She took the myrtle branch and sang in turn
another song of pleasure, in her left hand still
the flower of the rosetree, and let loose
over her naked shoulder, down her arm
and back, the darkness of her hair.
ARCHILOCHOS, 7th century B.C.E.
Adonis and Aphrodite
From the wound death spreads into the delicate limbs.
What shall we do for him, Goddess?
Cry. Rip the coarse stitch of your robe, my girls,
and cry, and tear the fine threads underneath.
SAPPHO, 7th century B.C.E.
Last Sun in the Treetops
From her roost the water hen stretched out
her purple-green sleek neck,
the kingfisher's quick glance
shook droplets from his crown,
and I thought love would always be
that brilliant on the wing and wild.
IBYKOS, 6th century B.C.E.
Epitaph at Thermopylae
Four thousand of us fought three million.
When you visit Sparta, tell them:
Here, the soldiers kept their word.
SIMONIDES, 5th century B.C.E.
I am an apple thrown to you for love. Nod yes,
Xanthippe. You and I, though sweet, are not to last.
PLATO, 4th century B.C.E.
Herakleitos of Halikarnassos
Someone, Herakleitos, spoke to me about your death,
and I with fresh tears thought again how many times
the two of us would talk until the sun sank. You,
too many years ago, though sacred in my memory forever
as a guest and friend, sank also into ashes. Here,
meanwhile, your poems sing to me like nightingales,
only out of the darkness where no hand can reach.
KALLIMACHOS, 3rd century B.C.E.
Landscape With Young Man and Snares
Whatever sleep possesses you, your body
on the leaf-strewn hillside, stakes
sunk into the ground, whatever weariness
in you needs rest, beware. Nearby, Priapus,
with his lovely rough head clothed
in yellow shoots of ivy, and Great Pan
steal, side by side, into your hiding place.
Come, loose your body from its torpor: run!
THEOKRITOS, 3rd century B.C.E.
Idea of Beauty
Shy, he stepped off into the cornfield. I could see
his back muscles under the damp shirt quiver and go slack.
Turning again to face the shade, he smiled at me, not
squinted, smiled, and finished tugging shut his fly.
Now, when the cornstalks in the night wind slide
like fire, I see him. He steps closer in my dream.
I don't know, where he sleeps, if sleep refreshes him,
but here it works me like hot metal over a flame.
MELEAGROS, 3rd century B.C.E.
On the Emptiness of the Tomb
A black squall out of the east, and murk of night,
and waves, struck under the deathwatch of Orion.
I, the handsomest of sailors, drowned, halfway to Libya,
tumbling into the fleshpots of the crab and conger eel.
My stone says, Here Love mourns where Beauty lies undone,
but nobody lies or mourns there but the stone.
LEONIDAS OF TARENTUM, 3rd century B.C.E.
You who pull the oars, who meet the dead,
who leave them at the other bank, and glide
across the reedy marsh, please take
my boy's hand as he climbs into the dark hull.
Look. The sandals trip him, and you see,
he is afraid to step there barefoot.
ZONAS, 1st century B.C.E.
A voice said, No: forget her touch, and keep in mind
those nights of jealousy and tears. Be strong, the voice
reminded me, as she was strong when she said, Yes,
and crowed, and grappled you for joy between her thighs.
PHILODEMOS, 1st century B.C.E.
Up and down the meadow where the sheep graze echo,
fadingly as afterthoughts, the cries of quail.
SATYRUS, 2nd century C.E.
Brooks Haxton is a resident poet at Syracuse University. His most recent book of poems is (1995). Haxton is at work on a book of translations of Greek poets.
The Atlantic Monthly; June 1998; From the Greek; Volume 281, No. 6; page 96.