Astyages's Weblog

August 6, 2012

The Songs of Bilitis (Continued)

Filed under: Uncategorized — astyages @ 10:58 am

(This is the first of two parts of the final chapter of ‘The Songs of Bilitis’ and comes with an ‘MA’ rating…)


Chapter 3:




        <Alla’ me narhki’ssois anad_e’sate, kai` plagiau’l_on

           geu’sate kai` krhoki’nois chrhi’sate gui^a my’rhois.

        Kai` Mytil_enai’_o*i to`n pneu`mona te’gxate Bakch_o*i

           xai` syzeu’xate moi ph_ola’da parhthenix_e’n.>




Unmarriageable mother, incorruptible, creatress,

first-born, self-begotten,

self-conceived, issue of yourself alone and

who rejoices in yourself, Astarte!


Oh, perpetually fertile, oh virgin and

nourisher of all, chaste and lascivious, pure and

joyful, ineffable, nocturnal, sweet,

breather of fire, foam of the sea!


You who secretly dispenses her grace, you

who unite, you who love, you who seized by a

furious desire, multiplies the races of savage

beasts, and conjoins the sexes in the forest,


Oh, irresistible Astarte, hear me, take me,

possess me,  Oh Moon!  And thirteen times, each

year, tear from my entrails the libation

of my blood!



The black masses of the trees don’t move

any more than the mountains.  The stars

fill an immense sky.  A warm breeze

like a human breath caresses my eyes

and my cheeks


Oh Night which brings forth the Gods!  How

sweet you are on my lips!  How warm you are

in my hair!  How you enter into me

this evening, and how I feel impregnated by

your Spring!


The flowers which will blossom will all

come from me.  The wind which sighs is my

breath.  The perfume which passes is my desire.

all the stars are in my eyes.


Your voice, is it the noise of the sea, is it

the silence of the plain?  Your voice, I do not

understand it, but it throws me head over

heels and my tears wash my two hands.



Across the forests which dominate the sea,

the Maenads rushed.  Maskhale with

the passionate breasts, howling, brandishing the

Phallus, which was of sycamore wood and

daubed with vermillion.


All, under the [?bassaris’] and the crowns

of vine-branches, ran and shouted and leaped,

the rattles [lit: ‘crotales’ = rattlesnakes?] clapped in their hands, and

the drumsticks? [?thyrses?] were bursting the skins

on the resounding drums.


Moistened hair, agile legs, breasts

reddened and disordered, sweating cheeks, foam

on their lips, Oh Dionysos, they offer

in return the ardour which you throw into them!


And the wind from the sea climbs back up to the sky

twisting the sandy hair of Heliokomis into it,

like the furious flames on a torch

of white wax.



On the highest promontory I

lay in front.  The sea was black as

a field of violets.  The Milky Way

spurted [ruisselait] from the great divine breast.


A thousand Maenads around me slept in

the plucked flowers.  And it is here that

the sun is born in the eastern waters.


Transferred from the same flood and the same shore

one day appeared the white body

of Aphrodite… Suddenly I hid my

eyes in my hands.


Because I saw, trembling on the water a thousand

little lips of light:  pure sex or the

smile of Kypris Philommeides.



The priestesses of Astarte made love at

the rising of the moon; then they rose again and

bathed in a vast, silver-edged basin.


With their curved fingers, they combed

their hair, and their hands tinted with

purple, tangled by their black rings,

seeming like branches of coral in a

sombre and flooding sea.


They never pluck their hair, so that the

triangle of the goddess marks their bellies

as a temple; but they tint themselves[?se teignent?] with

paintbrushes and profoundly perfume themselves.


The priestesses of Astarte make love at

the setting of the moon; then in a

carpeted room where burns a bright golden lamp, they

sleep at random.



In the thrice mysterious enclosure, where

men never penetrate, we feasted,

Astarte of the Night, Mother of the World,

Fountain of the life of the Gods!


I shall reveal something to you, but no

more than is permitted.  Around the Phallus

Crown, a hundred and twenty women swayed [‘se balancaient’

and shouted.  The initiates were in men’s clothes;

The others in split tunics.


The vapours of the perfumes, the smoke from the

torches, floated between us like

clouds.  I shall cry smokey tears.

Everyone, at the feet of the Borbeia,

threw ourselves onto our backs.


Finally, when the religious Act was consummated,

and when, into the Unique Triangle we had

plunged the purple phallus, then the mystery

began, but I can tell you no more about it.



I went with Plango to the house of the Egyptian

courtesans, at the top of the old town.

There were earthen amphorae, plates of

copper and yellow straw mats where they

squatted effortlessly.


Their bedrooms were silent, without

angles and without corners, so that the

successive couches of blue limestone were blunt at the

cornices and rounded at the foot of the walls


They held themselves immobile, their hands

placed on their knees.  When they offer us

porridge, they murmured, “Happiness.”

And when we thanked them, they said,

“Thanks to you.”

They understood Greek but pretended to

speak it badly so they could laugh at us in their own

language; but, tooth for tooth, we

spoke Lydian and they were suddenly worried.



I shall certainly not sing of famous

lovers.  If they are no more, why should

we speak of them?  Am I not similar to them?

Do I too not have much to dream about myself?


I shall forget you, Pasiphae, even though your passion

was extreme.  I shall not hire you, Syrinx

nor you, Byblis, nor you, by the goddess, of

all choices, Helen of the white arms!


If anyone suffered, I felt nothing but their

pain.  If anyone loved, I loved more.

I sing of my flesh and my life, and not of

the sterile shades of interred lovers.


Lie there, oh my body, according to your voluptuous

mission!  Savour the daily delights

and the passions with no tomorrow.

Do not leave with even one delight unknown to regret

at the day of your death.


107  — PERFUME

I shall perfume my skin all over to attract

lovers.  On my beautiful legs, in

a basin of silver, I shall pour oil [?’nard’?] of

Tarsus and [?metopion?] from Egypt.


Under my arms, crispy [?crepue?] mint;  on

my eyelashes and on my eyes, some [?margolaine?]

from Kos.  Slave, let down my hair and

fill it with the smoke from the incense.


Here is [?l’oinanthe’] from the mountains of Kypris; I

let it trickle down between my breasts; the pink liqueur

which comes from Pharsalis [?Phaselis?] embalms my

neck and my cheeks.


And now, spread over my loins the

irresistible [?bakkaris?].  It is well, for

a courtesan, to know the perfumes of

Lydia and the customs of the Peloponnese.



“Hello.”  — “Hello also.”  – “You’re in

A hurry.”  –  “Perhaps less than you

think.” –  “You are a pretty girl.”  –  “Perhaps

more than you believe.”


– “What is your charming name?”  — “I will not

tell you that so quickly.”  –  “You have someone this

evening?”  –  “Always the one who loves me.”  – “And

How do you love him?”  –  “As he wishes.”


“Let’s sup together.”  –  “If you want.

But what will you give me?”  — “This here.”  –  “Five drachmas?

That’s for my slave.  And for me?”

“Say yourself.”  – “A hundred.”


“Where do you live?”  –  “In this blue

house.”  –  “What time shall I send someone

to look for you?”  –  “Right away, if you like.”

–  “Right away.”  –  “Go in front.”



“Hey!  By the two goddesses, who was

the insolent one who has put her foot on my

dress?”  –  “It was a lover.”  –  “It was an idiot.”

“I was clumsy, forgive me.”


“Imbecile!  My yellow dress is all

torn at the back, and if I walk down

the street like that, they’ll take me for a

poor girl who serves the contrary Kypris.”


“Will you not stop?”  — “I believe that he’s

Talking to me again!”  –  “Will you leave me thus

angry?… You don’t answer?” —  “Alas!

I dare speak no more.”

“I really must go home

to change my dress.”  –  “And can I not follow

you?”  –  “Who is your father?”  — “He’s the

rich armourer, Nikias.”  –  “You have beautiful

eyes, I’ll forgive you.”


110  –  THE JEWELS

A diadem of gold [?ajoure?] crowns my narrow

white forehead.  Five little chains of gold, which

surround my cheeks and my chin,

are suspended from my hair by two large



On my arms which Iris would envy, thirteen

silver bracelets are attached.  How heavy

they are!  But they are weapons; and I know

an enemy who has suffered by them.


I am truly all covered in gold.  My

breasts are cuirasses with two pectorals of gold.

The images of the gods are not as rich as I am.


And I wear on my thick dress a girdle

spangled with silver.  There you can read this verse:

“Love me eternally; but do not be

Dismayed if I deceive you three times a day.”



Since he came into my bedroom, what

was he like (is that important?):  “See,”

I said to the slave, “What a handsome man! And

that a courtesan is happy!”


I declare, Adonis, Ares or Herakles

according to his face, or the Old Man of the Sea,

if his hair was pale silver.  And

then, what disdain for the levity of youth!


“Ah!”  said I, “if I had not to pay my

florist tomorrow and my goldsmith,

How I would like to say to you:  I don’t want your

gold!  I am your passionate servant!”


Then, when he had closed his arms once more

around my shoulders, I see a boatman from the port

pass like a divine image on the starry heavens

through my transparent eyelids.



“Pure water of the pond, immobile mirror, tell me

about my beauty.  – Oh, Bilitis, or whoever you are,

Tethys perhaps or Amphitrite, you are beautiful,

know it.


“Your face inclines under your thick hair,

swollen with flowers and perfume.

Your soft eyelids open to pain and

your flanks are weary from the movements of



“Your body is tired from gravity and your breasts

carry the delicate marks of fingernails and the

blue bruises of love-making [baiser].  Your arms are

reddened by embraces.  Each line of your

skin was made by love.


Clear water of the pond, your coolness is restful.

Receive me, who am tired indeed.  Bring

the paint for my cheeks, and the sweat of my

belly and the memory of night.”


113  –  THE NOCTURNAL FEAST (not translated)



On a white terrace, the night

leaves us swooning among the roses.  The

hot sweat cooled like tears from our

armpits across our breasts.  An overwhelming

sensual pleasure turns our inverted heads purple.


Four captive doves, bathed in

four perfumes, flew over us

in silence.  From their wings, droplets

of scent were sprinkled

over the naked women,

I was soaked in the essence of Irises.


Oh weariness!  I was resting my cheek on the

belly of a young girl who enveloped herself

in the coolness of my humid hair.  The scent

of her saffron-coloured skin intoxicated my open

mouth.  She closed her thigh on my neck.


I slept, but an exhausting dream woke me:

[?l’iynx’]  bird of nocturnal desires, was singing

madly from afar.  I coughed with a shudder.

A languid arm, like a flower, rises

bit by bit towards the moon, in the air.



Hostel-keeper, there are four of us.  Give us

a bedroom with two beds.  It is too late

now to go home to the town and the

rain has ruined the road.


Bring a basket of figs, some cheese

and some black wine; but first remove my sandals

and wash my feet, because the dirt tickles my feet.


You will carry into my bedroom two basins

of water, a full lamp, a krater

and some calices [?kylix’?].  You will shake out the covers

and beat the cushions.


See that the beds are of good maple and

that the planks are mute!  Tomorrow

you will not wake us.



Four slaves keep my house:  two

robust Thracians at my door, a Sicilian in

my kitchen and a docile and mute Phrygian

for the service of my bed.


The two Thracians are beautiful men.

They have sticks in their hands to chase away the

poor lovers and a hammer to nail

to the wall the crowns they send me.


The Sicilian is a rare cook; I paid

him a dozen minas.  No-one else knows

how he prepares fried croquettes and

cakes and corn-poppies.


The Phrygian bathes me, does my coiffure and

plucks my hair.  She sleeps in the morning in my bedroom

And for three nights, each month, she

takes my place beside my lovers.



The procession carried me in

triumph, me, Bilitis, completely naked on a

shell-shaped chariot [‘char en coquille’] where slaves, during

the night had stripped the petals [‘effeuilles’] from ten thousand roses.


I was lying down, my hands under my neck,

my feet alone were clothed in gold, and my

body softly stretched, on the bed some of

my warm hair tangles in fresh petals.


A dozen children, with their winged shoulders,

served me as a goddess; some holding

a parasol, the others soaking me with

perfumes, or burning incense at the prow [?proue’?]


And around me I heard noised the intense murmur

of the throng, while the breath of

desire floated over my nudity, in the

blue mist of the aromatics.



Flowers in flesh, oh my breasts!  How

rich and voluptuous you are!  My breasts in my

hands, how soft you are with such

a mellow warmth and such young perfumes!


Of old, you were ice-cold like the chest

off a statue and hard as insensible

marble.  Since you have given way I

cherish you no more, you who were loved.


Your shape, smooth and swollen is the honour of

my brown torso.  Well and good that I imprison you

under a net of gold, well and good that I

deliver you completely naked, you precede me

with your splendour.


So be happy this night.  If my fingers

Bring forth caresses, you alone will know

Until tomorrow morning; because this night,

Bilitis has paid Bilitis.


119  –  FREEDOM (not translated)



Mydzouris, you dirty little thing, don’t cry.

you are my friend.  If these women insult you

any more, It is me who will answer them.  Come

into my arms, and dry your eyes.


Yes, I know that you are a horrible child

and that your mother taught you early to

prove your courage.  But you are young

and that is why you cannot do anything which

is not charming.


The mouth of a girl of fifteen years stays

pure in spite of everything.  The lips of a grey-haired

woman, even a virgin, are degraded; because

the only opprobrium is to grow old and we

are withered with wrinkles.


Mydzouris, I love your frank eyes, your

lewd and impudent name, your laughing voice and

your light body.  Come to my house, you will

be my helper, and when we go out together,

the women will say, “Hello.”


121  –  THE BATH

Child, guard the door well and don’t let in

the passers-by, because me and six girls

with beautiful arms are bathing secretly

in the warm water of the pond.


We only want to laugh and swim.  Leave

the lovers in the street.  We shall soak

our legs in the water and, sitting on the

marble rim, we shall play knucklebones.


We shall play with the ball.  Don’t let

the lovers in; our hair is

too moist; our throats have goose-pimples [la chair de poule]

and the tips of our fingers are wrinkled.


Besides, they shall repent, the ones

who would surprise us naked!  Bilitis isn’t

Athena, but she only shows herself during her own

hours and chastises too-ardent eyes.



O Venerable Priapos, god of the woods which I

made to put my official seal in the marble of the rim of my

baths, it is not without reason, guardian of

orchards, that you watch over the courtesans here.


God, we have not bought you by

sacrificing our virginities to you.  No-one can give you

what they no longer have, and the zealots [zelatrices] of Pallas

do not run the streets of Amathonte.


No.  You would otherwise watch over the canopies [chevelures = ‘hairstyles’]

of the trees, over the well-watered flowers,

over the heavy and flavoursome fruit.  That is

why we have chosen you.


Today, watch over our blonde heads, the

open poppies of our lips and the violets

of our eyes.  Watch over the hard fruits of our

breasts and give us lovers who resemble yourself.




You attach to your light hands your resounding

rattlesnakes, Myrrhinidion my darling, and to

pained nakedness out of your dress, you stretch your

nervous limbs.  How pretty you are, with your arms in the air,

your arched loins and your red breasts!


You begin:  your feet posed one in front of

the other, hesitate, and slide softly.

Your body bends like a sash [un echarpe], you

caress your shivering skin, and voluptuousness

inundates your long, swooning eyes.


Suddenly, you clap your rattlesnakes!  Draw yourself up

on your tip-toes [pieds dresses], shake your loins,

throw your legs about and let your hands full of

mischief [fracas] call all the desires in a troop

around your spinning body!


We applauded with great shouts; well and good as,

Smiling over your shoulder, you stir up a

Shuddering of your convulsive and muscular buttocks;

Well and good that you undulate nearly outstretched, to

The rhythm of your memories.



Melixo, with your clenched legs, your inclined body,

your arms in front, you slide your double

flute lightly between your lips, moistened with wine,

and you play over the couch where Teleas

embraces me still.


Aren’t I imprudent?  I who hire

an equally young girl to distract my

laborious hours… I who show her thus

naked to the curious looks of my lovers, am

I not inconsiderate?


No, Melixo, little musician, you are an

honest friend.  Yesterday you did not refuse

to exchange your flute for another when I

was despairing of accomplishing an amour full of

difficulties.  But you are sure.


Because I know very well what you are thinking.  You

are waiting for the end of this excessive night which

excites you cruelly in vain, and for the first light of

morning, when you will run down the street with your only

friend, Psyllos, towards your own battered little mattress.



“You think that you don’t love me any more, Teleas, and

for a month you have spent your nights at the table,

as if the fruits, wines and honeys

could make you forget my mouth.  You

think that you don’t love me any more, poor fool!”


Saying that, I undid my girdle and

rolled its moistness around his head.

It was quite warm still from the heat

of my belly; the perfume of my skin came out

of it’s fine threads.


He breathed deeply, with closed eyes,

then I felt that he would come back to me and I

even saw very clearly his desires reawaken

such that he could not hide them at all; but as a ruse,

I still resisted.


No, my friend.  This evening, Lysippus owns me.

Farewell!”  And I joined those who were escaping [‘j’ajoutai en m’enfuyant’]:

“Oh gourmand

Of fruits and vegetables!  The little garden of

Bilitis has only one fig, but it is good.”



I envy you, Agorakrites, having a wife

as zealous as yourself.  She looks after the

stable herself, and in the morning, instead of making

love, she gives the beasts something to drink.


You rejoice.  What of the others, you say, who

dream only of voluptuous bottoms, sitting up all

night and sleeping during the day, and demanding

in adultery a criminal satiety.


Yes; your wife works in the stable.  They even

say that she has a thousand tendernesses for the

youngest of your donkeys.  Ah!  Ha!  It is a beautiful

animal!  It has a black tuft over its eyes.


They say that she plays between its hooves, under

its sweet grey belly…  But those who

say that are slanderers.  If your donkey

pleases her, Agorakrites, it is undoubtedly

because its looks remind her of yours.



The love of women is the most beautiful of

all those that mortals have tried, and you

should think thus, Kleon, if you had a truly

voluptuous soul; but you dream only of vanities.


You waste your nights cherishing the boys [?ephebes?]

who misjudge us.  Look at them!

How ugly they are!  Compare their round heads

with our immense hairstyles; search for

our white breasts on their chests.


Beside their narrow flanks, consider

our luxuriant hips, large beds hollowed

out for love.  Finally, say which human lips,

apart from those which they would like to have,

elaborate the voluptuous.


You are ill, oh Kleon, but a woman

can cure you.  Go to the house of young Satyra,

the daughter of my neighbour Gorgo.  Her crupper [sa croupe]

is a rose in the sun, and she would not refuse you

the pleasure that she herself favours.


128  –  THERAPY

Oh, Asklepios, be propitious for me, Oh god of

divine health, the day of eternal black night

menaces my withered eyes; because the

poison of my beauty, one day served as a

remedy. [lit: ‘… a servi de remede’?]



They sent word [mandee en costume]with me in costume into the bedroom

of a young man the women would have nothing to do with.

Bursting underwear [‘des calecons creves’] clung to my

thighs, and my breasts were flashing [jaillissaient] naked

from a brassiere of gold.


I danced according to the rite of the sound of the rattlesnakes, [crotales]

the twelve desires of Aphrodite.  And here it was that

love entered into him suddenly, and on his

virginal bed I started the whole dance once more.


“You know how to make love yourself”, he said, “yet you

are not moved.  What must I do to

make you love me?”   I looked at him from

further away than his eyes and I told him, slowly:

“Imagine you are a woman.”



“Old woman, listen to me.  I’m giving a banquet in

three days.  I need some entertainment.

You will rent me all your girls.  How many

do you have and what can they do?”


“I have seven.  Three dance the Kordax

with the harp and the phallus.  Nephele of the

smooth armpits will mimic the love of

doves between her rose-coloured breasts.


A singer in an embroidered peplos (?) will sing

songs from Rhodes, accompanied by

two fluteplayers[?’auletrides?]  who will have garlands

of myrtle rolled attheir brown legs.”


“That’s good.  Have them freshly plucked,

washed and perfumed from head to

toe.  Give them other games if they ask.

Go and give the orders.  Farewell.”



In a debauch which two young people and some

courtesans were having at my house, where love

flowed like wine, Damalis, to celebrate

her name, danced ‘The Face of Pasiphae’


She had had made in Kition two masks

of a cow and a bull, for she and

Kharmantides.  She wore terrible horns,

and a real tail in her leather pants [calecon de cuir]


The other women guided by me, holding

flowers and torches, we turned on

ourselves with shouts, and we caressed

Damalis with the tips of our dangling hair.


Their bellowing and our songs and the wild

dances lasted longer than the night.  The

empty bedroom is still warm.  I look at

my reddened hands and the [?’canthares’?] of Khios

where swam some roses. [‘… et les canthares de Khios ou nagent des roses.”?]

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