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Meleager: A Garland of Love Poems

In the middle of the afternoon
     In the middle of the street –
          Alexis!

Summer had all but brought the fruit
     To its perilous end:
          And the summer sun and that boy's look

Did their work on me!

O shrill-voiced mosquitoes, 
     you shameless pack, 
          suckers of men's blood, 

Night's winged beasts of prey, 
     let Zenophila, I beseech you, 
          sleep a little in peace,
 
and come and devour these my limbs. 
     But why do I supplicate in vain? 
          Even pitiless wild beasts 
                 rejoice 

in the warmth of her tender body. 
     But I give you early warning, 
          cursed creatures: 

no more of this audacity, or you 
     shall feel the strength 
          of jealous hands. 

Fly for me, mosquito, and lighting
      on the rim of Zenophila's ear
          whisper thus:

"He lies awake expecting you, and you sleep, 
      you sluggard, who forget those 
          who love you." 

Whrr away! yes, sweet piper, away! 
     But speak lowly to her, 
          lest you awake 

her companion of the night and arouse 
     jealousy in me to pain her. 
          But if you bring me the girl,

I will hood your head, mosquito, 
     with the lion's skin 
          and give you a club 
          to carry in your hand. 

Lost! Love, wild Love! 
     Even now at dawn he went his way, 
          taking wing from his bed. 

The boy is thus- sweetly tearful, 
     ever chattering, quick and impudent, 
          laughing with a sneer, 

with wings on his back, and a quiver slung. 
     As for his father's name 
           I can't give it you; 

for neither Sky nor Earth nor Sea 
     confess to the rascal's parentage. 
          For everywhere and by all 

he is hated; look out, he is setting
     new snares for hearts. 
          But wait! 

There he is near his nest! 
     Ah, little archer, so you thought 
          to hide from me there 
          in Zenophila's eyes! 

Note: The translations are taken from the edition by W.R.Paton (1916-18), but have been modified to remove some of the archaic language and to impose (!) a modern triadic stanza. — Michael Simms

Meleager of Gadara ( 1st century BC) was a poet and collector of epigrams. He is known for his short love poems for both boys and women, of which 134 survive. He also compiled numerous epigrams from diverse poets in an anthology known as the Garland, and although this collection does not survive intact, it is the original basis for the Greek Anthology.

Copyright 2022 Michael Simms

Meleager (detail; c. 1490), ‘Antico’. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

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This entry was posted on February 12, 2022 by in Note from the Editor, Opinion Leaders, Poetry and tagged , , , , .

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