three pairs of lovers with space

THE EPIGRAMS OF ASKLEPIADES OF SAMOS

 

Asklepiades Ἀσκληπιάδης of Samos was the author in the early 3rd century BC of about forty epigrams on diverse subjects preserved in the Greek Anthology.[1] Presented here are all those to do with the love of boys, all but one of which are to be found in the specifically pederastic twelfth book of the Greek Anthology known as the Boyish Muse.

The translations are by W. R. Paton in The Greek Anthology, Volumes I and IV: Loeb Classical Library Vols. LXVII and LXXXV (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1916-8). The only amendments are to undo his Latinisation of names in favour of more literal transliteration of the Greek.

Brief explanations are offered for each epigram. Detailed commentaries can be found in the exhaustive study of Asklepiades’s epigrams by Alejandro Sens in his Asclepiades of Samos: Epigrams and Fragments, (Oxford University Press, 2011).

 

V.  Erotic Epigrams by Various Poets

145

On a garland woven from roses for a maiden[2]

Garlands, stay hanging for me here by these double doors and do not prematurely shake off your leaves; I drenched you with my tears (for lovers’ eyes are stormy). But when the door opens and you see him, shed my rain over his head, so that at least his blond hair may drink my tears.

ες στφανον κ ῥόδων πλακντα νεκεν κρης τινς

Αὐτοῦ μοι, στέφανοι, παρὰ δικλίσι ταῖσδε κρεμαστοὶ
     μίμνετε, μὴ προπετῶς φύλλα τινασσόμενοι,
οὓς δακρύοις κατέβρεξα· κάτομβρα γὰρ ὄμματ᾽ ἐρώντων.
     ἀλλ᾽ ὅταν οἰγομένης αὐτὸν ἴδητε θύρης,
στάξαθ᾽ ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆς ἐμὸν ὑετόν, ὡς ἂν ἐκείνου[3]   
     ἡ ξανθή γε κόμη τἀμὰ πίῃ δάκρυα.[4]

The speaker has apparently failed to gain admission to the home of his beloved, who, as noted by the translator, was clearly a boy, not a maiden, and urges the garlands he has hung by the door to save their leaves, drenched as they are with his tears, until the boy emerges.

A man offers a cockerel to an unresponsive boy. 5th-century BC Attic kylix inscribed "the boy is beautiful" (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

 

XII.  The Boyish Muse

75

If thou hadst wings on thy back, and a bow and arrows in thy hand, not Love but thou wouldst be described as the son of Kypris.   Εἰ πτερά σοι προσέκειτο, καὶ ἐν χερὶ τόξα καὶ ἰοί,
     οὐκ ἂν Ἔρως ἐγράφη Κύπριδος, ἀλλὰ σύ, παῖς.

It is implied that the one addressed resembles the boy god of love, Eros (the son of Kypris, an epithet for Aphrodite), often described as the most beautiful of the gods.

 

105

I am a little love that flew away, still easy to catch, from my mother’s nest, but from the house of Damis I fly not away on high; but here, loving and beloved without a rival, I keep company not with many, but with one in happy union.  Μικρὸς Ἔρως ἐκ μητρὸς ἔτ᾿ εὐθήρατος ἀποπτάς,
     ἐξ οἴκων ὑψοῦ Δάμιδος οὐ πέτομαι·
ἀλλ᾿ αὐτοῦ, φιλέων τε καὶ ἀζήλωτα φιληθείς,
     οὐ πολλοῖς, εὐκρὰς δ᾿ εἷς ἑνὶ συμφέρομαι.
 

This poem could have been commissioned by Damis (a common male name) as an encomium for his eromenos, who is apparently so attractive that he appears to be Eros himself. This Eros is notably depicted as both receiving and experiencing philia, (ignoring the conventional contrast of the eros felt by the man with the philia felt by the boy), so that affection is mutual: he is emphatically happy to belong to Damis.

A courtesan, such as Dorkion seems to have been, granting special favours to an ephebe: Attic kylix of ca. 470 BC

161

Dorkion,[5] who loves to sport with the young men, knows how to cast, like a tender boy, the swift dart of Kypris the Popular,[6] flashing desire from her eye, and over her shoulders . . . with her boy’s hat, her chlamys[7] showed her naked thigh. 

Δόρκιον ἡ φιλέφηβος ἐπίσταται, ὡς ἁπαλὸς παῖς,
     ἕσθαι πανδήμου Κύπριδος ὠκὺ βέλος,
ἵμερον ἀστράπτουσα κατ᾿ ὄμματος, ἠδ᾿ ὑπὲρ ὤμων
     . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .[8]    
     σὺν πετάσῳ γυμνὸν μηρὸν ἔφαινε χλαμύς.

The epigram’s wit rests on the ambiguous sexual status of ephebes (youths), who are in transition between being eromenoi and erastai, and could be either. Dorkion (probably a courtesan) desires them and knows how to arouse their desire by appearing to them like a “tender boy”.

 

162

My Love, not yet carrying a bow, or savage, but a tiny child, returns to Kypris, holding a golden writing tablet, and reading from it he lisps the love-charms that Diaulos’ boy, Philokrates, used to conquer the soul of Antigenes.[9]  Οὔπω τοξοφορῶν οὐδ᾿ ἄγριος,[10] ἀλλὰ νεογνὸς
     οὑμὸς Ἔρως παρὰ τὴν Κύπριν ὑποστρέφεται,
δέλτον ἔχων χρυσέην· τὰ Φιλοκράτεος δὲ Διαύλου
     τραυλίζει ψυχῆς φίλτρα κατ᾿ Ἀντιγένους.  

The meaning is elusive, and, for the poet’s original readers, probably depended on their knowing something about the named people.

 

163

Love has discovered what beauty to mix with beauty; not emerald with gold, which neither sparkles nor could ever be its equal, nor ivory with ebony, black with white, but Kleandros with Eubiotos, two flowers of Persuasion and Friendship.   Εὗρεν Ἔρως τί καλῷ μίξει καλόν, οὐχὶ μάραγδον
     χρυσῷ, ὃ μήτ᾿ ἀνθεῖ, μήτε γένοιτ᾿ ἐν ἴσῳ,
οὐδ᾿ ἐλέφαντ᾿ ἐβένῳ, λευκῷ μέλαν, ἀλλὰ Κλέανδρον
     Εὐβιότῳ, Πειθοῦς ἄνθεα καὶ Φιλίης.  

Eros’s combination of persuasion (incitement to desire is suggested) and philia (affection) in the relationship of this couple is just as beautiful as that brought about by combining contrasting materials.

A man and a boy recline on a couch together: Attic kylix of ca. 480 BC inscribed "the boy is beautiful" (Boston Museum of Fine Arts)

 

 

EPIGRAMS SOMETIMES ATTRIBUTED TO ASKLEPIADES OF SAMOS

 

XII. The Boyish Muse

17

The lemma included in The Greek Anthology calls this epigram anonymous, but another lemma says it was by either Asklepiades or his contemporary Poseidippos and its authorship remains disputed, though it was probably early 3rd century BC in any case.[11]

The love of women touches not my heart, but male brands have heaped unquenchable coals of fire on me. Greater is this heat; by as much as a man is stronger than a woman, by so much is this desire sharper.  Οὔ μοι θῆλυς ἔρως ἐγκάρδιος, ἀλλά με πυρσοὶ
    ἄρσενες ἀσβέστῳ θῆκαν ὑπ᾿ ἀνθρακιῇ.
πλειότερον τόδε θάλπος· ὅσον δυνατώτερος ἄρσην
     θηλυτέρης, τόσσον χὠ πόθος ὀξύτερος.
 

This is self-explanatory: expressions of preference for boys over women were then already in an old tradition, and were debated in terms of what is natural from Plato onwards.

 

36

There are doubts over whether this was by Asklepiades of Samos due to the lemmatist attributing it to an Asklepiades “of Adramyntinos”.  This may mean the author came from Adramyttion and was a different person, but more likely is an error, hence it is usually treated as by Asklepiades of Samos.[12]

Now you offer yourself, when the tender bloom is advancing under your temples and there is a prickly down on your thighs. And then you say, “I prefer this.” But who would say that the dry stubble is better than the eared corn?   Νῦν αἰτεῖς, ὅτε λεπτὸς ὑπὸ κροτάφοισιν ἴουλος
     ἕρπει καὶ μηροῖς ὀξὺς ἔπεστι χνόος·
εἶτα λέγεις “Ἥδιον ἐμοὶ τόδε.” καὶ τίς ἂν εἴποι
     κρείσσονας αὐχμηρὰς ἀσταχύων καλάμας;
 

A reply to a boy who is finally willing for  sex when he is already approaching manhood. "The poem draws on and resonates against the motif in which erastai urge eromenoi to concede sexual favours while they are still young and attractive. […]The implication is that the addressee has not heeded earlier pleas by the speaker, and the epigram may be read as dramatization of the results of failing to attend to the conventional advice of pederastic poetry.”[13] The assumption that facial and coarse bodily hair signify the end of the boy’s sexual attractiveness was commonplace in Greek pederasty.

 

[1] Thirty-three are firmly attributed to him, including all but the last presented here; others are disputed.

[2] The lemmatist errs, as the epigram is clearly for a boy. [Translator’s note]. If the lemmatist here was not the Byzantine Konstantinos Kephelas, who in the 10th century divided the Greek Anthology into books by subject inaccurately, then it was presumably at least the lemmatist who misled Kephelas into placing this poem in Book V rather than in Book XII, The Boyish Muse.

[3] ἐκείνου POxy 3724 ἄμεινον P Pl [Translator’s note]

[4] πίῃ δάκρυα P POxy 3724 δάκρυα πίῃ Pl [Translator’s note]

[5] Dorkion is a female name, so this poem alludes to pederasty rather than being about it.

[6] Aphrodite (Kypris) sometimes used the same weapons of love as her son Eros.

[7] The chlamys and petasos (hat) were the proper costume of the ephebi. [Translator’s note]

[8] Two lines lost [Translator’s note].

[9] As the following poems show, this epigram relates to the loves of two young boys, both of whom seem to have been beloved by the poet. [Translator’s note]

[10] I write οὐδ᾿ ἄγριος: οὐδάριος MS. [Translator’s note]

[11] See the discussion of the question by Alejandro Sens in his Asclepiades of Samos: Epigrams and Fragments, (Oxford University Press, 2011) p. 253.

[12] See the discussion of the question by Alejandro Sens in his Asclepiades of Samos: Epigrams and Fragments, (Oxford University Press, 2011) p. 320.

[13] Alejandro Sens, Asclepiades of Samos: Epigrams and Fragments, (Oxford University Press, 2011) p. 319.

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