit Samos,
Paint an Apollo after my Bathyllos.”

γράφε μοι Βάθυλλον οὕτω,
τὸν ἑταῖρον, ὡς διδάσκω·
λιπαρὰς κόμας ποίησον,
τὰ μὲν ἔνδοθεν μελαίνας,
τὰ δ᾿ ἐς ἄκρον ἡλιώσας·
ἕλικας δ᾿ ἐλευθέρους μοι
πλοκάμων ἄτακτα συνθεὶς
ἄφες, ὡς θέλωσι, κεῖσθαι.

ἁπαλὸν δὲ καὶ δροσῶδες
στεφέτω μέτωπον ὀφρὺς
κυανωτέρη δρακόντων.
μέλαν ὄμμα γοργὸν ἔστω
κεκερασμένον γαλήνῃ,
τὸ μὲν ἐξ Ἄρηος ἕλκον,
τὸ δὲ τῆς καλῆς Κυθήρης,
ἵνα τις τὸ μὲν φοβῆται,
τὸ δ᾿ ἀπ᾿ ἐλπίδος κρεμᾶται.

ῥοδέην δ᾿ ὁποῖα μῆλον
χνοΐην ποίει παρειήν·
ἐρύθημα δ᾿ ὡς ἂν Αἰδοῦς,
δύνασ᾿ εἰ βαλεῖν, ποίησον.
τὸ δὲ χεῖλος οὐκέτ᾿ οἶδα
τίνι μοι τρόπῳ ποιήσεις
ἁπαλὸν γέμον τε πειθοῦς·

τὸ δὲ πᾶν ὁ κηρὸς αὐτὸς
ἐχέτω λαλῶν σιωπῇ.
μετὰ δὲ πρόσωπον ἔστω
τὸν Ἀδώνιδος παρελθὼν
ἐλεφάντινος τράχηλος.

μεταμάζιον δὲ ποίει
διδύμας τε χεῖρας Ἑρμοῦ,
Πολυδεύκεος δὲ μηρούς,
Διονυσίην δὲ νηδύν·
ἁπαλῶν δ᾿ ὕπερθε μηρῶν,

μαλερὸν τὸ πῦρ ἐχόντων,
ἀφελῆ ποίησον αἰδῶ
Παφίην θέλουσαν ἤδη.
φθονερὴν ἔχεις δὲ τέχνην,
ὅτι μὴ τὰ νῶτα δεῖξαι

δύνασαι· τὰ δ᾿ ἦν ἀμείνω.
τί με δεῖ πόδας διδάσκειν;
λάβε μισθόν, ὅσσον εἴπῃς.
τὸν Ἀπόλλωνα δὲ τοῦτον
καθελὼν ποίει Βάθυλλον·

ἢν δ᾿ ἐς Σάμον ποτ᾿ ἔλθῃς,
γράφε Φοῖβον ἐκ Βαθύλλου.

17th century poretait of an artist looking at viewer while painting a woman. Everyone is clothed.

Self Portrait of the Artist Painting his Wife, Giulio Quaglio I 1628

Love’s Pains and Worse

Anacreonta 29

“Not falling in love hurts.
Yet falling in love hurts too.
But more painful than everything
Is to fail at loving completely.

Family means nothing to love.
Wisdom, manner are crushed.
Only money matters.
I wish the first person who loved money
Would have died.

Because of it, no brother matters
Because of it, no parents matter.
Wars, murders–because of money.
And this is worse. Those of us who love
Lose because of money.”

χαλεπὸν τὸ μὴ φιλῆσαι,
χαλεπὸν δὲ καὶ φιλῆσαι,
χαλεπώτερον δὲ πάντων
ἀποτυγχάνειν φιλοῦντα.

γένος οὐδὲν εἰς Ἔρωτα·
σοφίη, τρόπος πατεῖται·
μόνον ἄργυρον βλέπουσιν.

διὰ τοῦτον οὐκ ἀδελφός,
διὰ τοῦτον οὐ τοκῆες·
πόλεμοι, φόνοι δι᾿ αὐτόν.
τὸ δὲ χεῖρον· ὀλλύμεσθα
διὰ τοῦτον οἱ φιλοῦντες

Anacreonta 30

“I imagined I was running in a dream,,
But on my shoulders wearing wings.
Love dragged lead somehow
On his pretty feet,
As he was pursuing, almost catching me.

What does this dream want to mean?
I imagine that while I
Have been wrapped up in many
Loves and have slipped away from some
I am caught, stuck, in this one.”

ἐδόκουν ὄναρ τροχάζειν
πτέρυγας φέρων ἐπ᾿ ὤμων·
ὁ δ᾿ Ἔρως ἔχων μόλιβδον
περὶ τοῖς καλοῖς ποδίσκοις
ἐδίωκε καὶ κίχανεν.

τί θέλει δ᾿ ὄναρ τόδ᾿ εἶναι;
δοκέω δ᾿ ἔγωγε πολλοῖς
ἐν ἔρωσί με πλακέντα
διολισθάνειν μὲν ἄλλους,
ἑνὶ τῷδε συνδεθῆναι.

Jacob Jordaens - A bearded man and a woman with a parrot, allegory of unrequited love
Jacob Jordaens, “A bearded man and a woman with a parrot: “Unrequited Love”” 1640 (?)

The Last Infirmity

Here are two lyric expressions (Sappho and Callimachus) of the Greek idea that poetry in some fashion bestows immortality, or at least compensates for the ineluctable fact of mortality.

(Milton, for all his attachment to Greek things, dismissed the desire for poetic fame as “that last infirmity of noble mind.”)

Sappho Fr. 55.

Once you die, there you will lie, forgotten.
There will be no lasting longing for you.
The Pierian roses were not your thing;
So, as a no-body in Hades’ demesne
You will move among the obscure dead–
Once, as I say, you have flown away.

κατθάνοισα δὲ κείσῃ οὐδέ ποτα μναμοσύνα σέθεν
ἔσσετ’ οὐδὲ πόθα εἰς ὔστερον· οὐ γὰρ πεδέχῃς βρόδων
τὼν ἐκ Πιερίας, ἀλλ’ ἀφάνης κἀν Ἀίδα δόμῳ
φοιτάσῃς πεδ’ ἀμαύρων νεκύων ἐκπεποταμένα.

Callimachus 2. (Gow-Page 34)

Heraclitus, someone spoke of your death.
It made me cry to recall all the times
Our tête-à-têtes brought on sunset.
O my Halicarnassian friend,
You have been ashes a long long while,
But your nightingales still live!
Hades (Universal Thief) will not touch them.

εἶπέ τις, Ἡράκλειτε, τεὸν μόρον, ἐς δέ με δάκρυ
ἤγαγεν, ἐμνήσθην δ᾽ ὁσσάκις ἀμφότεροι
ἥλιον ἐν λέσχῃ κατεδύσαμεν: ἀλλὰ σὺ μέν που,
ξεῖν᾽ Ἁλικαρνησεῦ, τετράπαλαι σποδιή:
αἱ δὲ τεαὶ ζώουσιν ἀηδόνες, ᾗσιν ὁ πάντων
ἁρπακτὴς Ἀίδης οὐκ ἐπὶ χεῖρα βαλεῖ.

“Remember my name!
I’m going to live forever!
I’m going to learn how to fly!”

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

The Things I would Be For You To Walk All Over Me

Anacreonta 22

“Once upon a time
Tantalos’ daughter stood,
A stone on Phrygian river banks;
And Pandion’s daughter flew,
A bird, a swallow.

I wish I could become a mirror
So you would always look at me–
I wish I could become a robe
So you would always carry me–
I wish I could become water,
So I could wash over your skin;
I wish I could be perfume
So I could decorate you, my love.

To be support for your breasts
Or pearls for your neck or
Even a sandal I would be,
just for you to touch me with your feet.”

ἡ Ταντάλου ποτ᾿ ἔστη
λίθος Φρυγῶν ἐν ὄχθαις,
καὶ παῖς ποτ᾿ ὄρνις ἔπτη
Πανδίονος χελιδών.

ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἔσοπτρον εἴην,
ὅπως ἀεὶ βλέπῃς με·
ἐγὼ χιτὼν γενοίμην,
ὅπως ἀεὶ φορῇς με.
ὕδωρ θέλω γενέσθαι,
ὅπως σε χρῶτα λούσω·
μύρον, γύναι, γενοίμην,
ὅπως ἐγώ σ᾿ ἀλείψω.

καὶ ταινίη δὲ μασθῷ
καὶ μάργαρον τραχήλῳ
καὶ σανδαλον γενοίμην·
μόνον ποσὶν πάτει με.

Aphrodite and Eros. Inner decoration of a Greek folding mirror.
Gilt bronze, from Tarquinia, c. 350 BCE. The Louvre, Paris.

Before I Join The Dance of the Dead

Anacreonta 32

“I want to lay out a seat
Of soft myrtle shoots
And lotus flowers to give a toast,
Once love binds his tunic
Right below his neck with papyrus
Have him pour me some wine.

Life races by, turning
like the wheel of a chariot.
Soon we will be stretched out,
dust from crumbling bones.
Why should you perfume a stone?
Why pour wine pointlessly on the earth?

Anoint me while I live instead.
Crown my head with roses.
Call my girlfriend to come..

Love, before I leave here
For the underworld dance,
I want to scatter my worries away.”

ἐπὶ μυρσίναις τερείναις
ἐπὶ λωτίναις τε ποίαις
στορέσας θέλω προπίνειν.
ὁ δ᾿ Ἔρως χιτῶνα δήσας
ὑπὲρ αὐχένος παπύρῳ
μέθυ μοι διακονείτω·

τροχὸς ἅρματος γὰρ οἷα
βίοτος τρέχει κυλισθείς,
ὀλίγη δὲ κεισόμεσθα
κόνις ὀστέων λυθέντων.

τί σε δεῖ λίθον μυρίζειν;
τί δὲ γῇ χέειν μάταια;
ἐμὲ μᾶλλον, ὡς ἔτι ζῶ,
μύρισον, ῥόδοις δὲ κρᾶτα
πύκασον, κάλει δ᾿ ἑταίρην·

πρίν, Ἔρως, ἐκεῖ μ᾿ ἀπελθεῖν
ὑπὸ νερτέρων χορείας,
σκεδάσαι θέλω μερίμνας.

Spreuerbrucke Panel 1, The Dance of Dead. between 1626 and 1635

Shot Through the Heart, Losing at Love

Anacreonta 13

“Oh, I want to love, I do.
Love told me to
But I was thoughtless
I was unpersuaded.
He immediately took his bow
And his golden quiver
And challenged me to duel.

I draped my breastplate
From my shoulders
Like Achilles with my two spears
And my ox-hide shield
I went one-on-one with love.

He shot, but I dodged!
And when his arrows were gone
He was forlorn.
So he threw himself at a javelin,
Shot me through the heart
And weakened all my limbs,

I hold a pointless shield.
Why aim at others
When the battle is inside of me?”

θέλω, θέλω φιλῆσαι.
ἔπειθ᾿ Ἔρως φιλεῖν με·
ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἔχων νόημα
ἄβουλον οὐκ ἐπείσθην.
ὁ δ᾿ εὐθὺ τόξον ἄρας
καὶ χρυσέην φαρέτρην
μάχῃ με προὐκαλεῖτο.
κἀγὼ λαβὼν ἐπ᾿ ὤμων
θώρηχ᾿, ὅπως Ἀχιλλεύς,
καὶ δοῦρα καὶ βοείην
ἐμαρνάμην Ἔρωτι.
ἔβαλλ᾿, ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἔφευγον.
ὡς δ᾿ οὐκέτ᾿ εἶχ᾿ ὀιστούς,
ἤσχαλλεν, εἶτ᾿ ἑαυτὸν
ἀφῆκεν εἰς βέλεμνον·
μέσος δὲ καρδίης μευ
ἔδυνε καὶ μ᾿ ἔλυσεν·
μάτην δ᾿ ἔχω βοείην·
τί γὰρ βάλωμεν ἔξω,
μάχης ἔσω μ᾿ ἐχούσης;

Polyxena Sarcophagus Now in Troy Museum

“You Give Love A Bad Name”

Shot through the heart
And you’re to blame
Darling, you give love a bad name

An angel’s smile is what you sell
You promise me heaven, then put me through hell
Chains of love got a hold on me
When passion’s a prison, you can’t break free

Oh, oh, you’re a loaded gun
Oh, oh, there’s nowhere to run
No one can save me
The damage is done

Shot through the heart
And you’re to blame
You give love a bad name (bad name)
I play my part
And you play your game
You give love a bad name (bad name)
You give love
A bad name

Paint your smile on your lips
Blood red nails on your fingertips
A school boy’s dream, you act so shy
Your very first kiss was your first kiss goodbye

Oh, oh, you’re a loaded gun
Oh, oh, there’s nowhere to run
No one can save me
The damage is done

Goodbye Heroes!

Anacreonta 23

“I want to speak of the Atreides,
And I am willing to sing about Kadmos
But the sound of my strings
Echoes only with Love.

Just yesterday I changed my strings,
And then the whole lyre,
And I was trying to sing
The labors of Herakles.
But the lyre returned
Only the sound of Love.

So, Goodbye, heroes,
For the rest of my life.
My lyre sings only tales of Love”

θέλω λέγειν Ἀτρείδας,
θέλω δὲ Κάδμον ᾄδειν,
ἁ βάρβιτος δὲ χορδαῖς
Ἔρωτα μοῦνον ἠχεῖ.

ἤμειψα νεῦρα πρώην
καὶ τὴν λύρην ἅπασαν·
κἀγὼ μὲν ᾖδον ἄθλους
Ἡρακλέους· λύρη δὲ
Ἔρωτας ἀντεφώνει.

χαίροιτε λοιπὸν ἡμῖν,
ἥρωες· ἡ λύρη γὰρ
μόνους Ἔρωτας ᾄδει.

Pietro Perugino, “Fortitude and Temperance with Six Antique Heroes” c. 1497-1500 [fresco]

Love, A Funny Pairing with Wine

Anacreonta, 6

“When I was weaving a garland
I found Love amid the roses
And I grabbed him by the wings
And dunked him in my wine.

I drank that little guy down
And now he’s inside me still
Tickling me with his wings”

στέφος πλέκων ποτ᾿ εὗρον
ἐν τοῖς ῥόδοις Ἔρωτα,
καὶ τῶν πτερῶν κατασχὼν
ἐβάπτισ᾿ εἰς τὸν οἶνον,

λαβὼν δ᾿ ἔπινον αὐτόν·
καὶ νῦν ἔσω μελῶν μου
πτεροῖσι γαργαλίζει.

Abraham Woodside, “Cupid in a Wine Glass” 1840s

Life’s Games at Any Age

Anacreonta 7

The women say
“Anacreon, you’re old
Look at a mirror and see
Your hair has gone missing,
Your brow is picked clean”

I don’t know whether
My hair is going or gone
But I know this:

Pleasurable games are fine
For an old man
As long as Life lingers on.”

λέγουσιν αἱ γυναῖκες·
‘Ἀνάκρεον, γέρων εἶ·
λαβὼν ἔσοπτρον ἄθρει
κόμας μὲν οὐκέτ᾿ οὔσας,
ψιλὸν δέ σευ μέτωπον.’

ἐγὼ δὲ τὰς κόμας μέν,
εἴτ᾿ εἰσὶν εἴτ᾿ ἀπῆλθον,
οὐκ οἶδα· τοῦτο δ᾿ οἶδα,
ὡς τῷ γέροντι μᾶλλον

πρέπει τὸ τερπνὰ παίζειν,
ὅσῳ πέλας τὰ Μοίρης.

Close-up crop of BHC2720 – Captain Lord George Graham in his Cabin (1715-1747). William Hogarth

Drink, Don’t Think About Tomorrow!

Anacreonta 8

“I don’t care about Gyges’ riches,
That Lord of Sardis–
Envy has never overtaken me
And I’m not jealous of tyrants.

I do care about
perfuming my hair
And weaving rose
Garlands to wear.

I care about today.
Who knows tomorrow?

So while the weather’s still good
Drink and dice and
Pour out some Luaios.
Before some disease comes to say
You can’t drink any longer.”

οὔ μοι μέλει τὰ Γύγεω,
τοῦ Σάρδεων ἄνακτος·
οὐδ᾿ εἷλέ πώ με ζῆλος,
οὐδὲ φθονῶ τυράννοις.

ἐμοὶ μέλει μύροισιν
καταβρέχειν ὑπήνην,
ἐμοὶ μέλει ῥόδοισιν
καταστέφειν κάρηνα·

τὸ σήμερον μέλει μοι,
τὸ δ᾿ αὔριον τίς οἶδεν;

ὡς οὖν ἔτ᾿ εὔδι᾿ ἔστιν,
καὶ πῖνε καὶ κύβευε
καὶ σπένδε τῷ Λυαίῳ,
μὴ νοῦσος, ἤν τις ἔλθῃ,
λέγῃ, ‘σὲ μὴ δεῖ πίνειν.

“Is that all there is ?” , by Erik Pevernagie, oil on canvas