Astyages's Weblog

June 17, 2012

Bilitis (Continued): Elegies at Mytilene, part 1

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ELEGIES AT MYTILENE

 

<Eumorphote’rha Mnasidi’ka ta^s hapala^s Gyrhinn_o^s.>

(Mnasidica is far more beautiful than the gentle Gyrrhino”)

SAPPHO

 

47 – TO THE SHIP

Beautiful ship which brought me here, all along

the coast of Ionia, I abandon you to the shining

waves and with light feet jump onto the beach.

 

You will return to the land where the virgin is

the friend of the nymphs. Don’t forget to thank

the invisible counsellors, and take them

in offering this branch cut by my own hands.

 

You, made of pine, and on the mountains, the vast

inflamed Southern Wind stirred your spiny branches,

your squirrels and your birds.

 

The North Wind now guides you, and

pushes you gently towards the port, black prow

escorted by dolphins by the will of the benevolent sea.

 

48 — PSAPPHO

I rubbed my eyes… It was already day,

I thought. Ah! Who is near me…? A

woman…? By Paphia, I had forgotten…

Oh! Charity! I am so ashamed…

 

Into which country have I come, and what is

this isle where one hears so much about love?

If I were not so weary, I would have believed it was

some dream… Is it possible that this is Psappha?

 

She is sleeping… She is certainly beautiful,

although her hair was cut short like that of

an athlete. But this strange face, this

mannish chest and narrow hips…

 

I want to leave before she wakes.

Alas! I am beside the wall. I must

jump over her. I’m afraid of grazing her hip and

that she will not take me back to the thoroughfare.

 

49 – THE DANCE OF GLOTTIS AND KYSE

Two little girls brought me to their home,

and as the door was closed, they

lit the wick of a lamp and

wanted to dance for me.

 

Their cheeks were not made-up, and

as brown as their little tummies. They

pulled each other by the arms and spoke at

the same time, in an agony of gaiety.

 

Sitting on their mattress which was born by two

raised trestles, Glottis sang in a sharp

voice and clapped her resonant little hands in time.

 

Kyse danced by jerks, then stopping,

out of breath from laughing, and, taking her sister

by the breasts, bit her shoulder and

turned her round, like a goat which wants to play.

 

50 – ADVICE

Then Syllikhmas came in, and seeing us

so familiar, she sat down on the bench.

she took Glottis on one knee, Kyse on

the other and she said:

 

“Come here little one.” But I stayed distant.

She said again: “Are you scared of us?

Come on… these children love you. They

could teach you something you don’t know: the

honey of a woman’s caresses.

 

“A man is violent and parasitic. You

know that, undoubtedly. Hate them. They have

flat chests, rough skin, short hair and hairy arms.

but women are completely beautiful.

 

“Women alone know how to love; stay with

us, Bilitis, stay. And if you have an ardent

soul, you will see your beauty as in a

mirror on the body of your lovers.”

 

51 – UNCERTAINTY

Between Glottis or of Kyse I don’t know which

I would marry. As they do not resemble each

other, the one could not console me for the other

and I’m afraid of making the wrong choice.

 

Each of them has one of my hands,

and one of my breasts also. But to who*91

should I give my mouth? To whom should I give

my heart and all that with which I am unable to part?

 

We could not stay like this, all

three in the same house. They would talk about us

in Mytilene. Yesterday, in front of the temple of Ares,

a woman didn’t say “Hello!”

 

It’s Glottis that I prefer; but I

cannot reject Kyse. What will become of her

all alone? Should I leave them together as

they were and take another friend for myself?

 

52 – THE MEETING

I found her like a treasure, in a

field, under a myrtle bush, enveloped

from throat to feet in a yellow robe

embroidered with blue.

 

“I have no friends,” she said to me, “Because the

nearest town is five miles from

Here. I live alone with my mother who is

old and always sad. If you want, I’ll follow you.

 

“I will follow you to your house, leaving her on

the other side of the isle and I will live with you

until you send me back. Your hand is

tender, your eyes are blue.

 

“Let’s go. I’m taking nothing with me, but

the little Aphrodite which is hanging around my

neck. We will put her next to yours,

and we will give them roses in

payment for each night.”

 

53 – THE LITTLE APHRODITE OF BAKED EARTH

The little guardian Aphrodite which protected

Mnasidika was modelled on Camiros by a potter

of great skill. It is as big as my thumb,

and of fine yellow earth.

 

Her hair falls all around

her narrow shoulders. Her eyes are

long slits, and her mouth is very

small, because she is the “Ever-Beautiful.”

 

With her right hand she indicates her divinity,

which is riddled with little holes on the

lower belly and along the groin. Because she

is the “Very Amorous”.

 

In her left hand she holds her round

heavy breasts. Between her broadened hips

swells a fertile belly. Because

she is the “Mother-Of-All-Things”.

 

54 – DESIRE

She entered, and passionately, her eyes

half-closed, she united her lips with

mine and our tongues entwined…

Never in my life have I ever had a kiss

like that.

 

She was standing up against me, all in

love and consenting. One of my knees,

bit by bit, climbed between her warm thighs

which yielded as if for a lover.

 

My creeping hand under her tunic searched

to divine her unclothed body, which turn and turn

about sinuously writhed, or stiffly bent

with the trembling of her skin.

 

With the eyes of delirium she indicated her bed;

but we did not have the right to love before the

wedding ceremony and we separated brusquely.

 

55 — THE WEDDING

In the morning, we made a wedding repast, in the

house of Acalanthis whom she had adopted

as a mother. Mnasidika wore the white veil

and I a man’s tunic.

 

And then, in the midst of twenty women, she

took off her festal robe. We perfumed it with

Bakkaris; powdered it with golden powder,

and removed her jewels.

 

In her bedroom, full of foliage, she

waited for me like a wife. And I

placed her on a chariot between me and the

nymphs’ shrine and we cheered all who passed by.

 

We sang the Nuptial Song; The flutes

were also played. With one arm

round her shoulders and the other under her knees,

I carried Mnasidika across the rose-covered threshold.

 

56 – THE BED (not translated)

 

57 – SURVIVORS OF THE PAST

I left the bed as she had left it,

unmade and rumpled, the sheets tangled, so that

the shape of her body stayed imprinted beside mine.

 

Until tomorrow I shall not go to the baths, I shall

not wear clothes and I shall not

comb my hair, for fear of rubbing away her kisses.

 

This morning, I shall not eat, nor this evening,

and on my lips I will put neither rouge nor

powder, so that her kisses will remain.

 

I shall leave the shutters closed and I shall not open

the door, for fear that the memory which remained

might blow away on the wind.

 

58 – METAMORPHOSIS

Once I was a lover of the beauty of

young men, and the memory of their

speech, of old, would wake me up.

 

I remember having engraved a name in

the bark of a plane tree. I remember

having left a piece of my tunic in

a path where someone passes by.

 

I remember having loved you… Oh Pannychis,

my child, in whose hands have I left you?

How, oh unhappy me, could I have abandoned you?

 

Today, Mnasidika alone, and for

always, possesses me. She receives in

sacrifice the happiness of those whom I have left

for her.

 

59 – THE NAMELESS TOMB

Mnasidika took me by the hand to

lead me out of the gates of the town, up to a

little meadow where there was a column of

marble. And she said,

“This was my mother’s friend.”

 

Then I felt a great shudder, and without

letting go of her hand, I leant

on her shoulder, so as to read the four verses

between the hollow cup and the serpent:

 

“It was not Death who kidnapped me, but

the Nymphs of the streams. I rest here

under an earth lightened by a ‘hairstyle’

cut by Xantho. Let her alone cry for me.

I will not tell my name.

 

For a long time we remained standing there, and we

put no verse to the libation. Because what

does one call an unknown soul who has entered the multitudes

of Hades?

 

60 – THE THREE BEAUTIES OF MNASIDIKA

I sacrificed two male hares and two doves

to Aphrodite-The-Lover-Of-Smiles

so that Mnasidika will be protected by the gods.

 

And I sacrificed to Ares two cocks armed

for the fray, and to the sinister Hecate two

dogs who howled under the knife.

 

And it is not without reason that I have implored

these three Immortals, because Mnasidika wears on

her face the reflection of their triple divinity:

 

Her lips are red as copper, her

hair is blue-tinged like iron, and her eyes are

black, like silver.

 

61 – THE LAIR OF THE NYMPHS

Your feet are more delicate than those of

Thetis of the Silver Hair.

Between your crossed arms you

reunite your breasts, and you gently rock them to sleep

like the bodies of two beautiful doves.

 

Under your hair you conceal your moist

eyes, your trembling mouth and the red

flowers of your ears; but nothing will stop

my look nor the hot breath of your embrace.

 

Because, in the secret of your body, it is you,

beloved Mnasidika, who conceal the lair of the

nymphs of whom Old Homer spoke, the place

where the nyads weave their cloths of purple,

 

The place where flow, spout by spout,

inexhaustible springs, and from where the door to

the North allows men to descend and where the

door to the South allows the Immortals entry.

 

62 – THE BREASTS OF MNASIDIKA

With care, she opened my tunic with one hand

and held my warm, soft breasts; thus

one offers to the goddess a pair of

living turtledoves.

 

“Love them well,” she tells me; “I love them

so much! They are darlings, little

children. I busy myself with them when I’m

alone. I play with them; I give them pleasure.

 

“I wash them with milk. I powder them

with flowers. My fine hair which dries them

is dear down to its little roots. Trembling,

I kiss them. I put them to bed in wool.

 

“So I shall never have children, to

keep them well-nourished, my love; and, seeing that

they are so far from my mouth, give them lots of

kisses from me.”

 

63 – CONTEMPLATION (not translated)

 

64 – THE DOLL

I gave her a doll. A doll made of

wax with pink cheeks. Her arms were attached

by little pins and one could bend her legs.

 

When we were together she put it to bed

between us and it was our child. In the evening

she rocked it and gave it her breast

before putting it to sleep.

 

She wove it three little tunics, and

we gave it jewels on Aphrodite’s Day;

jewels and flowers, too.

 

She cares for her virtue and never lets her

go out without her; not in the sun, above all, because

the little doll was moulded from little pieces of wax.

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