Friday, 30 April 2021

Two lovely bums

 Two handsome boys with especially lovely bottoms. From Book 12 of the Anthology, of course, so with the usual disclaimers.


Graphicus got a splinter in the bath;
The planking nipped his bum. So what am I,
A living, feeling man, supposed to do,
When lifeless wood is moved to feeling too?


Sōsarchus of Amphipolis — that bum:
Murderous Eros played a nasty trick
By moulding it as soft as marrowfat.
He aimed to bother Zeus, because those thighs
Are far more sweet than those of Ganymede.

Friday, 16 April 2021

Smutty and sweet, round two

 Two more from Strato, with the same content warning as before. I'm quite happy with the rhymes. Yes, the first one is about wanking.

I happened on some lovesick lads one day,
Playing at doctor; they’d a remedy,
And ground it from a natural recipe.
I had them bang to rights; they begged, ‘Don’t say’.
I answered, ‘I’ll keep silent, but my fee
Is that you lay your healing hands on me.’

Please do not hide our love, Philocrates:
Its guardian spirit needs no further aid
To trample on my heart. But share with me
Some little fraction of a cheerful kiss.
One day you too will beg for favour so,
From boys whose loveliness you seek to know.

Friday, 2 April 2021

One smutty, one sweet

These are both by Strato, and newly translated for the blog. If you are likely to be offended or upset by references to ancient boy-love, I advise you to stop reading now.




Still here? The first poem used to be read as being about boys' penises at different ages; now it's understood as being about stages of arousal during a sexual encounter. 'Lalou' and 'Coco' are nonsense-words, not found anwhere outside this poem: they could have been in common use among boy-lovers in Strato's time, or he could be making them up. The second poem is sweet.

Every boy has one, and each finds its place,
Friend Diodorus, in our trifold scheme.
Your second lesson: terminology.
The member yet untouched and in its spring,
You call ‘Lalou’; the one that just began
To puff and swell, is ‘Coco’; and the stage
When it is keen to shudder in the hand,
You call the ‘Lizard’. As for fully-grown —
You know to call it by its proper name.

You are so fair right now, and fully ripe
For older lovers; even if you wed,
We swear that we shall not abandon you.

Friday, 19 March 2021

Strato's Boyish Muse

 My next few posts will feature freshly done translations from the twelfth book of the Anthology, which comes down to us under the heading STRATŌNOS MOUSA PAIDIKĒ, Strato's Boyish Muse.

That title must originally have attached to a book written and arranged by Strato himself, containing his own epigrams and nobody else's. Cephalas used that book as a dumping-ground for whatever other homoerotic epigrams came his way -- notably those of Meleager, whose Garland probably mingled expressions of gay and straight desire interchangeably. I reckon we can probably still pretty much read Strato's Boyish Muse simply by going through Book 12 and ignoring all the ones that aren't by him.

Book 12 has been excellently translated by Daryl Hine under the title Puerilities (2001 -- read a review of it here) and there are a couple of older, small-press selections about which I might blog some time. Paton's old Loeb put the muckier bits into Latin, just as it did for the more explicit poems of the heterosexual Book 5.

Here is Strato's opening poem, from my World's Classics translation, taking the opening statement of Aratus' Phaenomena (the Roman world's favourite didactic epic) as a pretext for swearing off girls, divine and mortal alike:

‘Let us begin from Zeus’, Aratus said;
Muses, I shall not bother you today.
If I love boys and keep their company,
What is it to the maids of Helicon?

TRIGGER WARNING. This material won't be to every reader's taste. If translations and discussion of pederastic epigrams are likely to offend or upset you, please skip the next few blog posts.

Friday, 5 March 2021

The handout for my MAPPOLA talk

Greek verse in the Roman West: Some epigrams from the Greek Anthology
Gideon Nisbet, for MAPPOLA, 24/02/21 (here is the talk this handout accompanies)


(At Cyzicus, inside the Temple of Apollonis, mother of Attalus and Eumenes: epigrams which were inscribed on the tablets set into the columns. These tablets contained narrative scenes, carved in low relief, as is set out below.)

On the nineteenth are Remus and Romulus, rescuing their mother, whose name was Servilia, from Amulius’ chastisement: for Ares had seduced her and fathered children on her; and they were exposed, and a she-wolf nursed them. When they grew to manhood, therefore, they freed their mother from her bonds, and when they had founded Rome they restored Numitor to his kingship.

In secret you brought forth this brood of boys,
For Ares, twins: Remus, and Romulus.
A she-wolf was their wet-nurse; in a cave
The creature raised them up till they were men,
Who rescued you by force from hardened woe.


            … And if she’s
Italian, and called Flora, and can’t sing
The songs of Sappho? Perseus himself
Fell for an Indian girl: Andromeda.


Eight shields, eight helms, eight linen coats-of-mail,
As many blood-stained cleavers: all this gear
Hagnon, Euanthes’ son, mighty in war,
Offers as spoil from the Lucanians,
Athena’s now, at Coryphasium.


Another will send crystal; silver, one;
Topazes, others. All such birthday gifts
Are marks of wealth. Myself, I am content
To offer Agrippina these few lines,
In which I make each couplet count alike.
This gift is proof against all jealousy.


Italian earth holds me, a Libyan girl:
Beneath these sands near Rome I lie unwed.
Pompeia raised me like I was her own,
And set me free, and wept to lay me here.
She hoped to see my marriage-torch ablaze;
But she was thwarted, and my brand was lit
Not as we’d prayed, but by Persephone.


Trajan, Aeneas’ heir, to Casian Zeus
Set up this trophy: to the king of gods,
As he is king of men. A pair of cups,
Intricate work; and this, an aurochs’ horn,
Mounted in gold that dazzles all around —
The pick of first spoils, when he tireless slew
The overbearing Getae with his spear.
But you, Stormclouded, put into his hand
The power to conclude this strife as well,
Against the Persians. Be twice happy so,
Seeing a pair of trophies raised to you:
For Getae first, and then for Arsacids


I need conditum. Whence derives its name?
For it is alien to Grecian tongue.
If it is named in Roman, you must know,
For you are the most Roman of them all.
So make me some: my stomach is not right;
They tell me it’s exactly what I need.

Κονδίτου μοι δεῖ. τὸ δὲ κονδῖτον πόθεν ἔσχεν | τοὔνομα;  τῆς φωνῆς ἐστὶ γὰρ ἀλλότριον | τῆς τῶν Ἑλλήνων· εἰ Ῥωμαϊκῶς δὲ καλεῖται, | αὐτὸς ἂν εἰδείης, Ῥωμαϊκώτατος ὤν


‘Each to his trade’: beneath the Alpine peaks
The shaggy bandits with their spiky hair
Pursue their larceny and still avoid
The dogs of their pursuers, by this means:
They take a kidney, rub it on themselves
Till every bit of fat is on their skin.
Its pungent odour fools the keen-nosed hounds.
You savants of Liguria, inclined
More to devise the wicked than the good.

ὑπ᾿ Ἄλπιας ἄκρας … ὦ κακὸν εὑρεῖν ῥηΐτεραι Λιγύων μήτιες


A parrot that could talk just like a man
Escaped its wicker cage, and flew away
Into the woods on Technicolor wing.
He always sang to greet our famous chief,
Nor did the mountains bring forgetfulness
Of Caesar’s name. At once the birds began
To learn his song, competing one and all
To sing the first ‘Hail, Caesar!’ to our god.
Orpheus charmed the beasts upon the hills;
Without conductor, too, now all the birds
Gather in orchestra to sing your name.

… ἐρίζων | τίς φθῆναι δύναται δαίμονι χαῖρ᾿ ἐνέπειν. |Ὀρφεὺς θῆρας ἔπεισεν ἐν οὔρεσι· καὶ δὲ σέ, Καῖσαρ, | νῦν ἀκέλευστος ἅπας ὄρνις ἀνακρέκεται.


Marcus, enough — leave off about ‘the boy’;
Grieve not for him, but for your reader, me,
Whom you leave stone-cold dead — deader by far
Than your ‘wee bairn’. So make me elegies,
You public hangman — sing for me your dirge,
Who lie a victim of your murderous line.
What I endure for sake of ‘the deceased’,
I wish upon whoever first devised
The book-rolls and the pens of authorship.


This tomb contains no body, wayfarer:
Marcus the poet built it as a place
To carve his one-line epitaph, to wit:
‘Weep: Maximus, twelve years, from Ephesus.’
I saw no ‘Maximus’, but, passer-by,
Behold my poet. He should make you cry.

‘Κλαύσατε δωδεκέτη Μάξιμον ἐξ Ἐφέσου.’


Those puffed-up boys in purple-bordered gowns,
The ones we cannot get at, Diphilus —
Like juicy figs high up on rocky crags.
The vultures and the ravens feast on them.


Are they emerging from some holy shrine?
What is their source, this army of Desires
That shed bright beams on everything around?
Their brightness clouds my vision, gentlemen:
Which one is slave, which free? I cannot say.
A mortal man, their lord? It cannot be;
Or if a mortal, greater man by far
Than Zeus, who owned a single Ganymede,
Though mighty god. How many such has he?

Cf. Martial 9.36, tr. D. R. Shackleton Bailey (Loeb Classical Library):

The Phrygian boy, famed joy of the other Jupiter, had seen the Ausonian page with his hair newly shorn: ‘What your Caesar (look!) has allowed his young man, please allow yours, greatest of rulers’, said he. ‘Already the first down lies hidden by my long locks; already your Juno laughs at me and calls me a man.’ To him said the Heavenly Father: ‘Sweetest boy, not I but the case itself denies you what you ask. My Caesar has a thousand pages like yourself; the vast palace has scarcely room for so many star-like youths. But if shorn hair gives you a manly look, whom else shall I have to mix the nectar?’

Viderat Ausonium posito modo crine ministrum
   Phryx puer, alterius gaudia nota Iovis:
‘quod tuus ecce suo Caesar permisit ephebo,
   tu permitte tuo, maxime rector’ ait;
‘iam mihi prima latet longis lanugo capillis,
   iam tua me ridet Iuno vocatque virum.’
cui pater aetherius ‘puer o dulcissime’, dixit,
   ‘non ego quod poscis, res negat ipsa tibi:
Caesar habet noster similis tibi mille ministros
   tantaque sidereos vix capit aula mares;
at tibi si dederit vultus coma tonsa viriles,
   quis mihi qui nectar misceat alter erit?’

Ἐκ ποίου ναοῦ, πόθεν ὁ στόλος οὗτος Ἐρώτων,
   πάντα καταστίλβων; ἄνδρες, ἀμαυρὰ βλέπω.
τίς τούτων δοῦλος, τίς ἐλεύθερος; οὐ δύναμ᾿ εἰπεῖν.
   ἄνθρωπος τούτων κύριος; οὐ δύναται.
εἰ δ᾿ ἐστίν, μείζων πολλῷ Διός, ὃς Γανυμήδην
   ἔσχε μόνως, θεὸς ὢν πηλίκος· ὃς δὲ πόσους;

Greek epigram in the Roman west - a Mappola talk

 This is the script of a talk I wrote for the first online workshop of MAPPOLA, an ERC-funded research project based at Vienna. The principal focus is on Latin verse inscriptions across the whole Roman empire, but the inaugural workshop also took in Greek verse in the Latin west. The organisers kindly asked me to end the first day's programme with a talk based on my recently published translation.

I'll add the accompanying handout as a separate post.


Greetings and thanks
It’s my pleasure to have this opportunity to introduce my new translation from the Greek Anthology for the World’s Classics,
By way of a small sample of Greek epigrams in the Roman West,
Including some that enjoy complicating that situation.
The book is available now, and I am blogging additional translations (Google me and ‘epigram’ and you’ll find them easily enough).
In all, my World’s Classics translation includes more than 600 poems,
Which is the biggest new version into English in a very long time,
And sounds like a lot, but is less than a sixth of what the Anthology contains.
What I’ve given you on the handout is a small sample for, I hope, your reading pleasure.
Its arrangement follows that of the source text,
But the story I’m spinning around them this afternoon is broadly chronological, so we’ll be hopping back and forth,
and I won’t discuss every poem in detail.
I’ll begin by briefly introducing my source:
The Greek Anthology that we read today, runs to sixteen books and contains about four thousand epigrams.
It is more or less the text of the Palatine Anthology, a tenth-century manuscript that in turn was more or less the Anthology that Constantine Cephalas had compiled not long before. Cephalas had gathered whatever he could from his classical and late antique predecessors, notably Meleager, Philip, and Agathias.
As a collection of epigrams, the Greek Anthology hits its stride with the erotic poems of bk.5.
It is front-loaded with oddities, inc. a collection of Christian epigrams; the Prefaces of Cephalas’s predecessors, from Meleager onwards;
and the strange little inscriptional collection that is the Cyzicene Epigrams — a pagan Stations of the Cross from a lost temple to an Attalid queen, and made up of scenes from Greek myth that illustrate the love of sons for their mothers. Though it’s notionally an artefact of the second century BC, it climaxes with the story of Romulus and Remus. This is the first item on your handout, but Book 3 is so weird and mysterious I’ll say no more.

Instead I’ll begin my tour on safer ground, by touching on Magna Graecia, which in Hellenistic times was as rich in epigrammatists as it had formerly been in lyric poets. Theocritus and Nossis, for instance, are significant presences in the Anthology. But they are poets, not of the Roman, but of the Greek West, with Rome still over the horizon.
Leonidas’s situation is probably different and I’ve given you one of his poems, from the dedicatory sixth book of the Anthology.
His home town of Tarentum, in Italy’s instep, was a rich Spartan foundation, and this poem celebrates a southern Italian victory for which the Tarentines erected a trophy at Pylos, in Sparta’s back yard. The metropolis helped out against the Oscan-speaking locals more than once in the mid- to late fourth century BC, so this feels plausible as a real inscription.
But modern scholarship places Leonidas’ floruit around 270, by which point the Romans had won the Pyrrhic War and pulled Tarentum’s walls down, so I suspect we are seeing an exercise in nostalgic avoidance of present realities.


Later Hellenistic poets engage directly with Rome because it was a rich source of patronage. Their poems often accompany thoughtful little gifts that tastefully advertise the authors’ own modest means, as well as their warm friendships with wealthy and powerful individuals: a toothpick, for instance, or a nice warm hat. In a poem from Book 5, included on your handout, we see Philodemus of Gadara getting it on with a hot Italian girl. Cicero’s speech In Pisonem scolded Philodemus’s patron for picking up louche habits from his famous Epicurean houseguest, but Cicero himself was the proud sponsor of another Anthology poet, Archias.
In the next generation, Antipater and Crinagoras were kept busy celebrating Augustan family occasions. Antipater is represented on your handout by an epitaph for a Greek freedwoman, from the funerary Book 7; Crinagoras, by two poems from Book 9, including a very unlikely story about a parrot. The ninth book is ‘epideictic’, meaning displays of rhetorical skill. Since authors love showing off, it’s one of the Anthology’s biggest books. We have a secure context for Crinagoras’ other poem here, 9.516. He had passed through the Alps with Augustus on the way to Spain in 26/5 BC, and Gow and Page had fun wondering which animal’s fat it was that did the trick.
Palladas’s poem from the same book, 9.502, feels like it ought to belong to this early period — indeed I wonder if it can really be by him. This kind of cheeky banter with a patron would be more in Philodemus’ line, and by the fourth century AD even the most stubborn Hellene ought to have known what conditum was. (Plus, the poem is fun and Palladas is professionally miserable.)

Imperial patronage continued under the later Julio-Claudians. The Anthology’s other Leonidas, from Alexandria, specialised in isopsephic poems in which the letter-values of the first couplet — alpha as one, beta as two, and so on — added up to the exact same total as those of the second; and in the case of 6.329, of the third couplet as well. Or so he claims; his perverse party-trick has been a nightmare for modern scholars trying to emend the text so that the sums work.
Lucillius joined Leonidas in courting Nero’s patronage; he is famous for his scoptic or satirical epigrams, contained in the Anthology’s eleventh book, of which I give you two examples. I’m tempted to have ‘Marcus’ be Marcus Valerius Martialis, the poet Martial, who we know was heavily influenced by Lucillius. It’s a stretch — Martial began his major epigrammatic project of twelve numbered books in the 80s. But he was in Rome from 64, so he could well have met Lucillius and begun tinkering with epigram around that time. Certainly Martial’s own Book One is at pains to put distance between the new material and his various unspecified juvenilia.
Could some of Martial’s early poems have been in Greek? Epigram was fundamentally a Greek genre, and plenty of Romans were writing Greek epigrams before and after Martial’s time. Poem 9.332, included on your handout, is an inscriptional example by a good, second-century amateur poet with a demanding day job.
Regardless of Marcus’s real identity, or of whether Marcus had a real identity, the scenario presented by Lucillius’s two poems is already satisfyingly messy. They give us a Greek poet, with a Roman name, living in Rome, where he makes fun of another Roman-named and presumptively Latin-speaking poet, who composes epitaphs in Greek — including one for a boy with a Roman name, who comes from the Greek East.
And that’s assuming we don’t take ‘Κλαύσατε δωδεκέτη Μάξιμον ἐξ Ἐφέσου’ and the rest as a presumptive translation by Lucillius into Greek of an epitaph that Marcus has composed in Latin …but that is probably a complication too far.

I’ll end with a prolific and witty poet whose assigned period wanders in between the Hellenistic era and late antiquity, though as often as not, he is placed under Hadrian for no really good reason. Strato of Sardis specialised in pederastic verse, and the twelfth book of the Anthology comes down to us under what was probably the title he gave his own poetry-book, the Mousa Paidikē or Boyish Muse. I’ve given you two of his poems.
In the first, he complains to a friend that all the best boys are off-limits, by virtue of their Roman citizenship, which by his time I take to have been pretty widespread. Strato is nostalgic for the ancient ideal of a respectable love-affair in which the lover and his youthful beloved are of equally high social and moral standing, but sardonically admits a less idealistic and often mercenary contemporary sexual reality, closely aligned to Martial’s own pederastic verse.
Of course, 12.185 doesn’t at all imply this Lydian Greek poet was in Rome, or that he ever came west at all. There will have been plenty of purple-togaed boys in Sardis, I am sure.
But 12.254 suggests to me not only that he came to Rome, but that he was there in Martial’s day. Kathleen Coleman has observed that Martial seems to allude to Strato’s Boyish Muse, and I badly want them to have known each other — so much so that I’m half-tempted to write novels in which they team up to fight crime or hunt werewolves.
You will see that Strato 12.254 has a lot in common with Martial 9.36. Both poems elaborately flatter a wealthy and powerful figure who possesses a great and shining host of divinely beautiful young men: Erōtes, Strato calls them. This makes their master at least the equal of  Zeus or Jupiter, who for all his power can claim only one such Ganymede. For Martial, the lord of heaven is merely ‘the other Jupiter’, whose power can surely be no greater and is less immediately felt than that of his earthly counterpart.
The identity of Martial’s ‘Ausonian page’ has never been in doubt; his epigram comes as the climax of a concentrated cycle of poems celebrating the beauty of Earinus, the handsome young favourite of the Emperor Domitian. For my part I am pretty confident that Strato is angling for patronage right alongside him.
In any case, the pairing of Strato and Martial feels like a good way to end in the context of MAPPOLA — Greek and Latin poets working in the same spaces, chasing the same kinds of outcome, and becoming hard to tell apart. I hope you’ve enjoyed our little tour of the Anthology, and I thank you for your time.

Friday, 19 February 2021

Sex pirates, by Rufinus

I had fun with this one, nor am I the first translator to have done so. Once I can get at all my old books again, I will dig out some older versions.

 I was helped out by a list of famous pirate-ships on a website called allthingsboat. The Satisfaction was Henry Morgan's; the Bachelor's Delight, William Dampier's. On the lembos, a fast, light galley favoured by pirates, see Wikipedia.


The Satisfaction and her sister-ship,
The Bachelor’s Delight, are courtesans;
Their home port, Samos. All of you young men,
Steer clear of Aphrodite’s piracy:
The ones they board must walk the plank and drown.