A Friend Home from the Wars

65 B.C. – 8 B.C.


Pompey, often led, with me, by Brutus,
the head of our army, into great danger,
who’s sent you back, as a citizen,
to your country’s gods and Italy’s sky,

Pompey, the very dearest of my comrades,
with whom I’ve often drawn out the lingering
day in wine, my hair wreathed, and glistening
with perfumed balsam, of Syrian nard?

I was there at Philippi, with you, in that
headlong flight, sadly leaving my shield behind,
when shattered Virtue, and what threatened
from an ignoble purpose, fell to earth.

While in my fear Mercury dragged me, swiftly,
through the hostile ranks in a thickening cloud:
the wave was drawing you back to war,
carried once more by the troubled waters.

So grant Jupiter the feast he’s owed, and stretch
your limbs, wearied by long campaigning, under
my laurel boughs, and don’t spare the jars
that were destined to be opened by you.

Fill the smooth cups with Massic oblivion,
pour out the perfume from generous dishes,
Who’ll hurry to weave the wreathes for us
of dew-wet parsley or pliant myrtle?

Who’ll throw high Venus at dice and so become
the master of drink? I’ll rage as insanely
as any Thracian: It’s sweet to me
to revel when a friend is home again.

Translation by A.S. Kline

The Death of Adonis

c. 300 B.C. – c. 260 B.C.


Cythera saw Adonis
And knew that he was dead;
She marked the brow, all grisly now,
The cheek no longer red;
And “Bring the boar before me”
Unto her Loves she said.

Forthwith her winged attendants
Ranged all the woodland o’er,
And found and bound in fetters
Threefold the grisly boar:
One dragged him at a rope’s end
E’en as a vanquished foe;
One went behind and drave him
And smote him with his bow:
On paced the creature feebly;
He feared Cythera so.

To him said Aphrodite:
“So, worst of beasts, ‘twas you
Who rent that thigh asunder,
Who him that loved me slew?”
And thus the beast made answer:
“Cythera, hear me swear
By thee, by him that loved thee,
And by these bonds I wear,
And them before whose hounds I ran—
I meant no mischief to the man
Who seemed to thee so fair.

“As on a carven statue
Men gaze, I gazed on him;
I seemed on fire with mad desire
To kiss that offered limb:
My ruin, Aphrodite,
Thus followed from my whim.

“Now therefore take and punish
And fairly cut away
These all unruly tusks of mine;
For to what end serve they?
And if thine indignation
Be not content with this,
Cut off the mouth that ventured
To offer him a kiss”—

But Aphrodite pitied
And bade them loose his chain.
The boar from that day forward
Still followed in her train;
Nor ever to the wildwood
Attempted to return,
But in the focus of Desire
Preferred to burn and burn.

Translation by C.S. Calverley

A Mother’s Blessing

We present this work in honor of Losar.

Mahāpajāpatī Gotami
600 BC – 480 BC


Buddha! Hero! Praise be to you!
You foremost among all beings!
You who have released me from pain,
And so many other beings too.

All suffering has been understood.
The source of craving has withered.
Cessation has been touched by me
On the noble eight-fold path.

I’ve been mother and son before;
And father, brother — grandmother too.
Not understanding what was real,
I flowed-on without finding [peace].

But now I’ve seen the Blessed One!
This is my last compounded form.
The on-flowing of birth has expired.
There’s no more re-becoming now.

See the gathering of followers:
Putting forth effort, self controlled,
Always with strong resolution
—This is how to honor the Buddhas!

Surely for the good of so many
Did Maya give birth to Gotama,
Who bursts asunder the mass of pain
Of those stricken by sickness and death.

Translation by Andrew Olendzki

from Electra

c. 497 BC – c. 406 BC


They took their stand where the appointed judges
Had cast their lots and ranged the rival cars.
Rang out the brazen trump! Away they bound,
Cheer the hot steeds and shake the slackened reins;
As with a body the large space is filled
With the huge clangor of the rattling cars.
High whirl aloft the dust-clouds; blent together,
Each presses each and the lash rings; and loud
Snort the wild steeds, and from their fiery breath,
Along their manes and down the circling wheels
Scatter the flaking foam. Orestes still—
Ays, as he swept around the perilous pillar
Last in the course, wheeled in the rushing axle;
The left rein curbed,—that on the dexter hand
Flung loose.— So on erect the chariots rolled!
Sudden the Ænian’s fierce and headlong steeds
Broke from the bit — and, as the seventh time now
The course was circled, on the Libyan car
Dashed their wild fronts: then order changed to ruin:
Car crashed on car; the wide Crissæan plain
Was sea-like strewed with wrecks; the Athenian saw,
Slackened his speed, and wheeling round the marge,
Unscathed and skillful, in the midmost space,
Left the wild tumult of that tossing storm.
Behind, Orestes, hitherto the last,
Had yet kept back his coursers for the close;
Now one sole rival left — on, on he flew,
And the sharp sound of the impelling scourge
Rang in the keen ears of the flying steeds.
He nears, he reaches — they are side by side —
Now one — the other — by a length the victor.
The courses all are past — the wheels erect —
All safe — when, as the hurrying coursers round
The fatal pillar dashed, the wretched boy
Slackened the left rein: on the column’s edge
Crashed the frail axle: headlong from the car
Caught and all meshed within the reins, he fell;
And masterless the mad steeds raged along!
Loud from that mighty multitude arose
A shriek — a shout! But yesterday such deeds,
To-day such doom! Now whirled upon the earth,
Now his limbs dashed aloft, they dragged him — those
Wild horses — till all gory from the wheels
Released; — and no man, not his nearest friends,
Could in that mangled corpse have traced Orestes.
They laid the body on the funeral-pyre;
And while we speak, the Phocian strangers bear,
In a small, brazen, melancholy urn,
That handful of cold ashes to which all
The grandeur of the Beautiful hath shrunk.

from The Argonautica

06-13 Apollonius
Apollonius of Rhodes
c. 300 B.C.


First in my song shalt thou be, O Phœbus, the song that I sing
Of the heroes of old, who sped, at the hest of Pelias the king,
When down through the gorge of the Pontus-sea, through the Crags Dark-blue,
On the Quest of the Fleece of Gold the strong-ribbed Argo flew.
For an oracle came unto Pelias, how that in days to be
A terrible doom should be dealt him of him whom his eyes should see
From the field coming in, with the one foot only sandal-shod.
Nor long thereafter did Jason fulfil the word of the God:
For in wading the rush of Amaurus swollen with winter-tide rain
One sandal plucked he forth of the mire, but the one was he fain
To leave in the depths, for the swirl of the waters to sweep to the main.
Straightway to the presence of Pelias he came, and his hap was to light
On a banquet, the which unto Father Poseidon the king had dight,
And the rest of the Gods, but Pelasgian Hêrê he heeded not.
And the king beheld him, and straightway laid for his life the plot,
And devised for him toil of a troublous voyage, that lost in the sea,
Or lost amid alien men his home-return might be.
Of the ship and her fashioning, bards of the olden time have told
How Argus wrought, how Athênê made him cunning-souled.
But now be it mine the lineage and names of her heroes to say,
And to tell of the long sea-paths whereover they needs must stray,
And the deeds that they wrought:—may the Muses vouchsafe to inspire the lay.


Translation by Arthur S. Way


05-20 Alcman
Alcman of Sparta
c. 700 B.C.


Verily there is a vengeance from on high, and happy he that weaveth merrily one day’s weft without a tear. And so, as for me, I sing now of the light that is Agido’s. Bright I see it as the very sun’s which the same Agido now invoketh to shine upon us. And yet neither praise nor blame can I give at all to such as she without offence to our splendid leader, who herself appeareth as pre-eminent as would a well-knit steed of ringing hoof that overcometh in the race, if he were set to graze among the unsubstantial cattle of our dreams that fly.


Translation by J.M. Edmonds

The Hyperboreans from Pythian X

04-13 Pindar
c. 518 B.C. – c. 438 B.C.

Among them too are the Muses
For everywhere
To flute and string the young girls
Are dancing,
In their hair the gold leaves of the bay:
The dance whirls them away:
Age or disease, no toil,
Battle or ill-day’s luck
Can touch them, they
Are holy, they
Will outlast time, exempted
From the anger of the Goddess
And all decay.

Here the hero came
With the head
That shocked a royal house, turning
King and all into stone:
It was long long ago, if
Time means anything;
Long, long ago.

First Poem

01-23 Sulpicia
c. 40 B.C.


At last. It’s come. Love,
the kind that veiling
will give me reputation more
than showing my soul naked to someone.
I prayed to Aphrodite in Latin, in poems;
she brought him, snuggled him
into my bosom.
Venus has kept her promises:
let her tell the story of my happiness,
in case some woman will be said
not to have had her share.
I would not want to trust
anything to tablets, signed and sealed,
so no one reads me
before my love—
but indiscretion has its charms;
it’s boring
to fit one’s face to reputation.
May I be said to be
a worthy lover for a worthy love.


Translation by Lee Pearcy