Seventeen ancient poems, translated from Greek and Latin by Thomas McEvilley


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See also McEvlilley's Sappho

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
    Meleager Puzzled

 

Philodemus of Alexandria

     Philodemus Reforms
     Philodemus Reforms Again

 

Anakreontea

      Invocation
      Night Vision
      Anacreon Speaks to the Ladies
     Anacreon’s Grave

Horace

       Strategy for Living

 

 
Bibliographical Note
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.

 


 

 

                                                MELEAGER

 

 

                                                1.

           

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.

                                      (AP V.177)

              

2.

 

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.

                                                (AP XII.132)

                        3.

 

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?

(AP V.182)


4.

 

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?

(AP V.163)

                                                       5.

                                               

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,

                                    “Hades, know

Love sends this gift to death”—

                                    And bury me and go.

          (AP V.172)
                         6.

 

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. . .

(AP V.172)


                                                  7.

 

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.

                                                                        (AP V.173)


                                    8.

 

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.

                                                                       (AP V.8)


 

                          9.

 

               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.

                                                (AP V.215)


                                    10.

 

What I cannot see is how,

From the green wave rising,

Out of water, Oh Aphrodite,

You bred a flame.

                                                                          (AP V.176.5-6)

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

                                                PHILODEMUS

 

 

 

        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.

                                                                            (AP XI.34)

 

 

            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.

                                                                           (AP XI.41)

 

             

 


 

 

 

 

                                    ANACREONTEA


 

                        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.

 


 

 

                                           Anacreon,

                                           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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

                                                HORACE


 

 

                                    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.

                                                                        (Odes I.11)


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