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.

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