[For purists, the Greek text of the letters will follow the English translation in the (distant) future.]
From p. 207: “These Notes are merely intended to give brief explanations of names or allusions, and do not deal with matters of textual criticism.”
[The notes are here inserted after the pertinent letter and footnoted, instead of at the end of the book in the hard copy. — Elf.Ed.]
From Alciphron, Literally and Completely Translated From the Greek, with Introduction and Notes, Athens: Privately Printed for the Athenian Society; 1896; pp. 1-69, 207-214.1
HAPPILY for us, the sea to-day is smooth and calm again. The storm lasted for three days: the northwinds blew violently from the headlands towards the open; the blackening sea grew rough, the waters were white with foam; the billows everywhere broke over each other, some dashing against the rocks, while others swelled and burst. It was utterly impossible to work: we betook ourselves to the huts on the bank, collected a few fragments of wood, the remains of the oaks which had been 2 felled by the ships’ carpenters, and lighted a fire to relieve the piercing cold. At last the fourth day came, a truly halcyon day, as we may conclude from the clearness of the air, and brought us wealth and fortune in abundance. For, as soon as the sun rose, and its first beams glittered on the sea, we quickly launched our little bark, which had lately been drawn up on land, and, putting our nets aboard, set to work. We cast them not far from land. Ha! what an enormous haul we made! The heavily-laden net, carried under water, almost dragged down the corks with it. Immediately the fish salesmen gathered round, with their yokes over their shoulders, from which hung baskets on either side; and, having purchased our fish for money down, hastened from Phalerum1 to the city. We had enough to satisfy them all, and besides, took back to our wives and children a quantity of small fry, enough to keep them not only for one, but for several days, if bad weather should come on.
1 Phalerum: One of the three harbours of Athens, the other two being Piraeus and Munychia.
ALL our labour is in vain, Cyrton! By day we are scorched by the heat of the sun, by night we explore the deep by the light of torches, and yet, in the words of the proverb, we are pouring the contents of our pitchers into the cask of the Danaides2 — so idle and useless are our efforts! We have not even sea nettles3 or Pelorian mussels to fill our belly; but the master collects both the fish and the money. But all that he gets from us is not enough for him: he is continually searching our little bark. Only lately, when we sent the lad Hermon to him from Munychia with the fish, he ordered us to bring him some sponges and sea-wool, which grows in fairly large quantities in the pool of Eurynome4. Before he had finished giving these orders, 4 Hermon left his load of fishes, the boat, and ourselves, and went off on a rowing-boat, with some Rhodian dyers whose acquaintance he had made. Thus the master has to mourn the loss of a slave; we, that of a true companion.
2 The cask of the Danaides: These were the fifty daughters of Danaus; they were married to the fifty sons of Aegyptus, and all of them, except one, put their husbands to death on the wedding night. As a punishment, they were sentenced, in the lower world, to keep incessantly pouring water into casks which were full of holes. Hence the expression is used to signify “useless labour.”
3 Sea nettles: Fishes called by this name
4 In the pool of Eurynome: There is great doubt about the reading here. Eurynome is supposed to be either the name of a sea-nymph or a place.
HAPPY is he who lives on land! Husbandry involves no danger. With good reason, then, do the Athenians name it Aneisidora,5 because it bestows gifts, whereby we live and enjoy health. The sea is cruel, and a sailor’s life is full of perils. My judgment is right: I have learnt this by experience and instruction. I remember that, once, when I wanted to sell some fish, I heard one of those fellows who hang about the Painted Porch,6 a bare-footed wretch with livid features, reciting verses and declaiming against the folly of sailors. He said that the verses were written by a certain Aratus,7 an astronomer. I cannot repeat all that he said; but, as far as I remember, one of the verses ran as follows:
Why, then, wife, should we not be wise, and, even though it be late, avoid a life that is so near death? We have children; and, although our poverty prevents us from leaving them anything considerable, we shall at least be able to leave them in blessed ignorance of the stormy waves and the dangers of the deep. They will be brought up to an agricultural life, and will enjoy a life of security, untroubled by alarm.
5 Aneisidora: Corn is said to have been first produced in Attica; hence its inhabitants gave the earth the name of Aneisidora, “producer of gifts.”
6 Who hang about the Painted Porch: i.e., the Stoic philosophers. The ������ ����������η was one of the most remarkable of the �τοαὶ, or porticos of Athens; it was so called from the variety of curious pictures it contained. Here it was that Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, taught, and for that reason his followers were called Stoics.
7 Aratus: He wrote two poems on astronomical subjects; he is supposed to have lived about B.C. 270; Cicero translated part of his poems into Latin verse.
THERE is as much difference between us, toilers on the sea, and those who live in cities and villages, as there is between sea and land. They either remain within the gates and occupy themselves with public affairs, or, devoting themselves to agriculture, wait quietly for the crops that are their support; but we, whose life is spent upon the water, find land death to us, even as the fishes, who are unable to breathe the air. Whatever, then, is the matter with you, my dear Tritonis, that you leave the shore and your yarn, and are constantly running into the city, visiting the Oschophoria and Lenaea8 in the company of wealthy Athenian ladies? This shows a want of prudence and modesty. It was not for this purpose that your father brought you up in 8 Aegina9 and gave you to me in marriage. If you are so fond of the city, farewell; go; but, if you love the sea, return to your husband; that is the best thing you can do; but forget for ever these delusive city spectacles.
8 The Oschophoria and Lenaea: Two festivals in honour of Dionysus (Bacchus). The former was properly the name given to a day of the Athenian festival �κ��ρα or �κιρο���ρια, on which chosen boys, sons of citizens, in women’s dress, carrying vine-branches (ὄσ�οι) loaded with grapes, went in procession from the temple of Bacchus to that of ���ηνᾶ �κιρ���.
The Lenaea: was so called from ληνὸς, a wine-press. Dramatic contests, especially between the comic poets, took place on this occasion.
9 Aegina: A well-known island in the Saronic Gulf, which played an important part in the history of ancient Greece.
YOU flatter yourself that you alone are wealthy, because you are able to entice my sailors with the offer of a higher salary. And no wonder; for only recently a lucky cast brought you in a quantity of golden darics,10 probably a relic of the battle of Salamis.11 Perhaps a Persian ship went to the bottom there with the crew and all the treasures on board, at the time when Themistocles, son of Neocles, in the days of our forefathers, set up his great trophy in honour of his victory over the Medes. I, for my part, am content if I can procure the necessaries of life, by the daily work of my hands. If you are wealthy, do not forget what is just: let your wealth be to you an assistance in performing, not unjust, but good and generous actions.
10 Darics: A Persian gold coin, about equal in value to a guinea. Said to have been first coined by King Darius, but the name is probably derived from the Persian darâ, “a king” — cf. our “sovereign.”
11 Salamis: B.C. 480, when Xerxes was defeated in a naval engagement by the Athenians under Themistocles.
WHEN you married me, Euthybolus, you did not marry an outcast or one of the common herd, but the daughter of respectable parents. Sosthenes of Stiria12 was my father: Damophile, my mother. I was their sole heiress; and they consented to our union, in the hope of our having lawful children. But, notwithstanding, you are ever casting amorous glances upon the women, and are addicted to every kind of wanton pleasure: you neglect me and our children, Galene and Thallassion: you are enamoured of the strange woman from Hermione,13 who has arrived in Piraeus, to the misfortune of husbands and wives. The young fisherman of the coast hold orgies at her house: each gives her different presents: and she accepts and swallows all, like 11 Charybdis. But you, more lavish than a fisherman can afford to be, are not satisfied with giving her sprats or mullets: although you are getting old, have been married a long time, and are the father of grown-up children, in your desire to oust your rivals, you send her Milesian hair-nets,14 Sicilian dresses, and even gold. Either give up this insulting conduct, your debauchery, and your madness for women, or I tell you plainly that I will go back to my father, who will know how to protect me and will summon you before the court for your cruel behaviour towards me.
12 Stiria: One of the demes or townships into which Attica was divided.
13 Hermione: In Argolis, in Peloponnesus.
14 Hair-nets: A woman’s head-dress made of net, used to confine the hair with, especially indoors, such as are still used in Italy and Spain.
I SEND you a plaice, a sole, a mullet, and three dozen purple-fish: send me two oars for them, for mine are broken. The presents one friend makes to another are simple exchanges. He who asks for a thing boldly and without ceremony thereby declares that he considers the possessions of friends are common, and that he has a right to share what belongs to his friends.
THOSE who are undecided in their minds wait for some kind friend to advise them. So I, who have often addressed myself to the winds — since I never had the courage to consult you, my dear wife — have now decided to speak out, and beg you to assist me with your advice, if you have anything better to suggest. Listen now to the state of things as to which I want your opinion. My affairs are, as you know, in a very embarrassed condition, and I find it very hard to get a living, for there are hardly any fish in the sea. This rowing-boat which you see, with its numerous crew, is a Corycian bark15 manned by pirates. They want me to become a partner in their venture, and promise me vast wealth. I confess that my mouth waters for the 14 gold and garments which they hold out to me as an inducement; but I have not the heart to become a murderer and stain with gore these hands of mine, which the sea has kept pure from evil-doing, from my childhood to the present day; and yet, on the other hand, it is hard and unendurable to live in continual poverty. The decision of my choice lies in your hands: to whatever course you are favourably inclined, I will follow you, dear wife; for the advice which friends give us often cuts the knot of indecision.
15 Corycian bark: So called from a mountain in Lydia, in Asia Minor, which was famous as being the haunt of pirates.
CONFOUND it, how unlucky I am! All my affairs go wrong, and, as the proverb says, after the fashion of Mandrabulus.16 It is a sorry comfort to be always buying and selling the necessaries of life for worthless bits of money! It is time for you to help me, Struthion; you shall share the fruits of my labours on the sea. I want, through your recommendation, to get on familiar terms with one or two of our city millionaires, such as Erasicles of Sphettus or Philostratus of Cholargus,17 that I may take my baskets of fish to them in person. By this means, in addition to the price of the fish, I hope through your interest to get some trifle at their house on the day of the festival of Dionysia or Apaturia.18 Besides this, they will save us from the 16 cruel hands of the market-inspectors,19 who, for their own profit, daily heap insults upon the inoffensive. Not only report, but also experience proves that you parasites have great influence with the young and wealthy.
16 After the fashion of Mandrobulus: That is, from bad to worse. The following is the explanation given of this proverbial expression: Mandrobulus, having had the good luck to discover a vast treasure, in gratitude to the gods, offered a golden ram to them; he afterwards offered one of silver; then one of brass; and, finally, none at all.
17 Sphettus . . . Cholargus: Two Attic demes.
18 Dionysia: Festival of Bacchus.
Apaturia: A festival first instituted at Athens, so called from ἀπ��τη, “deceit,” because it celebrated the memory of a stratagem by which Melanthius, king of Athens, overcame Xanthus, king of Boeotia.210
19 Market-inspectors: Clerks of the market, who regulated the buying and selling, like the Roman aediles.
THE surface of the ocean, as you see, is already rough; a thick mist has overspread the heavens; the sky is everywhere covered with clouds. The winds, driven together, threaten every moment to disturb the sea. The dolphins, leaping lightly over the swelling waves, herald the approach of stormy weather: those who are skilled in astronomy say that Taurus is rising in the heavens. Those who take due precautions against dangers for the most part come off uninjured; but there are others who, from despair, abandon themselves to the waves of their own free will, and leave the guidance of the helm to chance. Hence we hear that some are carried along by the current to the promontory of Malea,20 and others to the Sicilian strait or the Lycian Sea, dashed 18 upon the rocks, and swamped. The promontory of Caphareus21 is no better for ships in stormy weather. Therefore, let us wait until the sea is calm, and the air has cleared, before we explore the coast near this headland: perhaps we may find a body thrown up, the remnant of a shipwrecked crew, to which we may pay the honours of burial. A good action never misses its reward, even though it does not follow immediately upon the deed. The approval of the conscience, in addition to the hope of reward, supports and cheers the heart exceedingly, especially when we do a kindness to those of our fellows who are no more.
20 Malea: The southernmost point of Greece. It was considered a very dangerous part for navigation. There was a proverb, “When you double Malea, forget those at home.”
21 Caphareus:A promontoryof Euboea.
HAVE you heard the important news, Scopelus? The Athenians are thinking of sending a fleet to foreign parts, to carry on a naval campaign. The Paralus and Salaminia,22 the swiftest vessels afloat, leading the way, are already unmoored, and have taken on board the commissioners who are to settle the time and starting-point of the expedition. The rest of the ships, which are to transport the troops, require the services of a number of oarsmen, who have had experience in contending with the winds and waves. What are we to do then, my good friend? shall we run away or stay? Everywhere, from Piraeus, Phalerum, and Sunium,23 as far as the neighbourhood of Geraestus,24 they are enlisting sailors. How should we be able to remain quiet in the ranks and to 20 obey the orders of men in arms, we who know nothing even about the contests of law courts? We have a choice of two evils: to leave our wives and children and take to flight, or to expose our lives to the perils of the sword and the sea. Since it is useless to remain, flight seems preferable.
22 Paralus . . . Salaminia: The two Athenian galleys, reserved for state-services, religious missions, embassies, the conveyance of public moneys and persons, and also frequently as admirals’ galleys in sea-fights.
23 Sunium: In Attica.
24 Geraestus: A harbour and promontory in Euboea.
I DID not know how luxurious and effeminate the sons of the wealthy Athenians were. But, lately, when Pamphilus and some of his friends hired my skiff, that they might go for a sail as the sea was calm and take part in a fishing expedition, I learned what luxuries they provided themselves with both on land and sea. Finding the wooden seats in the boat disagreeable, Pamphilus stretched himself out upon some foreign carpets and rugs, declaring that he could not lie down upon the bare boards, which he no doubt thought harder than stone. He next asked us to make an awning for him, by spreading out the linen sails overhead, because he could not endure the heat of the sun’s rays: whereas not only we sailors, but all who are only moderately 22 wealthy, as a rule seek every opportunity of warming ourselves in the sun; for the sea and cold go together. Certainly Pamphilus had not merely brought his male friends, but he was accompanied by a number of very pretty women, all musicians. The name of one was Crumatium, who played on the flute; another, Erato, was a harpist; and Euepes beat the cymbals. Thus my bark was full of music, the sea resounded with song, and mirth and gaiety prevailed. To me alone this afforded no enjoyment. For several of my fellows, especially the spiteful Glaucias, with his jealousy, caused me more uneasiness than a Telchinian.25 However, the ample payment he gave me cheered me; and now I am so fond of these pleasure-parties on the sea, that I wish I could find another of these generous and wealthy young men.
25 A Telchinian: The Telchinians were the first inhabitants of Crete, Cyprus, and Rhodes, and the first workers in metal. They had a bad reputation as spiteful genii; hence a “Telchinian” was used generally for a “a spiteful, mischeivous person.”
IF you can help me, tell me frankly, but do not talk of my affairs to anyone else; but, if you cannot, at least be more secret than a member of the Areopagus.26 Meanwhile, this is the state of affairs. Love has attacked my heart, and will not allow me to be guided by reason. All sense is swamped within me by this passion. How ever has it come to pass that love has violently attacked me, a poor fisherman, who was till lately quite satisfied if he could make enough to live upon? It has taken deep hold of me and will not let me go, and I am as much inflamed as any rich and handsome young man. I, who once laughed at those whose effeminacy made them the slaves of their passion, am now entirely in its power; I want a wife, and I can think of nothing 24 but Hymenaeus, son of Terpsichore. The girl I love is the daughter of one of those foreigners, who, somehow or other, have migrated from Hermione to Piraeus, to our sorrow. I have certainly no dowry to offer; but I hope, if I introduce myself as what I am, a simple fisherman, that I shall be considered an eligible suitor, unless her father is mad.
26 The Areopagus: The highest judicial court of Athens, so called from the Ἄρειος π��γος, or hill of Ares, over against the Acropolis, where it was held.
I LATELY saw, on the beach at Sunium, an old net torn and full of holes. I asked whose it was, and why it was lying there, as it had evidently not been broken by too heavy a load, but its rents were the result of age. I was told that it had belonged to you four years ago; that it had become entangled in a sunken reef, and its meshes torn in the middle. It appears that, since then, as you did not care either to mend or take it away, it has remained where it is, since none of the neighbours ventured to touch it, as they did not consider it belonged to them. Thus, not only these people, but you, the former owner, have abandoned your rights of possession. I therefore ask you to give me what is spoilt by age, and is really no longer your property. You can, without any loss to yourself, hand over to me that which you have already doomed to destruction.
THERE is a proverb: A neighbour’s eye is spiteful and envious. How do my affairs concern you? By what right do you claim what it has pleased me to neglect? Hold your hands, or rather your insatiable desires; let not a greedy longing for what belongs to others force you to ask unreasonable favours.
I DID not ask you for anything that is yours, but for something that is not. Since you will not let anyone else have it, very well; keep what you have not got.
CONFOUND that Lesbian watcher!27 When he saw the sea in some parts growing black and rough, he shouted out, as if a large shoal of young or old tunnies was approaching. Believing him, we almost completely surrounded the bay with our nets; then we hauled them up, and they felt heaver than is usual after a catch. In a state of expectation, we summoned the neighbours, promising them a share in the spoil if they would assist and aid us in our labours. At length, after great efforts, at nightfall we brought to land — an enormous camel, quite rotten and alive with worms. I have told you of this catch of ours, not to make you laugh, but that you may know how completely and by what means fortune overwhelms by unlucky self.
27 Watcher: A man whose duty it was to help the fishermen by keeping a lookout and giving them notice of the approach of a shoal of fish.
YOU must be suffering from the effects of high feeding, or else you are mad. I hear that you are madly enamoured of a singing-woman, and that, in paying ruinous visits to her, you squander all your daily profits. I have heard this from our excellent neighbour Sosias, who has a great respect for the truth, and would never be betrayed into falsehood: I mean the Sosias who is so skilful at making that excellent savoury broth from the little fish which he snares in his nets. Tell me, then, what has given you the idea of music, of the diatonic, harmonic, and chromatic styles, as he said, when he informed me about it? You are in love both with the girl’s beauty and her music, as it seems. Leave off spending your money on such things, else you will 29 suffer shipwreck on land instead of on sea; you will be stripped of your substance, and the abode of this singing-woman will prove as dangerous to you as the gulf of Calydon,28 the Tyrrhenian sea, or Scylla the songstress, since you will not be able to call upon Crataiis,29 if she attacks you a second time.
28 Gulf of Calydon: Part of the Gulf of Corinth.
29 Crataiis: A reference to Homer’s Odyssey. When Ulysses learns from Circe that he must lose six of his companions at the rock of Scylla, he asks how he can avenge their death; but Circe advises him to flee without delay and invoke Crataiis, the mother of Scylla, to protect him against further loss.
YOUR exhortations are useless, Euplous. It is quite impossible for me to give up this girl, now that I follow the god who has initiated me into the mysteries, the god who is armed with torch and bow. Besides, love is quite natural to us toilers on the sea: was not a goddess of the sea the mother of the winged boy? thus Love is related to us on the mother’s side. Smitten by him to the heart, I enjoy the company of my girl on the shore, and think that in her I possess a Panope, or Galatea, the most beautiful of the Nereids.
I HAVE been disgracefully treated! The other guests were served with sow’s udder and womb, and liver, which from the delicacy of its fat might have been compared to dew, while we had nothing but pea-soup. They drank wine from Chalybon:30 we had wine that had gone off, as sour as vinegar. O gods and spirits, who preside over and regulate our destinies, avert from us such injustice of fortune: do not keep some in a state of perpetual happiness, and give others hunger for a constant companion. The course of destiny has reduced humanity to melancholy necessities. But we, whose lot is poor and miserable, are treated by her with the most cruel injustice.
30 Wine from Chalybon: Wine from a town in Syria, which was a favourite drink of the kings of Persia.
MY hopes of the young Polycritus have deceived me. I thought that, if his father should die, he would spend his money freely in feasting and all kinds of pleasure with us and in the company of beautiful women, and that he would have got rid of all his fortune, or the greater part of it, in this manner. Quite a mistake! ever since his father Criton died, he only takes one meal a day, and that quite late, just before sunset. He eats no expensive dishes, but common bread from the market, and, when he wants to have a regular feast, he adds some over-ripe figs and half-rotten olives. Having been thus deceived in my wonderful expectations, I do not know what I am to do. For, if the supporter himself needs some one to support him, what is to become of him who needs to be supported? It is a double misfortune for one hungry man to associate with another.
ONE of these cheese-cakes called after Gelon of Sicily was set before us. The very sight of it delighted me, and I was all eagerness to devour it; but this moment was put off for some time, for the cakes were surrounded with all kinds of sweets, made of pistachios, dates, and nuts out of the shell. I regarded all this with an unfriendly eye; and waited, with my mouth wide open, until it should be time to attack the cake. But the guests were an unconscionably long time finishing the sweetmeats, and the continual circulation of the wine-cup caused further delay. At last, as if it had been agreed to torture me with suspense, one of them began to clean his teeth with a piece of stick, another stretched himself on his back, as if he were more inclined to sleep than 34 to trouble himself about eating; then they began chattering, and nothing seemed farther from their thoughts than to give me a chance of enjoying the delicious and longed-for cake. At last, I believe, the gods had compassion upon my consuming desire, and, after long delay, procured me a taste of the cake I had so eagerly longed for. I write this, not so much with a feeling of pleasure, as of weariness and exhaustion after my prolonged waiting.
I HAVE never experienced so severe a winter in Attica. Not only did the winds blowing side by side or rather rushing together in confusion, fall violently upon us, but a steady fall of deep snow covered the ground: it did not stop at the surface, but rose to such a height, that, when you opened the door, you could hardly see the street that led to our house. As you may imagine, I had neither wood nor fuel, and the cold pierced me to the very marrow. I then bethought myself of a plan worthy of Ulysses31 — to run to the vapour-rooms or furnaces of the public baths. But even there my fellow-labourers, who were already assembled, refused to allow me to enter, for we were all of us tormented by the same goddess — Poverty. 36 As soon as I saw that there was no getting in there, I ran to the private bath of Thrasyllus, and this time I found nobody. Having appeased the bath-keeper with a couple of obols,32 I succeeded in warming myself. After this, the snow was succeeded by frost, the cold dried up the moisture, and the stones on the roads became ice-bound. At last, the temperature became milder, and the gentle sunbeams permitted me to go out again freely, and to take my usual walks abroad.
31 A plan worthy of Ulysses: A proverbial expression, signifying a very cleaver plan, Ulysses being considered a model of cunning.
32 A couple of obols: An obol was worth about three halfpence.
A VIOLENT hailstorm has ruined our crops, and I see no remedy against famine, for our poverty prevents us from buying imported corn. I have been told that you still have something left from your abundant harvest of last year. Lend me then twenty bushels, to save the lives of myself, my wife, and my children. If I have a good harvest, I will return it to you; yea, with interest, if I have an abundant crop. Do not desert, in time of need, such good neighbours, who are for the moment in difficulties.
SINCE the land does not sufficiently repay me for my labours, I have resolved to intrust my fortunes to the sea and the waves. Life and death are allotted to us by destiny: it is impossible for a man to escape the payment of this debt, even if he shut himself up in a cell. The day of death is fixed inevitably, and fate is unavoidable. Life, therefore, does not depend upon the profession which we choose: it is subject to the arbitrament of fortune. Besides, many have perished in their youth on land, while others have lived to a great age at sea. Convinced of the truth of this, I will turn my attention to a seafaring life, and will live in the company of the winds and waves. It is better for me to return home from the Bosphorus and Propontis33 with newly-acquired wealth, than to live, in a remote corner of Attica, a life of misery and poverty.
33 Propontis: The Sea of Marmora.
MY good friend, usurers are a great curse in the city. I do not know what was the matter with me. When I might have applied to you or one of my neighbours in the country, when I wanted some money to pay for a field which I had bought at Colonus,34 I allowed myself to be taken by one of the inhabitants of the city to Byrtius’s door. There I found an old man, with shriveled face and frowning brows, holding in his hand some dirty old pieces of paper, half eaten by bugs and moths. At first, he hardly spoke to me, apparently considering talking to be loss of time. When my introducer told him that I wanted money, he asked, “How many talents?”35 When I expressed my astonishment at the mention of such a sum, he immediately put on an 40 air of contempt and made no secret of his impatience. However, he agreed to lend me the sum I wanted, and required my bond, in which I promised to pay him back the principal with enormous interest, and my property was to be security for a month.36 I repeat it — such people are a curse, who revel in the occupation of counting and reckoning on the fingers. O ye gods who protect the husbandmen, preserve me from every seeing a wolf37 or a money-lender again!
34 Colonus: One of the boroughs of Attica, famous for the tomb of Oedipus, and immortalized by Sophocles, who was a native of it, in his tragedy of Oedipus at Colonus.
35 How many talents A talent was worth about £250.
36 For a month: The interest on borrowed money was paid monthly, and the day of collecting it was the last day of every moon.
37 A wolf: Wolves were such a pest to the country that a reward was publicly offered for their destruction.
YOU avoid me now, Phoebiane; you avoid me, although you have just lately robbed me of all my property. What is there of mine that you have not had? Figs, fresh cheeses in baskets, a pair of fowls, not to mention all the other dainties? Thus, after having, in the words of the proverb, completely ruined me,38 you have forced me to become your slave. And yet you pay no heed to my burning love? Farewell: leave me. I will endure your treatment with sorrow, but yet with firmness.
38 Completely ruined me: Literally, “turned me upside down.” The allusion is 212to casks of wine which, having been drained of their contents, are turned upside down and used for sitting on.
A NEIGHBOUR, who was in labour, just now sent for me, and I was on the way to her with the necessary appliances, when you suddenly came upon me, violently held back my neck, and wanted to kiss me. You decrepit39 and wretched old man, will you never leave off persecuting with your overtures, as if you were a young man, us girls who are in the prime of life? Have you not been obliged to give up your work in the fields, since you are unable to look after your own affairs? Have you not been driven from the kitchen and the hearth as incompetent? What then is the use of these tender glances, these long-drawn sighs? Stop it, you miserable Cecrops,40 and mind your own business.
39 Decrepit: Literally, “as old as three crows.”
40 Cecrops: The oldest legendary king of Athens: hence used for “an old dotard.”
MENANDER has made up his mind to make a journey to Corinth, to see the Isthmian games.41 I do not at all approve of this idea. You know what it is to be deprived of the company of a lover such as he is, even for a little while; but I had no right to try and dissuade him, since he is hardly ever absent. He intends to stay in your town: I don’t know whether I ought to intrust him to your care or not; for I know that he is anxious to win your friendship, and this certainly makes me somewhat jealous. I am aware of our mutual friendship, but I am afraid, my dear, not so much of you — for I know that your character is more honourable than your manner of life — as of Menander. He is terribly amorous, and, besides, even the gloomiest 44 of men would not be proof against the charms of Bacchis. I do not feel at all sure that he is not taking this journey rather for the sake of making your acquaintance than for the Olympian42 games. Perhaps you will think me suspicious. My dear friend, you must pardon the jealousy which is so natural to us girls. It is no trifle for me to lose a lover like Menander; especially as, if any irritation or quarrel should arise between us, I should be obliged to put up with the railleries and insults of a Chremes or Diphilus43 on the stage. I shall be extremely grateful to you, if he should return to me as he started. Farewell.
41 The Isthmian Games: So called from the Isthmus of Corinth, where they were celebrated. They were supposed to have been instituted by Theseus, king of Attica, in honour of Neptune.
42 Olympian: Read “Isthmian.”
43 Chremes or Diphilus: Two characters in Menander’s plays.
ALL we girls are grateful to you: there is not one of us who is not as much obliged as Phryne. Certainly she alone was concerned in the dangerous action, which that vile Euthias brought against her, but the danger threatened us all alike. For, if we are to ask our lovers for presents in vain, or are to be accused of impiety if we bestow our favours upon generous clients, it will be better to give up our present mode of life, and to avoid exposing ourselves and others who consort with us to annoyance on our account. But now we shall no longer be blamed on account of our profession, because Euthias has shown himself a disloyal lover; but, since Hyperides is just and good, we shall continue it in the future with increased zest. May your humanity 46 meet with its due reward. You have gained a respectable mistress for your own benefit, and, in her person, you have saved us all; for which our gratitude is due to you. If you would only publish the speech which you delivered on her behalf, then we girls promise to erect in your honour a golden statue, in whatever part of Greece you please.
THE sympathy which I felt for you in your hour of danger, my dearest friend, was not so great as is my present joy, now that you have got rid of a worthless lover and found an honest friend in Hyperides. It is my opinion that this suit has been very fortunate for you; for the trial has made your name famous, not only in Athens, but throughput the whole of Greece. Euthias will be sufficiently punished by the loss of your favours. Owing to his natural stupidity, he appears to have gone beyond the limits of the jealousy of a lover in the excitement of his anger; be assured that he loves you at the present moment more than Hyperides himself. The latter certainly wishes to be regarded with favour by you in return for having undertaken your 48 defence, and to gain your affection; but the passion of the other has been only more violently whetted by the loss of his case. You may expect from him, then, fresh entreaties, supplications, and presents in abundance; but, my dear girl, do not prejudice our cause, or, by listening to the entreaties of Euthias, cause it to be thought that Hyperides has done wrong in taking our part. Neither believe those who tell you that the orator’s efforts would have been unavailing, unless you had rent your clothes and shown your bare breasts to the judges. Why, this very argument, so opportunely employed, was the result of his exertions on your behalf.
NO, so help me, Venus, may you never find a better lover! may you spend all your life with Euthias, with whom you are so infatuated! Unhappy woman! how foolish you are to attach yourself to a monster like that, merely because of your confidence in your beauty! Of course he will despise Phryne and love Myrrhine. No doubt your object was to irritate Hyperides, who at this moment treats you with neglect. He in truth possesses a mistress who is worthy of him; and you have a lover who is admirably suited to you. But only ask him for a present: you will soon see if he does not accuse you of having tried to set fire to the dockyards or of having broken the laws. To tell the truth, you have made yourself hateful to all of us, who have regard for a more honourable attachment.
I SHOULD never have believed that, after so long an intimacy with Euxippe, I should quarrel with her. I do not reproach her with the many services I have rendered her since she arrived here from Samos. You know what a handsome present Pamphilus offered me; but I refused to have anything to do with him, because I knew that he had already become acquainted with her. By way of rewarding my kindness handsomely, she is endeavouring to curry favour with that accursed woman of Megara, of whom I have long had my suspicions, on account of Straton. So there is nothing astonishing in her speaking ill of me. It was the festival of Ceres,44 and we were all assembled according to custom at my house, to spend the night. I was surprised 51 at Euxippe’s behaviour. At first, she kept on giggling with Megara, and, by mocking and mimicking me, showed her spitefulness; then she began to sing aloud some verses, containing allusions to a lover who had forsaken me. I did not mind this so much. But, at last, she lost all decency, and ridiculed my dye and rouge. She seems badly off herself: I don’t believe she even possesses a mirror. For, if she saw how like yellow ochre her complexion was, she would not abuse me for being ugly. However, I care very little about this. I want to please my lovers, not monkeys like Megara or Euxippe. I have told you thing, that you may not blame me afterwards; for, one day, I will revenge myself upon them, not with raillery or insult, but in such a manner as to make them feel it. I worship the goddess Nemesis.
44 The Festival of Ceres: The Haloa (Ἁλῶα) was a festival in honour of Demeter (Ceres) as the inventress of agriculture.
SINCE you have taken it into your head to study philosophy, you have become serious, and raise your eyebrows above your forehead. Then, assuming the philosopher’s air, with a book in your hand, you strut proudly towards the Academy45, passing by my house, as if you had never seen it before. Are you mad, Euthydemus? Don’t you know what sort of man that scowling sophist is, who has so excited your admiration by his discourses? You don’t know how long he has been pestering me, in order to gain my favours. He is also mad after Herpyllis, Megara’s pet maid. At that time, I refused to receive him, for I preferred your kisses and embraces to all the gold of philosophers. But, since he seems to be the cause of your keeping 53 away from me, I will receive him; and, if you like, I will prove to you that this wonderful teacher, this woman-hater, is not satisfied with ordinary enjoyments during the night. You foolish young man, all this display is simple nonsense, mere artifice, a trap to fleece young men. Do you think there is much difference between a sophist and a woman? The only difference is their ways of persuasion; the object of their efforts is the same — to get money. Indeed, our principles are far better and more religious than theirs: we do not deny the existence of the gods, but we believe our lovers, when they swear that they adore us. We also prevent men from committing incest and adultery. Only, because we are ignorant of the origin of the clouds and the theory of atoms, you consider us to be inferior to the sophists. I myself have attended their lectures, and have conversed with several of them. The truth is, that none of those who frequent the company of women trouble themselves with the idle dreams of upsetting 54 the state and seizing the supreme authority: they drink all the morning, get frightfully drunk, and then sleep it off till nine or ten o’clock. Again, we educate young men quite as well as they do. Compare, if you like, Aspasia46 the courtesan and the famous sophist Socrates; and consider which of them produced the best citizens. You will find that Pericles was the pupil of the former, Critias of the latter. Abandon this folly, shake off your disagreeable looks, my darling Euthydemus: your beautiful eyes were never intended for scowling; return to your lady-love the same as when you used to visit her on the way from the Lyceum,47 wiping off the perspiration. Let us drink moderately, and prove to each other that pleasure is the aim of life. Then you will confess how learned I am! Besides, the Deity only allows us a short time to live; do not waste it foolishly trying to solve riddles. Farewell.
45 The Academy: A gymnasium in the suburbs of Athens, where Plato the philosopher taught: hence his pupils were called Academics.
46 Aspasia: The mistress of the famous Athenian statesman, Pericles; she is said to have studied under Gorgias of Leontini, a famous sophist and rhetorician.
47 The Lyceum: A public wrestling-ground in the eastern suburbs of Athens.
IF you think it is any satisfaction to you or that it adds to the gratification of your clients, to make me come repeatedly to your door and complain to your servants who are sent to more fortunate suitors, I cannot say you are wrong in treating me thus contemptuously. I know that my efforts are unavailing; but be assured that few of your favoured lovers would be so deeply affected by the loss of your affection as I am. I flattered myself that the quantity of wine I drank yesterday at Euphemius’s would afford me some consolation, and help me to drive away my nightly cares; but it had just the contrary effect. It only fanned more violently the flame of my passion: I wept, I sobbed loudly, so that the better disposed of those around me 56 were moved to pity, while the rest laughed at me. There still remains for me a slight alleviation of my sorrow, a poor consolation,48 which, however, is now withering away and fading. I mean the flower which you plucked from your head when we quarrelled at supper, and threw at me, to show that you were not offended with everything I had sent you. But, if it amuses you, enjoy my grief; if it please you, tell the story of it to those who are now more fortunate than myself; it will perhaps soon be their turn to grieve, when they meet with similar treatment. However, pray to Venus that she be not angry with you for your pride. Another would have written a letter to you full of insults and threats: I prefer to address you with prayers and supplications, for I am desperately in love with you. Alas! in the excess of my grief, I am afraid of imitating those unfortunate lovers whose complaints only serve to increase their misfortune.
48 A poor consolation: The commentators differ greatly as to the interpretation of this passage. According to some, the reference is not to a “flower,” but 213 to a lock of hair from Petale’s head; others explain it by the Greek proverb, εκ τρ���ος κρ��μαται, implying that a man is in great danger, “hanging by a single hair” or thread. But “the flowers” seems to suit the epithet μαραιν��μενον.
HOW I wish that a woman’s house could be supported on tears! I should live right royally, for I know you would keep me abundantly supplied with them; but, as it is, unfortunately we want money, clothes, ornaments, and servants. Our arrangements depend entirely upon this. I have no patrimony at Myrrhinus,49 no share in the silver mines;50 I depend upon the little presents I receive, and the favours of foolish lovers, wrung only from them with many sighs and tears. I have known you now for more than a year, and I am no better for it. My hair is in disorder; it has not seen any oil all this time. I have only got one Tarentine tunic, so old and torn that I am perfectly ashamed to be seen in it by my friends. I hope I may have better 58 luck! And do you think that, while I stick to you, I shall be able to find other resources? You weep; be sure that won’t last long. But I shall be finely hungry, unless I can find a lover to give me something. I wonder at your tears: how absurd they are! O lady Venus! You say, Simalion, that you are madly in love with a woman, and that you cannot live without her. Well, my friend,51 have you no valuable drinking-cups at home? has not your mother some jewellery? cannot you get some securities belonging to your father? Happy Philotis! the Graces have looked upon her with kindly eyes. What a lover she had in Meneclides, who gives her something every day. That is better than tears. As for me, unhappy girl, I have no lover, but a hired mourner, who sends me nothing but roses and garlands, as if to decorate an early grave for me, and declares that he weeps all night. If you can give me anything, come and see me, but — no tears. Otherwise, keep your grief to yourself, and do not worry me.
49 Myrrhinus: An Attic deme.
50 The silver mines: The mines of Laurium, in the neighbourhood of Attica, were famous.
51 Well, my friend We find similar suggestions in Lucian’s Dialogues of Courtesans (xii.).
DIPHILUS no longer cares for me; he is altogether devoted to that dirty wretch Thessale. Until the day of the festival of Adonis,52 he used to come and sup and sleep with me from time to time, but since then he has put on an insolent and haughty air, and wants to be made much of. Whenever he was drunk, he was escorted by Helix, who was very fond of coming to stay at my house, since he was in love with Herpyllis. But now he makes no secret of it, that he does not intend to have anything more to do with me. For four whole days he has been on the drink in Lysis’s garden, in the company of Thessale and that accursed Strongylion, who, out of spite against me, has introduced this new flame to him. Letters, my servants’ journeys to and fro — all my 60 efforts were fruitless and without result. I even think they have increased his pride and arrogance towards me. The only thing that remains for me to do is to shut my door against him, if ever he wants to spend the night with me, in order to vex her; insolence is generally overcome with contempt. But, even if this proves useless, then I must have recourse to a more drastic remedy, as in cases of severe illness; for it would be intolerable not only to lose the money I get out of him, but also to be Thessale’s laughing-stock. You say you have a love-potion, which you have often tried upon young men. I need some assistance of the kind to cure him of his pride and fondness for drink. I will send to make overtures of peace and will try to soften him with my tears. I will tell him he must beware of the wrath of Nemesis, if he slights a heart so affectionate as mine. I will tell him other things of the same kind, and draw freely on my imagination. He will certainly come, moved to pity by my great affection. He will even allow 61 that it is only right to keep past times and our old acquaintance in remembrance, puffing himself up with pride, like the wretch that he is. Helix also will help me; Herpyllis will see to him. But the effect of philtres is doubtful; they sometimes prove fatal. But what do I care? He must either live to be mine, or die for Thessale.
52 The festival of Adonis: Celebrated in most of the cities of Greece in honour of Venus, and in memory of her beloved Adonis. See the account in the Adoniazusae, the 15th Idyll of Theocritus.
SHE is dead, dear Euthycles! beautiful Bacchis is dead! She has left me nothing but tears that will ever flow and the remembrance of the sweetest love, that continued delightful to the end. Never shall I forget Bacchis: that moment will never be. What sympathy she had for all! One would be right in calling her a living justification of the life of a courtesan. I should think it an excellent idea, if all the women assembled from all parts and set up her statue in the temple of Venus or the Graces. It is a common reproach against such women that they are wicked, faithless, greedy after money: that their doors are always open to anyone who will give them money presents, and that they bring all kinds of misfortunes upon their lovers. She has shown by her example the injustice of such accusations: her honourable 63 conduct protected her from the general slander. You remember that Mede who came from Syria with a numerous suite and great pomp? He promised her eunuchs, slaves, and Oriental ornaments: but she rejected his advances. She was content to share my humble cloak, and, satisfied with my trifling presents, refused the gold and lavish presents of the satrap. Do you remember, also, how she rejected the Egyptian merchant, who offered her untold gold? There was never a better creature born; I am convinced of it. Why, with all her good qualities, did not Fortune guide her to a better choice? And now she is gone, she has left me, and for the future will rest alone in the grave! How unjust, O kindly Fates! why am I not united with her in death, as formerly in life? But alas! I still live, I eat my food, and hold converse with my friends; but she will never look upon me again with her bright eyes, with a smile upon her hips; nor, kind and gentle, will she pass the night with 64 me in delightful encounters. But just now, how she spoke, how she looked! what charms were in her words! how sweet and pure was the nectar that distilled from her kisses! It seems to me, Persuasion sat upon her lips; girt with the cestus, she went hand in hand with Venus and the Graces. Now all the ditties she used to sing as the wine went round are over; the lyre, which she smote with her ivory fingers, is silent: she, who was the darling of all the Graces, lies mute as a stone, mere dust and ashes. And Megara, that fearful prostitute, is still alive, after having so mercilessly plundered Theagenes that, reduced to poverty from affluence, he has snatched up a miserable cloak and shield, and gone off as a soldier; while Bacchis, who adored her lover, is dead. I feel easier, my dearest Euthycles, not that I have poured my lament into your ears; for it is delightful to me to speak and write of her, now that nothing is left to me but the remembrance of her. Farewell.
YOU alone have a lover, of whom you are so enamoured that you cannot endure to be separated from him for a moment. How impolite! by our lady Venus! Although you had been invited long ago by Glycera — since the Dionysia, she told us — you did not come; if you could not do so for her sake, I wonder how you could bear to refuse to join your friends. You have become modest, and are in love with your admirer. Does such a reputation make you happy? Well, we are only prostitutes and cannot control our passions. But, patience; Philo also had a staff of fig-tree wood:53 by the great goddess, I am angry with you. We were all present, Thessale, Myrrhine, Chrysium, Euxippe; and Philumena, who has recently married a jealous husband, put the worthy 66 man to bed, and joined us, although she came late. But you alone carefully guarded your Adonis, lest, if you, his Venus, left him, Proserpine might claim him for her own. What a bout we had! how full of enjoyment! for I see no reason to spare your feelings. Songs, jests, drinking till cock-crow, perfumes, garlands, sweetmeats. The place where we sat down was shaded with laurels: only one thing was wanting — your company; nothing else. We have often got drunk before, but rarely so delightfully. But what afforded us the greatest amusement was a serious dispute54 between Thryallis and Myrrhine, as to which of them could show the finest and most delicate buttocks. Myrrhine first unloosed her girdle, and began to shake her loins, which quivered through her silken shift like fat or curdled milk, looking back complacently all the time at the movements of her rump, then, moving gently as if she were in the act, she sighed, so that, by Venus, I was struck with astonishment. Nor did Thryallis shrink from the contest, but, eager to 67 surpass her in wantonness, said, “I will not enter the lists with anything to cover me, or with any affectation, but just like the athletes at the games: the contest admits of no shuffling.” She stripped off her shift, and, bending her loins upwards a little, she said, “Look at the colour, Myrrhine, how perfect it is, how pure, how irreproachable! Look at my hips, how they join the thighs, neither too fleshy nor too lean, and the dimples at their extremities.” Then she showed55 her loins, not trembling, like Myrrhine’s, and, with a smile, shook them with a quivering motion, and whirled her buttocks round in every direction so that they seemed like running water. Then we all clapped our hands and awarded the victory to Thryallis. We also had other contests, and compared each other’s breasts; nobody, however, ventured to dispute the palm with Philumena, who has never had a child and is plump and swelling. Having spent the night in this way and abused our lovers and prayed that we might find others — for the latest fancy is always the 68 sweetest — we went away pretty well tipsy. After many drunken freaks on the way, we went to finish up at Deximachus’s, in the Golden Alley,56 near the house of Meniphron as you go down towards Agnus. For Thais is desperately in love with him, and with good reason, by Jove; for the lad has just come in for a large fortune from his father. We will pardon you for your contemptuous treatment of us. On the day of the festival of Adonis we are going to have a feast at Colyttus57 at the house of Thessale’s lover: for it is her turn to bedeck the lover of Venus. We will pardon you, on condition that you come and bring a dice-box58 and coral image,59 and your pet Adonis; for we shall have a jollification with our lovers. Farewell.
53 A staff of figtree wood: The allusion is obscure; nothing is known of Philo. The proverb itself is said to be used of those who have attained to happiness and fortune beyond their deserts; the idea implied by “figtree wood” is that of weakness and untrustworthiness; but it is not easy to see the application here.
54 A serious dispute: For a similar contest compare Athenaeus, Book xii., and the Amores of Lucian.
55 Then she showed: Lit., but it (π�γὴ) did not tremble, &c.
56 The Golden Alley: This topography occurs again in Book iii. letter 8.
57 Colyttus: An Attic deme.214
58 A dice-box: Others propose κ�ριον, “waxen image.”
59 Coral image: Some take Corallium (κοράλλιον) as a proper name; others interpret it as “counters.”
WHY do you trouble yourself to write so often? I want fifty gold pieces, not letters. If you love me, give them to me; but if you are too fond of your money, don’t bother me. Good-bye.