Weekly Poem #13

In Greek Poetry class, we are entering our second week of Lesbian poetry (ie. from Lesbos), chiefly lyric. Although the following is neither Lesbian nor lyric (in the strict sense of that which is performed with a lyre), here’s something in honour of Sappho and Alcaeus.  It would be in honour of Anacreon, only he’s not Lesbian.

From Phanocles, a Hellenistic poet, a fragment from “Lovers or Good Beloveds.” The original composition is in elegiacs. Forgive the roughness of my translation, I am not a professional like Richmond Lattimore.

Or how Thracian Orpheus, the son of Oiagrus,
loved Kalais, the son of Boreas, from his heart,
and often sat in shady groves singing of
his yearning, nor was his heart in peace,
but cares, always wakeful in his soul,
wore him out, looking at blooming Kalais.

The mischievous Bistonian women, having surround him,
killed him, having sharpened their keen-edged swords,
since he first showed male love amongst the Thracians,
and did not approve of yearning for more feminine things.
They cut off his head with copper blades and immediately tossed it
into the sea firmly fixing the Thracian lyre to it
with a nail, so that they both be borne on the sea
together, soaked by the rushing blue waves.

The grey sea washed them to share on holy Lesbos:
how the sound of the clear lyre held the sea,
the islands, and the salt-surging beaches, and there
men buried the clear head of Orpheus
and in the tomb they placed the clear-voiced lyre, which persuaded
speechless rocks and the hated water of Phorcus.

From that time, songs and the lovely art of the lyre
hold the island, and it is the most musical of all.
But once the warlike Thracians learned the wild deeds
of the women, and terrible distress come to them all,
which wives they tattooed, so that they might have dark omens
in their flesh, lest they forget the hateful murder:
The women still yet, even now, pay the penalty
for murdered Orpheus on account of that error.

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