Seventeen ancient poems, translated from Greek and Latin by Thomas McEvilley
SEVENTEEN ANCIENT POEMS
Translated from Greek and Latin by Thomas McEvilley
Meleager of Gadara
Raising the Alarm
Meleager Commiserates with His Soul
Meleager Addresses His Servant Dorkas
Meleager Speaks to a Honey Bee
Instructions for Meleager’s Burial
Meleager Reproaches the Dawn
Meleager Reproaches the Dawn Again
An Address to the Bedside Lamp
Meleager Writes a Poem for the Police
Philodemus Reforms Again
Anacreon Speaks to the Ladies
Strategy for Living
Of these seventeen poems sixteen are in ancient Greek and were found in the collection called the Greek Anthology. Twelve of these sixteen were brief elegies of the type later called epigrams. Ten of these twelve are by Meleager of Gadara, who was Syrian by birth but Greek by education. His collection called the Garland (about 90 BC) established the style and spirit of the earliest anthologies of poems. The other two “epigrams” are by Philodemus, also of Gadara, who was an Epicurean philosopher of the circle of Calpurnius Piso in Herculaneum. The four selections from the Anacreontea are metrically different but also from the Greek Anthology. The seventeenth is the one Latin Poem, by Horace. All seventeen, with the possible exception of the undated Anacreontea, are from the first century BC. All are untitled in the original.
Help! He is gone. That wild boy, Love, has escaped!
Just now, as day was breaking, he flew from his bed and was gone.
Description? Sweetly tearful, talks forever, swift, irreverent,
Slyly laughing, wings on his back, and carries a quiver.
His last name? I don’t know, for his father and mother,
Whoever they are, in earth or heaven, won’t admit it.
Everyone hates him, you see. Take care, take care,
Or even now he’ll be weaving new snares for your heart.
But hush—look there, turn slowly. You don’t deceive me, boy,
Drawing your bow so softly where you hide in Zenophile’s eyes.
Didn’t I tell you, oh soul, “Look out, you’ll be caught,
You silly thing, if you flutter so near her net?”
Didn’t I warn you?
And now the trap is sprung.
Why struggle in vain?
Love has tied your little wings,
Sprinkled you with cheap perfume, set you fainting in the fire
And given you, in your thirst, hot tears to drink.
That’s the message, Dorkas, and when you’ve told it to her
Then tell it to her again, and then again, now hurry.
But wait a minute; hold on there; slowly, my Dorkas, slowly.
Why are you rushing off before you’ve heard all your instructions?
Say also that I—but no. It’s more manly to be silent.
Don’t tell her a goddamn thing. Say only that I--. Tell it all!
All of it Dorkas, all of it! But, Dorkas, why did I send you,
When, look, I have followed after you, all the way to her door?
Do you leave the flowers of spring,
The lilies and the rest,
And plant your little sting
In Heliodora’s breast
To show that in love’s wound,
So deep and terrible,
A sweetness may be found
That makes life bearable?
Oh, please, your news is wasted,
I knew it long ago.
Do you think I have not tasted
Where you, drunkard, linger so?
If anything happens to me,
Kleoboulos my friend,
(For I am not safe—
I lie like a curling vine
Flung in the fire of girls)
before you send
My ashes under earth
pour in strong wine,
Then on the drunken urn write,
Love sends this gift to death”—
And bury me and go.
Dawn hateful to lovers, why do you rise so quickly
Beside my bed when I lie with delicious Demo?
Can’t you turn round, run back and be night again,
And stop that sweet smiling that pours out poison light?
Once before you did that, when Zeus was enjoying Alcmena.
Oh, learned at running backward! You can’t say you don’t know how. . .
Dawn hateful to lovers, why do you roll so slowly
Around the sad world when under another man’s blanket
Demo lies and sheds her god-like heat?
When it was my turn to hold her slender body in my arms
You couldn’t wait to hurl your disgusting light in my eyes.
Oh Night, and you, kind lamp beside his bed,
No one else was near so you
Were witness to our vows,
He that he’d love me,
I, that I’d never leave him,
Oh, you remember.
But now he says that vows flow away on the river,
Stay no longer than stay the breaking waves.
And you, oh lamp,
Now you see him lying
In someone else’s embrace.
I pray you, Eros, in the name of my muse I pray you,
Oh let me sleep and forget for a while this lust for Heliodora.
My god, I pray by your bow which doesn’t know how to shoot
At anyone else but day and night sinks shafts of screams in me!
Alright, no more prayers, you sonofabitch, you won’t get away with it.
With my last strength I write this poem for the police—
It was love—
Love killed me.
What I cannot see is how,
From the green wave rising,
Out of water, Oh Aphrodite,
You bred a flame.
I want no more garlands of white violets, no more lyre playing,
No more wine with cocaine in it, no more Syrian incense burning on the night-table,
No more all night parties that end with a thirsty whore in my bed—
No more! I hate these things, they are all driving me mad!
But—give me garlands of narcissus flowers, and let me play the flute,
Perfume me with saffron, give me wine with amphetamines and hashish,
And mate me, yes, mate me with a virgin.
Already more than half the pages have been torn out of the little book of my life;
Look, girl, already white hairs are sprinkled on my head,
announcing that the age of wisdom is drawing near.
But still all I care about is laughing and drinking and the pleasures of the night;
Still, in my unsatisfied heart, a fire is burning.
Oh, Muses, my guides, write an end to it: Say, This girl, this one here,
She is the end of your madness.
Bring me Homer’s lyre, yes, bring it,
But leave that string of blood out
Bring a cup of versing rules
Oh and mix some metres in it
I will sing, then I’ll be dancing
Not a drop of sense left in me
I will dance to horn and zither
Crying out the cries that wine makes
Bring me Homer’s lyre, yes, bring it
Oh but take that string of blood out
In a dream
Anacreon, the singer of Teos,
Looked at me and laughingly addressed me.
And I ran up to him
And embraced him and kissed him.
He was an old man, but beautiful,
Beautiful and fond of wine.
His lips smelled of grapes.
Though he was already old and quaking
Eros led him by the hand.
As he passed by he took the wreath from his head
And gave it to me.
And I stupidly took it
And bound it around my forehead
And ever since
I have been mad with the sting of love.
The ladies say,
You really shouldn’t
Act that way;
Look in the mirror,
Your head is bald,
Your cheek is pale,
You’re getting old.
Well, ladies, I say,
I don’t know if my hair
Is thick or thin
And I don’t care
But the closer to death
I drift each day
The louder must I
Sing and play.
Here lies Anacreon,
An old man, a wine bibber,
And a lover of boys. His
Harp still sounds in silent
Acheron as he sings
Of the boys he left behind,
Megasthenes, who was so
Graceful, and that passionate
Thracian, Smerdies, and
Bathyllos and Euripile.
The vine tendrils mingle with
His carven beard, and the white
Marble smells of wine and myrrh.
Leuconoe, why try to know
The future, which cannot be known?
Or what the Assyrian numbers say
Of your fate and my own?
Put it away, don’t waste your time,
Winter will come on
And break the lower sea on the rocks
While we drink summer’s wine.
See, in the white of the winter air
The day hangs like a rose.
It droops down to the reaching hand
Take it before it goes.
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