Astyages's Weblog

September 22, 2012

BILITIS: Elegies at Mytilene, part 2 (Finale)

BILITIS: Elegies at Mytilene, part 2


My apologies for not having posted the next episode of ‘Virgil’s Aeneid’ when I promised I would; I’ve been having a particularly difficult time this last couple of months. I’ll post it as soon as I feel up to it; more than that I cannot promise, I now realize. Anyway, while you’re still waiting, here is the final episode of ‘Bilitis’, which details the final decline and demise of the now-aging courtesan… I hope you all enjoy it.  (Asty)

BILITIS: Elegies at Mytilene, (part 2)


When the first dawn mingled with the

weakening glimmer of the torches, I introduced to

the orgy a flute player, skillful and nimble 

who trembled a bit, being cold.

Hire the little girl with the blue eyelids,

with short hair, with pointy breasts, clothed

only in a girdle, from which hung some

yellow ribbons and some stalks of black irises.

Hire her! Because she was clever and did some

difficult turns. She juggled with some

hoops, without breaking anything in the room, and

slid across it like a grasshopper.

Occasionally she performed cartwheels [‘… faisait la roué sur les mains et sur les pieds’]

Or with two arms in the air and her knees apart she bent herself

backwards and touched the earth, laughing.


Anthis, the dancer from Lydia, has seven veils

around her. She unrolls the yellow veil,

her black hair spills out. The pink veil

slides from her mouth. The white veil falls

letting us see her naked arms.

She releases her small breasts from the red veil

which she unravels. She drops the green veil from

her hips to her feet. She pulls the

blue veil from her shoulders, but she presses

on her modesty the last, transparent veil.

The young people beg her: she shakes her

head back. To the sound of flutes alone,

she tears it away just a little, then entirely, and,

with the gestures of the dance, she plucks

flowers from her body,

Singing, “Where are my roses, where are my

perfumed violets? Where are my sprigs of

parsley? – There are my roses, I give them to you.

There are my violets, do you want them? There is

my beautiful curly parsley.”

133 – SATYRA’S DANCE (not translated)

134 – MYDZOURIS CROWNED (not translated)


No, you will not take me by force, it doesn’t

count, Lamprias. If you had heard said

that someone had violated Parthenis, you know

what that puts in her breast, because no-one enjoys us

without being invited.

Oh! Away from your betters, make some effort, it’s

missing. Meanwhile I protect myself from pain.

I shall not call for help. And I

shall not even struggle; but I move. Poor friend,

missed again!

Continue. This little game amuses me. In the same proportion

that I am sure to vanquish you. One more unhappy

attempt, and perhaps you will be less

disposed to prove to me your extinct desires.

Tyrant, what are you doing! Dog! You’re breaking

my wrists! And this knee is disembowelling me!

Ah! Go, now, it is a beautiful victory,

to ravish a tearful young girl on the ground.

136 – SONG

The first gave me a necklace, a necklace of

pearls which was worth [?’…qui vaut…’] a town, with the palace and

the temples, and the treasures and the slaves.

The second made me some verses. He said

that my hair was black as the

night on the sea and my eyes were blue like

the morning.

The third was so beautiful that his mother

could not kiss him without blushing. He put his

hand on my knees, and his lips on my

naked feet.

You, you have said nothing to me. You have given

me nothing, because you are poor. And you are not

beautiful, but it is you that I love.


If you wish to be loved by a woman, oh young

friend, such as she, don’t tell her that

you want her, but make her see you every

day, then disappear, so you can return.

If she addresses her words to you, be amorous

without being too earnest. She will come to you

by herself. Know then, to take her by force, the

day she intends to give herself to you.

When you receive her into your bed, forget

about your own pleasure. The hands of a woman

in love are trembling and without caresses.

Dispense with them to be zealous.

But you, take no rest. Prolong

your embraces until you lose your breath. Do not let

her sleep, even if she begs you. Always

kiss the part of her body towards which

she turns her eyes.


Myromeris and Maskhale, my friends, come with

me, because I have no lover this evening, and,

lying on beds of [?’byssos’], we

will chat over dinner.

A night of rest will do you good: you

will sleep in my bed, even without make-up and

un-coiffed. Put on a simple tunic of wool

and leave your jewels in their chest.

No-one will make you dance to admire your

legs and the heavy movements of your loins.

no-one will ask you for sacred symbols,

to judge if you are lovers.

And I have not commanded, for us, two

flute-players with beautiful mouths, but

two cooking-pots of peas, rissoles, some

honey-cakes, some fried croquettes and my last

wine-skin from Khios.


Here is housed the delicate body of Lydia, little

dove, the most joyous of all the

courtesans, who more than any other loved

orgies, her floating hair, the soft

dances and tunics of hyacinth.

More than any other she loved savoury [?’glottismes?]

kisses on the cheek, the games

which the lamp alone saw and love which broke

her limbs to pieces. And now, she is a

little shade.

But before she was put in her tomb, she was

marvellously coiffed and laid

among roses; even the stone which covers her

is all impregnated with essences and perfumes.

Sacred earth, nurturer of all, welcome

gently the poor dead, let her sleep in

your arms oh Mother! And let grow all around

the stele, not nettles and brambles, but

delicate white violets.


“Yesterday,” Nais told me, “I was in the square,

when a little girl in red rags

passed, carrying roses, in front of a group of

young people. And here is what I heard:

“Buy something from me.” – “Explain yourself,

little one, because we don’t know what your are selling:

You? Your roses? Or both at once?” — “If

you buy all my flowers, you may have

the seller for nothing.”

“And how much do you want for your roses?” — “I must have

six obols for my mother or else I shall be beaten

like a dog.” – “Follow us. You shall have one

drachma.” – “Then shall I go and look for my little sister?”

“This child was not a courtesan, Bilitis,

nobody knew her. Truly is it not a

scandal… and shall we tolerate these girls

coming to dirty during the day the beds which

we rely upon during the evening?”


Ah! By Aphrodite, there you are! Bloodsucker!

Putrefaction! Stinker! Barren! Riff-raff [?‘carcan’?]!

Left-hander! Good-for-nothing! Sow!

Don’t try to run away from me, but come here…

And again closer still…

See me, this sailors’ woman, who

doesn’t even know how to pleat her robe over

her shoulder and who puts on such bad make-up that

the black from her eyelashes runs down her cheek

in rivers of ink.

You are Phoenician: sleep with those of

your own race. For me, my father was Greek:

I have a right over all those who wear the [?’petase’?].

and even over the others, If I so choose.

Don’t stop any more in my street, or I’ll send you

to Hades to make love with Charon, and I

shall say very justly, “May the earth rest

lightly upon you…”

So the dogs can dig you up!


I shiver; the night is cool, and the

forest all moist. Why have you brought me

here? Isn’t my big bed

sweeter than this moss strewn with stones?

My flowery dress will be stained with greenery

my hair will be tangled with twigs;

my neck, look at my neck,

how soiled it is already by the humid earth.

Of old however, I’d have followed into these

woods here… Ah! Leave me alone for little while.

I am sad, this evening. Leave me, without speaking,

hands over my eyes.

In truth, can you not wait! Are

we brute beasts to take each other

thus! Leave me alone. You shall not open my

knees nor my lips. My eyes even, from

fear of crying, are closed.


Stranger, stop, look who has beckoned

you: it’s little Phanion from Kos, she

deserves that you choose her.

See, her hair is frizzy as parsley,

her skin is sweet as a bird’s down.

She is small and brown. She speaks well.

If you wish to follow her, she will not ask

for all the money from your voyage; no, but

one drachma or a pair of shoes.

You will find at her house a good bed, some fresh

figs, some milk, some wine, and, if it is

cold, there will be a fire.

144 – SIGNS

If you must have, passer-by who stops, slender

thighs and nervous loins, a hard

throat, knees which grip, go to the house of

Plango, she’s my friend.

If you’re looking for a laughing girl, with

exuberant breasts, of a delicate height, her crutch

fleshy and moist [‘grasse’], go to the corner

of this street, where lives Spidorrhodellis.

But if long tranquil hours in the

arms of a courtesan with sweet skin,

a warm belly and pleasantly scented hair

look for Milto, and you will be content.

Do not hope for much from love; but

profit from her experience. One can ask

all from a woman, when she is naked,

when it is night, and when the hundred drachmas

are on the mantel.


“Who is there?” — “I am the seller of

women. Open the door, Sostrata, I have

presented to you on two occasions before this one.

Approach, Anasyrtolis, and undo your robe.” –“She

is a bit fat.”

“She is a beauty. What’s more, she dances

the Kordax and she knows eighty

songs.” – “Turn around. Lift your arms.

Show your hair. Give me your foot. Smile. That’s good.

This one, now.” – “She is too

young!” — “No she’s not, she was twelve years old

the day before yesterday, and you would not have to teach

her anything.” – “Remove your tunic. Let’s see? No, she

is too thin.”

“I’m only asking one mina.” – “And the

first?” – “Two minas thirty.” – “Three minas

for both of them?” – “Done!”. “Go in there

and wash yourselves. You, farewell.”


Stranger, go no further into the town.

You will not find elsewhere but in my house

girls younger or more expert. I am

Sostrata, famous across the sea.

See this one whose eyes are green

as water in the grass. You don’t want her?

Here are some other eyes which are black as

violets, and hair three cubits long.

I have still better. Xantho, open your [?cyclas?].

Stranger, her breasts are hard as quinces,

Touch them. And her beautiful belly, as you see,

wears the three folds of Kypris.

I bought her with her sister, who is not yet

of an age to love, but who seconds her

usefully. By the two goddesses! You are of a

noble race. Phyllis and Xantho, follow the


147 – PHYLLIS (not translated)


They danced one in front of the other, with

rapid, flying movements; seeming

always to want to be entwined, and yet they

never touched at all, except at the tips of their lips.

When they turned their back in dancing,

they looked at each other over their shoulders,

and the sweat shone on their raised arms,

and their fine hair brushed across their breasts.

The languor of their eyes, the fire of their

cheeks, the gravity of their faces, were

three earnest songs. They brushed against each other

furtively, bowing their bodies at the hips.

and suddenly, they fell, to

perform on the ground a softer dance [la danse molle]… Memory

of Mnasidika, it was then that you appeared to me,

and everything, outside your dear image, was tiresome.


Do not believe, Myromeris, that, having become a

mother, that you will be diminished in beauty. See here, how

your body under your dress has drowned its thin

form within a voluptuous softness.

Your breasts are two vast flowers inverted

on your chest, whose cut stems

nurture a milky sap. Your belly,

sweeter still, swoons under the hand.

And now consider the tiny little child

which is born from the thrills that you had one

evening in the arms of a passer-by whose name you

no longer know. Dream of her remote destiny.

Her eyes which opened to pain will be elongated

one day with a line of black paint, and they

will sprinkle over men sadness or joy,

with a movement of their lashes.


He’s sleeping. I don’t know him. He

horrifies me. However, his purse is full of gold

and he gave a slave four drachmas when he

came in. I hope for a mina for myself.

But I have said to the Phrygian to get into the bed

in my place. He was drunk and mistook her for

me. I would sooner die on the

rack than to stretch out next to this man.

Alas! I dream of the prairies of the Taurus…

I had been a little virgin… Then, I had a

light chest, and I was so foolish with a

lover’s envy that I hated my married sisters.

What would I not have done to obtain that which

I refuse tonight! Today, my

breasts are shapeless [‘se plient’], and in my worn-out

heart too, Eros sleeps from weariness.


I wake up… Is he gone then? Did he

leave anything? No: two empty

amphorae and some soiled flowers. The whole carpet

is red with wine.

I slept, but I am still drunk… With

whom then, did I come home?… Nevertheless we

slept together. The bed is even soaked

with sweat.

Perhaps there were several; the bed is

such a mess [si bouleverse] I don’t know any more… But I

saw them! There’s my Phrygian! Still

sleeping across the door.

I kicked her in the chest

and I shouted, “Bitch, you couldn’t…”

I was so hoarse I couldn’t speak.


Child, do not pass by without having loved me.

I am still beautiful, in the night; you will see

how much my warmer is my autumn than the

springtime of another.

Do not look for love from virgins. Love

is a difficult art in which young girls are

little versed. I have taught them all my

life to give to my last lover.

My last lover, it will be you, I know.

Here is my mouth, for which a whole people [pour laquelle un peuple a…]

have paled with desire. Here is my hair, the same

hair that Psappho the Great sang about.

I shall receive in your favour all that

is left to me of my lost youth. I shall burn

the memories themselves. I shall give you

the flute of Lykas, the girdle of Mnasidika.

153 – THE DOVE

I have already been beautiful for a long time; the day

is coming when I will no longer be a woman. And then I

shall know torn memories, the

solitary burning envies and the tears

in my hands.

If life is a long dream, what good is it

to resist it? Now, four and five times a

night I ask for the joy of love, and

when my flanks are exhausted I sleep where

my body falls.

In the morning, I opened my eyelids and I

shudder in my hair. A dove is

on my windowsill; I asked it what month

it was. She said to me, “It is the month when

women are in love.”

Ah! Whatever the month, the dove spoke

truly, Kypris! And I throw my two arms

around my lover, and with much

trembling I pull to the foot of the bed my

Legs, still numb.


Night wears on. The stars disappear.

Here are the last courtesans

going home with their lovers. And me, in the

morning rain, I wrote these verses on the sand.

The leaves are full of sparkling water.

That streams across the footpath,

soaking the earth and the dead leaves.

The rain, drop by drop, makes holes

in my song.

Oh! How sad and alone I am and here! The

youngest don’t look at me; the oldest

forget me. But it’s good. They and the children of their

children are learning my verses,

There is something about which neither Myrtale, nor Thais, nor Glykera

tell themselves, the day when their beautiful cheeks

become hollow. Those who love after me

will sing my stanzas together.

155 — DEATH

Aphrodite! Unpitiable goddess, you wished

that on me also the happiness of long-haired

youth should disappear in a few days.

How is it I am not dead entirely!

I looked at myself in the mirror: I no longer

had neither smiles nor tears. Oh sweet face

that loved Mnasidika, I cannot believe that you

were mine!

Could it be that it’s all finished? I no longer have

[?’vecu’?] five times eight years, it seems to me

that I was born yesterday, and already here is

what I must say: They will love me no more.

All my hair cut off, I twisted it

into my girdle and I offer it to you eternal

Kypris! I shall not cease to adore you.

This is the last verse of the pious



In the country where springs are born of the

sea, and where the riverbed is made of

sheets of rock, I, Bilitis, was born.

My mother was Phoenician; my father

Damophylos, Greek. My mother taught me

the songs of Byblos, sad as the

first dawn.

I adored Astarte in Kypris. I knew

Psappha in Lesbos. I sang as I loved.

If I have [?‘bien vecu’?], Passer-by, tell it

to your daughter.

And don’t sacrifice for me a black goat;

but, in sweet libation, press her teats

on my tomb.


On the sombre banks of the Melas, at Tamassos of

Pamphylia, I, daughter of Damophylos, Bilitis,

was born. I rest far from my country, as you can see.

Whilst still a child, I learned the loves of Adonis [l’Adon] and of Astarte,

the mysteries of the sacred Syrie (?) and

Death and the return to


If I was a courtesan, what blame is there in that?

Was it not my duty as a woman?

Stranger, the Mother-Of-All-Things guides us.

To misunderstand that is not prudent.

In gratitude to you who have stopped, I

wish you this destiny: Strive to be loved,

not to love. Goodbye. Remember in your

old age, that you have seen my tomb.


Under the black leaves of the laurels, under

the beloved flowers of roses, it is here that

I am lying, I who interwove verse

Upon verse to make embraces flourish.

I grew up in the land of the Nymphs; I have

[‘vecu’] in the isle of friends; I am dead in

the Isle of Kypris. That is why my name is

illustrated and my stele rubbed with oil.

Do not cry for me, you who stop: they gave me

a beautiful funeral, the mourners

raked their cheeks; they lay my

mirrors and my necklaces in my tomb.

And now, on the pale prairies

of asphodel, I walk, an impalpable

shade, and the memory of my earthly

Life is the joy of my existence under the ground.

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