Meleager the poet (Μελέαγρος), not to be confused with Meleager the Greek mythological hero, lived during the first century BC (c. 140 BC.-c. 70 BC). He was born in the city of Gadara, now known as Umm Qays in modern Jordan. He was raised and educated in Tyre and, later, lived on the Aegean island of Cos where he died, it is believed at the age of seventy. He claimed to speak Greek, Syrian and Phoenician. His satirical and philosophical essays, based on the beliefs of the Greek Cynics, have not survived. However his sensual poetry, in the form of 134 epigrams, continues to find new translators and new readers. He is famous for an anthology of poetry entitled The Garland, the first anthology of epigrammatic poems written over the previous two centuries. In the preface he names all his contributors and assigns each one the name of a flower, shrub or herb – hence the title. This work was subsumed into what has become known as The Greek Anthology.
Meleager included his own poems in the anthology. These are primarily erotic epigrams, often written in the first person, dealing with his own experience and emotion. Most of the experiences and much of the emotion derives from the difficulties and distractions of love, sometimes concerning a woman, sometimes concerning a young boy. These brief poems are neatly constructed in a strict metre with a tone varying from the affectionate to the cynical and a language, at times simple, and at times imbued with the traditional imagery of bows, torches, cupids, thunderbolts, honey, light flowers and insects (in one epigram he asks a mosquito to be the messenger to his unfaithful beloved). His poems influenced he epigrammatic tradition which flourished during the Roman Empire and they continue to be translated today. In the 1830’s, J. H. Merivale, in an edition of The Greek Anthology, wrote of Meleager that “as a … composer of epigrams he was very far superior” to the authors he included in The Garland. Some 140 years later, scholar and translator Peter Jay stated, Meleager’s poetic authenticity lies in the mastery of every aspect of his medium.
The epigrams of Meleager have been extensively rendered in English and continue to inspire translations. Walter Headlam brought out Fifty Poems of Meleager (1890); W. R Paton translated them in The Greek Anthology (1916); Richard Aldington translated 128 of them in The Poems of Meleager of Gadara (1920): F. A. Wright translated The Complete Poems of Meleager of Gadara (1924); Peter Whigham produced verse translations of the poems along with prose translations by Peter Jay in The Poems of Meleager (1975); Baron Frederick Corvo (aka Frederick Rolfe) produced The Songs of Meleager (1984). However all the translations below are taken from one source: Puerilities: Erotic Epigrams of The Greek Anthology edited by Daryl Hine (Princeton University Press, 2001) which translates most of the twelfth book of The Greek Anthology. That book, the so-called Musa Puerilis, is given its first complete verse version in English by the Canadian-born poet. Richard Howard had this to say of these translations: Daryl Hine’s translations from The Greek Anthology are the liveliest, frequently loveliest, and certainly the most libidinous versions of these celebrated texts that I’ve ever seen. I know from years of teaching that American students, even of the Classics, are quite vague about what The Greek Anthology was really like—particularly the salacious aspect of those poems. Hine alone gives a fair (or is that foul) sample.
Daryl Hine (1936 – 2012), a Canadian poet and translator, was born in Burnaby and grew up in New Westminster, British Columbia. Having attended McGill University in Montreal, he then went to Europe on a Canada Council scholarship, where he lived for three years. He moved to New York in 1962 and to Chicago in 1963 where he taught courses in poetry and comparative literature at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois, Chicago. He was the editor of Poetry from 1968 to 1978. Hine was a highly regarded translator of classical writers such as Homer, Hesiod, and Ovid, among others. His translation of Works of Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns (2005) won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets. He was also the recipient of a Canada Foundation-Rockefeller fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Award, a Guggenheim fellowship, an American Academy and Institution of Arts and Letters Award and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He was the author of fifteen books of poetry and six works of verse translation. Following the death of his partner of more than 30 years, the philosopher Samuel Todes, Hine lived in semi-retirement in Evanston, Illinois. In 2012 Daryl Hine died of complications of a blood disorder at the age of 76.
Brief Poems by Meleager of Gadara
TRANSLATED BY DARYL HINE
Ἠγρεύθην ὁ πρόσθεν ἐγώ ποτε τοῖς δυσέρωσι
κώμοις ἠιθέων πολλάκις ἐγγελάσας:
καὶ μ᾽ ἐπὶ σοῖς ὁ πτανὸς Ἔρως προθύροισι, Μυΐσκε,
στῆσεν ἐπιγράψας ‘ σκῦλ᾽ ἀπὸ Σωφροσύνης.’
I used to laugh at young men who were not
Successful in their wooing. Now I’m caught;
Myiscus, on your gate winged Love has placed
Me, labelled as, “A Trophy of the Chaste.”
ἦν καλὸς Ἡράκλειτος, ὅτ᾽ ἦν ποτε: νῦν δὲ παρ᾽ ἥβην
κηρύσσει πόλεμον δέρρις ὀπισθοβάταις.
ἀλλά, Πολυξενίδη, τάδ᾽ ὁρῶν, μὴ γαῦρα φρυάσσου:
ἔστι καὶ ἐν γλουτοῖς φυομένη Νέμεσις.
A peach was Heraclitus when — don’t scoff! —
Still Heraclitus; now he’s past his prime
His hairy hide puts all assailants off.
On your cheeks too the curse will come in time.
οὐκέτι μοι Θήρων γράφεται καλός, οὐδ᾽ ὁ πυραυγὴς
πρίν ποτε, νῦν δ᾽ ἤδη δαλός, Ἀπολλόδοτος.
στέργω θῆλυν ἔρωτα: δασυτρώγλων δὲ πίεσμα
λασταύρων μελέτω ποιμέσιν αἰγοβάταις.
No, Theron’s beauty does no longer please
Me, nor Apollodotus’ burnt-out charms.
I like cunt. Let bestial goatherds squeeze
Their hairy little bumboys in their arms!
κεῖμαι: λὰξ ἐπίβαινε κατ᾽ αὐχένος, ἄγριε δαῖμον.
οἶδά σε, ναὶ μὰ θεούς, καὶ ^ βαρὺν ὄντα φέρειν
οἶδα καὶ ἔμπυρα τόξα. βαλὼν δ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἐμὴν φρένα πυρσούς,
οὐ φλέξεις: ἤδη πᾶσα γάρ ἐστι τέφρη.
Yes, kick me when I’m down, you spiteful sprite!
I feel your weight, I feel your fiery dart.
But if you try to set fire to my heart,
You can’t: it is incinerated quite.
ἢν ἐνίδω Θήρωνα, τὰ πάνθ᾽ ὁρῶ: ἢν δὲ τὰ πάντα
βλέψω, τόνδε δὲ μή, τἄμπαλιν οὐδὲν ὁρῶ.
When I see Thero I see everything;
But when he’s absent I can’t see a thing.
ἤν τι πάθω, Κλεόβουλε, ῾τὸ γὰρ πλέον ἐν πυρὶ παίδων
βαλλόμενος κεῖμαι λείψανον ἐν σποδιῇ:᾿
λίσσομαι, ἀκρήτῳ μέθυσον, πρὶν ὑπὸ χθόνα θέσθαι,
κάλπιν, ἐπιγράψας ‘ δῶρον Ἔρως Ἀίδῃ.’
If, Cleobulus, I should expire
Being cast on the juvenile pyre,
As to ashes I burn
Sprinkle wine on my urn
And inscribe it, “ To Death from Desire.”
εἰ μὴ τόξον Ἔρως, μηδὲ πτερά, μηδὲ φαρέτραν,
μηδὲ πυριβλήτους εἶχε πόθων ἀκίδας,
οὐκ, αὐτὸν τὸν πτανὸν ἐπόμνυμαι, οὔποτ᾽ ἂν ἔγνως
ἐκ μορφᾶς τίς ἔφυ Ζωίλος ἢ τίς Ἔρως.
If Cupid had no bow, no wings, and no
Quiver filled with fiery arrows of
Desire, by looks alone you’d never know
Zoilus from the winged god of love.
ἁ Κύπρις θήλεια γυναικομανῆ] φλόγα βάλλει:
ἄρσενα δ᾽ αὐτὸς Ἔρως ἵμερον ἁνιοχεῖ.
ποῖ ῥέψω; ποτὶ παῖδ᾽ ἢ ματέρα; φαμὶ δὲ καὐτὰν
Κύπριν ἐρεῖν: ‘νικᾷ τὸ θρασὺ παιδάριον
Lady Venus generates our lust
For females; Cupid pricks desire for males.
Which shall I turn to? Even Venus must
Admit her cheeky little brat prevails.
ἠοῦς ἄγγελε, χαῖρε, Φαεσφόρε, καὶ ταχὺς ἔλθοις
ἕσπερος, ἣν ἀπάγεις, λάθριος αὖθις ἄγων.
Hail, morning star, fair messenger of dawn!
As evening star, bring back the sweet cheat gone.
Κύπρις ἐμοὶ ναύκληρος, Ἔρως δ᾽ οἴακα φυλάσσει
ἄκρον ἔχων ψυχῆς ἐν χερὶ πηδάλιον
χειμαίνει δ᾽ ὁ βαρὺς πνεύσας Πόθος, οὕνεκα δὴ νῦν
παμφύλῳ παίδων νήχομαι ἐν πελάγει.
My skipper’s Venus, Cupid mans the helm,
Holding my spirit’s rudder in his hand;
Desire blows hard enough to overwhelm
Me, breasting a sea of boys from every land.
χειμέριον μὲν πνεῦμα: φέρει δ᾽ ἐπὶ σοί με, Μυΐσκε,
ἁρπαστὸν κώμοις ὁ γλυκύδακρυς Ἔρως.
χειμαίνει δὲ βαρὺς πνεύσας Πόθος, ἀλλὰ μ᾽ ἐς ὅρμον
δέξαι, τὸν ναύτην Κύπριδος ἐν πελάγει.
Myiscus, despite this wintry wind I’m swept
Away by Love’s sweet tears to pay you court.
Desire is like a hurricane. Accept
This loving mariner into your port.