Friday, 23 July 2021

Two Ganymedes

 The Ganumēdēs of Greek myth, known to English readers as Ganymede, was a handsome young prince of Troy. Zeus in the form of an eagle carried him up to Olympus to be his cupbearer at feasts. By classical times the story was routinely read homoerotically, with Zeus as the besotted erastēs and Ganymede the ingénu erōmenos; Lucian later had a lot of fun with it in his Dialogues of the Gods. I wish I could point you towards his version in the great translation by the Fowler brothers but it's one of the ones they left out. Ganymede's alternate name in Latin retellings, Catamitus, gives us our word 'catamite'.

Two poets worry that Zeus may be coming for their own personal Ganymedes, and take precautions.


Master of Pisa, Zeus, I pray you crown
Peithēnor, who is Cypris’ second son,
Hard under Cronos’ mount. I also pray
You not become an eagle once again
And snatch him up and carry him away
To pour you cups of wine, and take the place
Of that fair Trojan lad. If on a time
I pleased by sending you some Muse-made toy,
Pray give assent to unity of mind
Between a poet and a godlike boy.


If Zeus is still the fellow who once stole
And carried off the prime of Ganymede,
Well, I shall hide Myiscus in my heart
In case the god should steal a march on me
And throw his wings around the lovely boy.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Two outstanding boys

An epigram by Rufinus, of uncertain date, though in the usual way he has often been placed late on account of being raunchy; and one by Meleager, the acknowledged star of erotic epigram. Troezen is in the northeast Peloponnese; the misognyistic titular character of Euripides' Hippolytus meets his downfall there.


A skilful nurse of boys is Troëzen;
You would not be mistaken if you chose
Even the least of them. And nonetheless
Empedocles outshines its other boys,
Outblossoms them, as much as does the rose
Blazing amid the flowers of the spring.


If I see Therōn, I see everything;
But if I see the whole world, and not he,
Then there is nothing in the world I see.

Friday, 25 June 2021

Two toasts (AP 12.49 and 51)

At the symposium, adult male citizens of the polis wear garlands woven of flowers to drink and sing of -- among other things -- the 'flowers' of adolescent male beauty; a beauty they themselves have left behind, perhaps not long before, just as the beautiful teenagers they sing of now will in turn move on to become erastai themselves.

Or so at least in the ancient cyclic ideal presented by, above all other genres, epigram. Who can say how messy reatity was, as experienced by boys or men at any particular place and time?

These two poems are by the most famous practitioners of the genre, Meleager and his early Hellenistic forebear, Callimachus.


Drink the wine neat, you sufferer in love:
Bacchus the giver of forgetfulness
Will put to sleep the pederastic flame
That burns inside you. Lover, drink it neat
And pour yourself a bucketful of wine
To purge your heart of bastard agony.

The god I translate for modern readers as 'father of rivers' in Callimachus' poem below is Achelous. Greek symposiasts invariably drank their wine watered in order to pace the evening and keep behaviour within limits, the proportion of water to wine being a matter for the symposiarch (master of ceremonies) to decide, so this poem too is a declaration that only the hard stuff can dull love's pain.


Top up, and toast again ‘To Diocles’:
The river-father need not keep account
Of ladles that we hallow in his name.
Father of rivers, lovely is that boy;
Too lovely, even; and if any say
He is unlovely, then let only me
Know and enjoy the loveliness I see.

Friday, 11 June 2021

Hair today, gone tomorrow

The newly translated epigrams in this post continue the theme of the cruel brevity of a boy's anthos, emphasising how pitiful it would be for a lover to fancy such a boy after his moment has passed.

The first (AP 12.40) of these poems is by an unknown author. My version contains two rather large unpackings of single Greek words. The 'old-time cultic statue made of wood' is a xōanon; 'with only the extremities of stone' is its qualifying adjective, akrolithos. There's a perfectly good Wikipedia article about acroliths. Only the exposed 'flesh' parts of an acrolith -- head, hands, feet -- were of marble; they were attached to a fully clothed body in a cheaper material, either wood or a coarser stone.

My little cloak, good sir — leave it alone;
Look at me rather in the way you would
An old-time cultic statue made of wood,
With only the extremities of stone,
Polished and gleaming. If you seek to know
Antiphilus’s loveliness laid bare,
Then, so to speak, you’ll find the rose-bud grow
Upon the spiny briars of his hair. 

Its companion epigram (AP 12.41) is by someone very famous -- Meleager of Gadara, the accomplished erotic epigrammatist who in the first century BC interwove some of his own poems with those of illustrious predecessors to fashion a Garland. This was the first great prototype of the Greek Anthology, a thousand or so years later.

Therōn has been deleted from my list
Of lovely boys. Apollodotus too,
Who in his moment kindled like a flame,
Now a spent torch. I want to love a girl:
Pounding some willing victim’s coarse behind
I’ll leave to swains who shag the goats they mind.

Friday, 28 May 2021

Bristling Nemesis

In pederastic epigram of Strato's kind at least, a boy's flowering (anthos) is all the more precious because it is so fleeting. Sooner rather than later, the fuzzy-cheeked youth will emerge from puberty as a bearded young man. His new and sudden crop of body hair will make him unattractive as a potential beloved (erōmenos). In the natural rhythm of things as envisioned by the Greeks, soon he will be off chasing boys of his own.

Here is an anonymous epigram from the Greek Anthology, AP 12.39, in a new translation that's slightly looser than I might have allowed myself before. My next blog post will give further examples.

Nicander’s loveliness is all burned out,
And all the bloom has flitted from his skin,
As if we’d dreamed it. Of his winning charms
Nothing remains, not even empty name.
It used to be we reckoned him a god.
Do not, you younglings, think so very high,
As if above mere mortals: you will die,
And first there will be hair upon your thigh.
' if we’d dreamed it' unpacks a single Greek verb, ἀποπέτομαι. It means to fly off or fly away, and according to LSJ it is especially used of dreams. When Agamemnon tells his senior advisers about the prophetic dream that visited him in the night promising victory, he describes it as flying away from him when it reached its end: 'ᾤχετ᾽ ἀποπτάμενος'.

Friday, 14 May 2021

Two more young hunks

The wordplay in the first of these epigrams is a matter of an additional letter in the original Greek, rather than a substitution: kuros (the personal name Cyrus) and kurios (lord, master).

The second poem is by the less famous Alcaeus: not Sappho's fellow Lesbian lyricist, but Alcaeus of Messene (third-second century BC). The brief flower of a young man's peak of beauty, his anthos, is likened here to a relay-race: each young athlete carries the flaming torch only for a brief sprint before passing it on to the next runner.


Jules rules — and I don’t mind the difference

A single letter makes. He is so fine;
I only want to look, not analyse.


Prōtarchus is so lovely — and says no.
Later it will be yes, but all the while
His hour of loveliness is racing on
To pass the love-torch to another boy.



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.