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October 6, 2009

Bilitis: Chapter 3

Filed under: Bilitis: Chapter 3 — astyages @ 1:05 am


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 at their 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.”?]



When the first dawn mingled with the

weakening glimmer of the torches, I introduced to

the orgy a flute player, defective and nimble [?vicieuse et agile? contradictory!]

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.


151  —  TRICKERY

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.




I. — BILITIS’ SAEMMTLICHE LIEDER zum ersten Male herausgegeben

und mit einem Woerterbuche versehen, von G. Heim — Leipzig.



II. — LES CHANSONS DE BILITIS, traduites du grec pour la

premiere fois par P. L. (Pierre Louys). — Paris. 1895.


III. — SIX CHANSONS DE BILITIS, traduites en vers par Mme Jean

Bertheroy. — _Revue pour les jeunes filles_. Paris. Armand

Colin.  1896.


IV. — VINGT-SIX CHANSONS DE BILITIS, traduites en allemand par

Richard Dehmel.– _Die Gesellschaft_, Leipzig. 1896.


V. — VINGT CHANSONS DE BILITIS, traduites en allemand par le Dr

Paul Goldmann. — Frankfurter Zeitung. 1896.


VI. — LES CHANSONS DE BILITIS, par le professeur von

Willamovitz-Moellendorf. — Goettingsche Gelehrte. —

Goettinge. 1896.


VII, — HUIT CHANSONS DE BILITIS, traduites en tcheque par

Alexandre Backovsky.  — Prague. 1897.


VIII. — QUATRE CHANSONS DE BILITIS, traduites en suedois par

Gustav Uddgren. — Nordisk Revy. — Stockholm. 1897.


IX. — TROIS CHANSONS DE BILITIS, mises en musique par Claude

Debussy. — Paris.  Fromont. 1898, etc.








  1 — L’ARBRE








  9 — LA PLUIE













 22 — REFLEXIONS (non traduite)

 23 — CHANSON  (Ombre du bois)

 24 — LYKAS








 32 — LA COUPE








 40 — LA JOIE (non traduite)




 44 — LA NUIT













 54 — LE DESIR


 56 — LE LIT (non traduite)







 63 — LA CONTEMPLATION (non traduite)



 66 — JEUX

 67 — EPISODE (non traduite)






 73 — REPRISE (non traduite)

 74 — LE COEUR



 77 — L’AMOUR




 81 — L’OBJET



 84 — LES YEUX



 87 — SCENE



 90 — LETTRE


 92 — L’EFFORT

 93 — MYRRHINE (non traduite)






















 113 — LA FETE NOCTURNE (non traduite)

 114 — VOLUPTE




 118 — A SES SEINS

 119 — LIBERTE (non traduite)


 121 — LE BAIN






 127 — A UN EGARE






 133 — LA DANSE DE SATYRA (non traduite)

 134 — MYDZOURIS COURONNEE (non traduite)


 136 — CHANSON











 147 — PHYLLIS (non traduite)



 150 — L’INCONNU















September 25, 2009

The Songs of Bilitis: Chapter 2

Filed under: Bilitis: Chapter 2 — astyages @ 6:33 pm
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Chapter 2




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

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



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.



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.



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.



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.”



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?



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.”



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”.



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.



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)



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.



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.



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?



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.



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.



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)



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.



Softly enclose your arms, like a girdle,

around me.  Oh touch, Oh touch my skin like this!

neither water nor the midday breeze are as

sweet as your hand.


Today, my darling, little sister, it is

your turn.  Remember the tenderness

I taught you last night, and come near to me, 

Who is wearily kneeling to you without speaking.


Your lips descend onto my lips.  All

Your hair, undone, follows them, as an

Embrace follows a kiss.  It slides over my

Left breast; hiding your eyes from me.


Give me your hand.  It’s so warm!

Entwine it in mine, and don’t take it away. 

Hands unite better than lips, and their

Passion is equal to nothing.


66 – GAMES

More than her all her balls or her doll, I am

for her a toy.  All the parts of

my body she plays with like a child,

for long hours, without speaking.


She undid my hair and redid it according

to her whim, presently knotted under the chin

like a stuffed cushion, or twisted into

coils or plaited to the ends.


She looks with astonishment at the colour

of my eyelashes, the creases of my throat.  Sometimes

she makes me get down on my knees to pose with my

hands on the sheets;


Then (and it is one of those days) she slides

her little head underneath and imitates the

trembling kid suckling at the belly

of its mother.


67 – EPISODE (not translated)



Under the transparent woollen sheet we

slid, she and I.  Even our heads

were snuggled down, and the lamp lit

the stuffing underneath us.


Thus I saw her darling body under a

mysterious light.  We were nearer to

each other, and free, and intimate, and

naked.  “In the same shirt,” she said.


We remained thus hooded to be even more

uncovered, and in the thin air of the

bed, the odours of two women grew, a stew

of two natural aromas.


Nothing of the world, not even the lamp, saw

us that night.  Whether or not we made

love, she and I alone could say.

But the men will know nothing.



She sleeps with her undone hair, her hands

entwined behind her neck.  Is she dreaming?  Her

mouth is open; she breathes softly.


With something of the white swan’s grace, I wiped, 

without waking her, the sweat from her arms, the

fever from her cheeks.  Her closed eyelids

are two blue flowers.


Ever so softly I rise; I will have

to draw water, milk the cow and ask for

some fire from the neighbours.  I want my hair curled,

and to be dressed when she opens her eyes.


Sleep, stay a while longer between her

beautifully-curved eyelashes and let her night continue

happily with a dream of good omen.



I shall kiss the long black sails of your neck

from one end to the other , oh sweet bird,

captured dove, whose heart leaps under my hand.


I shall take her mouth in my mouth

as a child takes the breast of its mother.

Shudder!  … Because the kiss penetrates

deeply, permissive to love.


I shall promenade my lips like fire on

your arms, and around your neck, and I shall make you

turn onto your ticklish side with the

dragging caress of my fingernails.


Listen to me whisper in your ear: all the rumours

of the sea… Mnasidika!  Your look

teases me.  I shall close your frail

and smokey eyelids with my kiss.



You must not have your hair styled, for fear

a too-hot iron may burn your neck or your

hair.  Leave it on your shoulders and

spreading along the length of your arm.


You must not get dressed, for fear

that a girdle might make sharp red

crease-marks on your hips. 

Stay naked like a little girl.


You must not even get up, for fear

that your delicate feet may be hurt by

walking.  You shall rest in bed, O victim

Of Eros, and I shall dress your poor sores.


It is because I don’t want to see on your body any other

Marks, Mnasidika, but the mark of a kiss held

Too long, the scratch of a slender nail,

Or the purpled band of my embrace.



Love me, not with smiles, with flutes

or with cut flowers, but with your

heart and your tears, as I love you with my

breasts and with my groans.


When your breasts alternate with my breasts,

when I feel your life against my life, when

your knees stand erect behind me, then

my breathless mouth will not know even

how to find yours.


Train me as I train you!  See, the

lamp is nearly dead, we are rolling in the

night; but I press your smoking body and I

hear your perpetual plea…


Moan! moan! moan! O woman!  Eros

trains us in sadness.  You shall suffer

less on this bed to bring a child into this

world than to lie in it with your love.


73 – REPRISE (not translated)



Breathless, I took her hand and I

firmly pressed it under the moist skin of

my left breast.  And I turned my head here

and there and I moved my lips without speaking.


My panic-stricken heart, abrupt and hard, was beating

and beating in my chest, like a bruised and

imprisoned satyr knocks, looking for a way out.

She said to me, “Your heart is hurting you…”


“Oh, Mnasidika,” I replied, the heart of

women is not there.  This is a poor

bird, a dove who is beating her feeble

wings.  The heart of a woman is more terrible.


“Similarly to a little bay of myrtle,

it burns with a red flame and under an

abundant sap.  It is there where I feel

bitten by the voraciousness of Aphrodite.”



We rest, with eyes closed; the silence

is great around our bed.  Ineffable

nights of summer!  But she, thinking

I was asleep, placed her warm hand on my arm.


She murmured, “Bilitis, are you sleeping?”   My heart

beat faster, but without answering, I breathed

regularly like a sleeping woman in her

dreams.  Then she began to speak:


“So that you will not hear me,” she said,

“Ah, how I love you!”  And she repeated my name.

“Bilitis… Bilitis…” And she lightly touched me with

the tip of her trembling fingers:


“It is mine, this mouth!  Mine alone!

Is there a more beautiful one in the world?  Ah!

My happiness, my happiness!  It is mine

This naked arm, this neck and this hair…”



She has left, she is far away, but I see

her, because everything is full of her in this bedroom,

everything is hers, and I am like the rest.


This bed is still warm where I let my mouth

stray, it is pressed down in the form of her body.

In this soft cushion slept her little head

enveloped in hair.


This basin is the one in which she washed; this

comb has penetrated the knots of her tangled

hair.  These slippers held her naked

feet.  These pockets of gauze contained her breasts.


But what I dare not even touch with my finger, is

this mirror where she saw her hot bruises, and where still lives

perhaps, the reflection of her moistened lips.   


77 – LOVE

Alas, if I think of her, my throat dries up,

my head spins, my breasts harden and

hurt me, I shudder and I cry while walking.


If I see her, my heart stops, my hands

tremble, my feet slip, the redness

of a fire climbs to my cheeks, my temples throb painfully.


If I touch her, I become foolish, my arms

stiffen; my knees fail me.  I fall

in front of her, and I lie there like a

woman about to die.


For all that she said to me I feel wounded.

Her love is a torture and the passers-by

hear my pleas… Alas!  How

can I call her my Beloved?



There you are!  Get rid of your little bands, and your

fasteners and your tunic.  Rid yourself of everything down to

your sandals, to the ribbons on your legs,

to the band at your breast.


Wash the black from your eyelashes, and the rouge from

your lips.  Rub away the white from your shoulders

and straighten your hair with water.


Because I want to have you completely pure, so that you are

naked on the bed, at the feet of your fertile mother

and in front of your glorious father,


So chaste that my hand in your hand makes you

blush from head to toe and that one word from me

in your ear will distract your straying eyes.



My little child, I have so few years

left with you, I love you, no, not

like a lover, but as if you had

come from my own painfully labouring entrails.


When I stretch out on my knees, your two

frail arms around me, your mouth straining,

you search my breast and my teats slowly slip

between your palpitating lips.


Then I dream of other times, I really suckled

that sensitive mouth, supple and

clean, the vase of purple-coloured myrrh

in which the happiness of Bilitis is mysteriously



Sleep.  I will rock you with one hand on my

knee which gently rocks your cradle up and down.  Sleep then.

I shall sing for you some sad little

songs which send the newborn to sleep…



As we were walking along the beach, without

speaking, and enveloped up to the chin

in our robes of sombre wool, some happy young

girls passed by.


“Ah! It is Bilitis and Mnasidika!  See

the beautiful little squirrel that we caught:

it’s as soft as a bird and frightened as a rabbit.


“At Lydia’s house we will put it in a cage and we

will give it lots of milk with some

leaves of lettuce.  It’s a female, she

will live a long time.”


And the fools ran on.  For

us, without speaking we sat,

me on a rock, she on the sand, and we

watched the sea.



“Hello, Bilitis, Mnasidika, hello.”

“Sit down. how is your husband?” 

“Too good.  Don’t tell

him you’ve seen me.  He will kill me if he

knows I’m here.” 

“Don’t be scared.”


“And that is your bedroom?  And there is your

bed?  Forgive me.  I am curious.”

“You know however, Myrrhine’s bed.”

“Yes, a bit.”

“One would say pretty.”

“And lascivious, O my

dear!  But we must be quiet.”


“What do you want of me?”

“What do you want to borrow?”


“I dare not name the object.”

“We don’t have any.”


“Mnasidika is a virgin.”

“Well, where can one buy it?”

“At the house of the shoemaker, Drakhon.”


“Tell me also:  Who sold you your embroidery thread?

Mine was broken when I looked at it.”

“I made it myself, but Nais sells excellent thread.” 

“At what price?  Three obols.”

“That’s dear.  And the object?” 

“Two drachmas”




Winter was hard, Mnasidika.  Everything is cold

outside our bed.  Get up, in the meantime, come

with me, because I have lit a big fire with

dead stumps and split wood.


We warm ourselves squatting on our heels, all

naked, our hair on our backs, and we drink milk

from the same cup and we eat millet cakes.


How loud and gay the flames are!  Aren’t you too close?

Your skin is turning red.

Let me kiss everywhere the flame has burned.


In the midst of the burning firebrands I am going to heat

the iron and style your hair.  With the dead coals

I shall write your name on the wall.



“What do you want?”  said he.  “If I must, I

would sell my last jewels for just one

attentive slave to watch for desire in your

eyes, the least thirst of your lips.


“If the milk of our goats seems insipid to you, I

will rent some for you, as for a child; a

wet-nurse with swollen breasts which each

morning you will milk.


“If our bed seems rough, I shall buy all

the soft cushions, all the silken

covers, all the sheets, furry with feathers from

the Amathusian merchants.


“All!  But that must suffice, and if

we should sleep on the earth, the earth

must be softer to you than the warm bed

of a stranger.”



Large eyes of Mnasidika, how

happy you make me when love darkens

your eyelids and animates you and you sink

under the tears;


But how foolish, when you

turn elsewhere, distracted by a woman

passing by, or by a memory which is not



Then my cheeks become hollow, my hands

tremble and I suffer, it seems to me

all over; before you my life is gone.


Large eyes of Mnasidika, don’t stop

looking at me!  Or I shall poke holes in you with my

needle and you will see nothing more

but terrible night.


85 —  MAKE-UP

Everything, and my life, and the world, and men,

everything which is not her is nothing.

everything which is not her, I give to you,



Does she know how much work I put into

being beautiful in her eyes, with my hairstyle and with

my make-up, with my dresses and my perfumes.


I would spend as much time turning a millstone, I

would row the oars of a ship or I would dig the

earth, if it could keep this prize here.


But all done so that she never learns about it,

goddesses who live above us!  The day

she knows that I love her she will look for

another woman.



She laughed all day long, and she was even

a little mocking of me. 

She refused to obey me, in front of several foreign



When we had gone home, I pretended

I wasn’t speaking to her, and how she threw

Herself on my neck, saying:  “You’re angry?”

I said to her,


“Ah!  You are not how you were, you are not

still like you were that first day.  I no longer

recognize you, Mnasidika.”  She made no



But she put on all her jewels which she hadn’t

Worn for a long time, and the same

Yellow dress embroidered with blue as the day of

Our meeting.


87  —  SCENE

“Where were you?” 

“At the flower-sellers’.

I bought some beautiful Irises.  Here you are,

I brought them for you.” 

“How long did it take you

to buy four flowers?”

“The merchant kept me back.”


“You have pale cheeks and your eyes are


“It’s fatigue from the road.” 

“Your hair is moist and tangled.”

“It’s the heat and the wind

which have messed up my hair.”


“Someone has undone your girdle.  I tied the

knot myself; looser than this one.” 

“So loose that it came undone; a passing

slave re-did it for me.”


“There is something on your dress.”

“It’s the water which has fallen from the flowers.”

“Mnasidika, my little soul, your Irises are the most beautiful in all


“I know it well, I know it well.”


88  —  WAITING

The sun has spent the whole night with the

dead since I’ve been waiting for you, sitting on my

bed, weary from my vigil.  The wick of the lamp

has nearly burnt down to the end.


She hasn’t come home yet:  here is the last

star.  I know well that she won’t come home.

I know even the name which I hate.  And meanwhile

I still wait.


Now she’s coming!  Yes, she

comes, her hair undone and without roses,

her robe soiled, stained, rumpled, her tongue

dry and her eyelids black.


As soon as she opened the door, I said to her…

“But here she is… This is her dress which I’m touching,

her hands, her hair, her skin.” 

I kiss a mouth, lost to me, and I cry.



For whom now shall I paint my lips?

For whom shall I polish my fingernails?  For whom

Shall I perfume my hair?


For whom are my breasts powdered with rouge, if they

must no longer tempt her?  For whom are my arms

washed with milk if they must no longer

embrace her?


How can I sleep?  How

can I go to bed?  This evening my hand,

in all my bed, did not find your warm hand.


I dare no longer return home, in the

bedroom, horribly empty.  I dare no longer

open the door.  I dare not even open my eyes.


90  —  LETTER

It’s impossible, impossible.  I beg

you on my knees, with tears, all the

tears that I have cried over this horrible

letter, do not abandon me like this.


Can you dream how horrible it is to lose you again

for the second time, after having

had the immense joy of hoping to win you back.

Ah!  My love!  Do you not feel how much I love you!


Listen to me.  Consent to see me one

more time.  Would you like, tomorrow, to lie

in the sun, in front of your door?  Tomorrow or the next

day.  I shall come to fetch you.  Do not refuse me this.


This may be the last time perhaps, but just this one

more time, just this once more!  I ask

you, I cry out to you, and dream that on your

answer depends the whole of the rest of my life.



You were jealous of us, Gyrinno, you

too-ardent girl.  Such bouquets

you have suspended from the mantle of our door!  You

were waiting for us in the passage and you followed us

in the street.


Now you are as you wished, held

in the beloved place, and with your head on the cushion

where floats another woman’s scent.  You are

larger than she was.  Your

different body astonishes me.


Look, I finally give in.  Yes, it is

me.  You can play with my breasts, caress

my hips, open my knees.  My body

entirely I surrender to your

untiring lips,  —  Alas!


Ah!  Gyrinno!  With love my tears are also

overflowing!  Wipe them away with your hair,

do not kiss them, my darling; and hold me even

Closer to master my trembling.


92  —  EFFORT

Again!  Enough of sighs and of reaching arms!

Begin again!  Do you think then, that love

is a relaxation?  Gyrinno, it is a

task, and of all tasks it is the toughest.


Wake up!  You must not sleep.

What matters it, your blue eyelids and

the bar of sorrow which burns your

meagre legs.  Astarte boils in my loins.


We were lying together before the twilight.

Here already is hurtful daybreak; but I

am not weary for so little.  I shall not sleep

before the following evening.


I shall not sleep:  you must not

Sleep.  Oh! How bitter is the savour of

the morning!  Gyrinno, appreciate that.  Embraces

are more difficult… stranger and slower.


93  —  MYRRHINE (not translated)



Don’t think I loved you.  I ate

you like a ripe fig, I drank you

like a burning water, I wore you around

me like a girdle of skin.


I am amused by your body, because

you have short hair and pointy breasts

above a meagre body, and black nipples

like two little dates.


As one needs water and fruit, a

woman is also necessary, but already I no

longer know your name, you who have passed through my

arms like the shadow of another adored one.


Between your flesh and mine, a burning dream

possessed me.  I shall press you onto me as

onto a wound and I shall cry:  Mnasidika!

Mnasidika!  Mnasidika!



“What do you want, old woman?”

“To console you.”

“It is lost sorrow.”

“Someone told me that since your

break-up, you would go from love to love 

finding neither forgetfulness nor peace.  I come to

propose someone.”



“She is a young slave born in

Sardis.  She has no equal in the world,

because she is at the same time man and woman, even

though her chest and her long hair and her clear

voice create the illusion.


“Her age?  Sixteen years.”

“Her height?”

“Tall. She didn’t know anyone here, apart from Psappha

who is lost in love and wanted me to buy her for twenty minas. 

If you hire her, she is yours.”


And what could I do?

For twenty-two nights I have tried in vain

to escape into memory…


“Well and good, I shall take

this one again, but warn the poor

little thing, that she is not to be afraid at all if I

sob in her arms.”



I remember… (at what time of day do

I not have her in front of my eyes?)  I remember

the way she put up her hair

with her feeble fingers, so pale.


I remember a night she spent here,

her cheek lay on my breast, so gently, that

happiness woke me up, and the next day she

had on her face the little round mark of my nipple.


I saw her holding her cup of milk and looking

sideways at me with a smile.  I saw

her, powdered and coiffed, opening her large

eyes in front of her mirror, and retouching with

her finger the rouge on her lips.


And above all, if my despair is a perpetual

torture, it is because I know, moment by

moment, how she fainted in the arms

of another, and that whatever she asked him

he gave her.



Doll of wax, cherished toy that she called

her child, she left you too and she

forgot you like me, who made, with her, your

father or mother, I don’t know…


The pressure of her lips have faded

your little cheeks; and here is your broken

left hand which made her cry so much.  This

little cyclas you are wearing is the one she



From listening to her, you already know how to read.  So that

you were not deprived, and in the evening, inclined over

you, she would open her tunic and give you her

breast, “So that you will not cry”, she said.


Doll, if I wanted to see her again, I would give you

to Aphrodite, as the dearest of my gifts.

But I want to think that she is completely dead.



Sing a funereal song, Mytilenian muses,

Sing!  The earth is sombre as a mourning

robe and the yellow trees shiver like

a head shorn of hair.


Heraios!  Oh, sad, sweet month!  The leaves

fall gently like snow; the sun

is more penetrating in the opening forest

I hear nothing more but silence.


Here is what I wore to the tomb of Pittakos

burdened with years.  Many are dead, that

I knew.  And she who lives is for me

as if she were no more.


This one is the tenth autumn that I have seen

death on this plain.  It is time too

that I disappear.  Weep with me, Mytilenian

Muses, weep over my footsteps.

September 16, 2009

The Songs of Bilitis: Chapter 1

Filed under: The Songs of Bilitis — astyages @ 11:49 pm


The  Songs of Bilitis


By Pierre Louys


Translated by David L Rowlands



Many thanks to Project Guttenberg for providing the plain-text version of this work in French, without which my translation would have been impossible; and thanks also to my good friend, George Theodoridis, for his many helpful comments and for translating for me the two Greek sentences which purport to be quotes from Theocritus and Sappho, respectively, at the start of each section.


Chapter 1




“Hady`de’moi to`me’lisma. kai` _e’n sy’rhiggi meli’sd_o

k_e’n aul_o*i lale’_o, k_e’n d_o’naki,  k_e’n plagiau’l_o*i.”

(My music, too, is sweet, whether I trill on the pipe or speak

with the flute or with the reed or the double pipe.)



1  —   THE TREE

 I had undressed to climb a tree;

my naked thighs embraced smooth, moist bark;

my sandals climbed among the branches.


Way up high, but still under the leaves

and shaded from the heat, I was horseback

riding in a secluded fork balancing

my feet in the void


It had rained.  Drops of water fell and

flowed over my skin.  My hands were

dirtied with moss, and my toes were

red, because of the crushed flowers.


I felt the beautiful tree live when the wind

passed through it; then my legs could go no further

so I pressed my open lips

to the mossy nape of a branch. 



I must sing a pastoral song, to invoke

Pan, god of the summer wind.  I guard my

flock and Selenis guards hers, under the round shadow

of a trembling olive-tree.


Selenis is lying in the meadow.  She

stands and runs, or hunts for cicadas, or

picks flowers and herbs, or washes

her face in the cold water of the stream.

Me, I pull wool from the blond backs of the

sheep to fill my distaff, and spin it. 

The hours are long.

An eagle passes across the sky.


The shadows turn:  let’s swap the basket

of figs and the jar of milk.  I must sing

a pastoral song, to invoke Pan, god of the summer wind.




My mother bathes me in darkness, she

dresses me in full sun and combs my hair in

the light; but if I leave by the light of the moon,

she tightens my girdle and makes a double knot.


She says to me:  “Play with the virgins, dance

with little children; don’t look out the window;

fly from the speech of young men

and doubt the counsel of widows.


“One evening, someone, as for everyone, will

come to carry you over the threshold in the middle of a

large procession of sonorous drums and lover’s flutes.


“On that night, when you grow up, Bilito, you

will leave me three gourds of gall:  one for

the morning, one for midday, and the third,

the most bitter, the third for the days of the feast.”



I have black hair, growing long down my back,

and a little round skull-cap.  My shirt is

of white homespun.  My firm legs

turn brown in the sun.   


If I lived in town, I would have jewels of gold,

and gilded shirts and shoes of silver…

I look at my naked feet, in their shoes of dust.


Psophis!  Come here, you poor little thing! 

Take me to the springs, wash my feet in your

hands and press olives together with violets

to flavour them with the flowers.


Today you will be my slave; you will

follow me and you will serve me, and at the end of

the day I will give you, for your mother,

some lentils from my garden.



An old blind man lived on the mountain.

For having looked upon the nymphs, his eyes

had been dead for a long time.  And ever since,

his happiness was a distant memory.


“Yes, I saw them, he said to me.

Helopsychria, Limnanthis; they were

awake, near the edge of Physos’ pond.

The bright water was above their knees.


The napes of their necks inclined under their

long hair.  Their nails were slender

like the wings of the cicada.  Their nipples

were cupped like the flowers of the hyacinth.


Their fingers played with the water

and pulled long-stemmed water-lilies from

an invisible vase.  Around their separated thighs,

the ripples spread… “


6  —  SONG

Stiff-necked tortoise, what are you doing there in the middle?

I’m winding the yarn and the thread of Miletus.

Alas alas!  Don’t you want to come and dance?

I am in great pain.  I am in great pain…


Stiff-necked tortoise, what are you doing there in the middle?

I’m cutting a reed for the funerary flute.

Alas! Alas!  What happened?

I will not tell, I will not tell.


Stiff-necked tortoise, what are you doing there in the middle?

I’m pressing olives to make the oil for the gravestone

Alas!  Alas!  And who has died?

How can you ask me?  How can you ask me?


Stiff-necked tortoise, what are you doing there in the middle?

He fell into the sea…

Alas!  Alas!  How did that happen?

From on top of white horses.  From on top of white horses.



As I was sitting one evening in front of the door

of the house, a young man came passing by.

He looked at me, I turned my head away.

He spoke to me, I didn’t answer.


He wanted to approach me.  I took a scythe from

against the wall and would have split his cheek

if he had advanced a single step.


Then, recoiling a little, he put on a smile and

whispered to me through his hand, saying,

“Receive the kiss.”  And I shouted and I cried

so that my mother came running.


Worried, thinking that I had been stung by

a scorpion, I cried:  “He kissed me.”

My mother also kissed me and took me

into her arms.



It was already fully day…  I had to be

up!   But morning sleep is sweet and

the warmth of my bed keeps me curled up.

I want to stay and sleep some more.


Soon I shall be in the stable.  I

will give grass and flowers to the goats,

and the goatskin of cold water drawn from

the well, where I will drink at the same time as they.


Then I shall tie them to a stake to milk

their sweet warm udders; and if the

kids are not anxious, I shall suck

with them their now-supple teats.


Did not Amaltheia nourish Zeus?

I will go then.  But not yet.  The sun

came up too soon and my mother is not yet awake.


9   —  THE RAIN

The gentle rain has moistened everything, very

softly and in silence.  It is still raining a

little.  I shall go out under the trees.  Feet

naked, so as not to dirty my shoes.


The rain in spring is delicious.  The

branches loaded with moist flowers have a

perfume which makes me giddy.  I can see the

delicate skin of the bark shining in the sun.


Alas!  For the flowers on the earth!  Have

pity on the fallen flowers.  You must not

sweep them into the dirt; but

save them for the queen bees.


The scarabs and the snails cross the

way between the puddles of water; I don’t want

to walk on them, nor to startle the sleeping

lizard which stretches itself and blinks its eyelids



Nymphs of the woods and streams, beneficent

friends, I have come.  Do not hide,

but come and help me because I am sorely pained

by so many plucked flowers


I wish to choose from among the whole forest one

poor hamadryad with raised arms.  And from

her hair, the colour of leaves I shall pick

my most sultry rose.


Look!  I have taken so many to the fields that

I cannot carry them back unless you make me

A bouquet.  If you refuse me, take care:


Those of you with red hair I

Saw yesterday made erect like a beast by the

Satyre Lamprosathes, and I denounce

the impudence.



I threw myself into her arms and cried, and

for a long time she felt my hot tears

cool on her shoulder, before my sadness

let me speak:


“Alas!  I am just a child; the

young men do not look at me.  When

will I have the breasts of a young girl like yours

which swell the robe and tempt to kiss?


No-one has curious eyes if my tunic

slips; no-one will pick up a flower fallen

from my hair; no-one tells me he will kill me if

my mouth gives itself to another.


She replied to me tenderly:  “Bilitis,

little virgin, you cry like a cat at

the moon and you distress yourself without cause.  The

most impatient girls are not the earliest chosen.



Wagtail, bird of Kypris, sing

with our first desires!  The new bodies

of young girls are covered in flowers like

the earth.  The night of all our dreams approaches

and we chat amongst ourselves.


Sometimes we compare out beauty,

so different, our hair already long,

our young breasts still small

our pubes round like quails and giddy under

their new-born feathers.


Yesterday I wrestled with destiny against Melancthon

my elder.  She was proud of her breasts which

sprang up in only a month, and, pointing to

my flat tunic, called me:  “little child”.


Not a man could see us, we

mimicked nakedness in front of the girls, and if she

won on one point, I defeated her on others. 

Wagtail, bird of Cyprus, sing with our first desires!



I was bathing alone in the river

in the forest.  Without doubt I scared

the nyads as I hardly understood their troubles from

so far off, under the dark water.


I called them.  To resemble them

entirely, I wove Irises, black as my hair

behind my toes, with the

clusters of yellow wallflowers.


From the long floating grass, I made

myself a green girdle, and to see it I

pressed my breasts and inclined my head a little.


And I called out:  “Nyads!  Nyads!  Come

and play with me!  Be nice!”  But the nyads

were transparent, and perhaps, without

knowing it, I had caressed their supple arms.



When the sun burns less fiercely

we will go to play beside the river, where we

will wrestle for a fragile crocus or for a moist hyacinth.


We will make a necklace for the bout and a

garland for the race.  We will take each other

by the hand and by the tails of our tunics.


Phitta Meliai!  Give us honey.  Phitta

Nyads!  Let us bathe with you.  Phitta Meliades!

Give us sweet shade for our sweaty bodies.


And we offer you, beneficent Nymphs,

Not disgraceful wine, but oil and

Milk and goats with curved horns.



The travellers who return to Sardis

speak of the necklaces and precious stones which

burden the women of Lydia, from the top of

their hair down to their painted feet.


The girls of my country have no bracelets

nor diadems, but their finger carries one

golden ring, and on the setting is engraved

the triangle of the goddess.


When they turn the point outwards

this means:  Psyche is to take them.  When

they turn the point inwards, it

means:  Psyche has taken them.


The men there believe.  The women don’t.

Me, I don’t look much at which way

the point is turned, because Psyche delivers

them easily.  Psyche is always to take them.



On the soft grass, at night, the young

girls with violets in their hair danced

together, and half of them made

reply to the suitors.


The virgins said:  “We are not for

you”  And as they were modest

they hid their virginity.  A faun

played a flute under the trees.


The others said:  “You must

come and look for us.”   They clawed at the robes

and tunics of the man, and they struggled without

energy while mingling their dancing legs.


Then each one proclaimed himself vanquished, and took

his friend by the ears as one takes a cup by the

two handles, and, with inclined heads,

drank their kisses.



The river is nearly dry; the withered

reeds are dying in the mud; the air burns,

and, far from the hollow banks,

a clear stream trickles over the gravel.


It is there where from morning to night naked little

children come to play.  They bathe,

no higher than their calves, because the

river is low.


But they wade in the current, and

slip sometimes on the rocks and the

little boys throw water over the

laughing little girls.


And when a group of merchants passes,

leading enormous white bulls to drink in the stream,

they cross their hands behind their backs

and watch the huge beasts.


18  —  THE STORY

I am loved by little children. Those who

see me, run to me and cling

to my tunic, clasping my legs in

their little arms.


If they have cut flowers, they give them all

to me; if they have caught a scarab they

put it into my hand; if they have nothing, they

kiss me and make me sit down in front of them.


Then they kiss me on the cheek, they

rest their heads against my breast; and beg

me with their eyes.  I know very well what

that means.


That means:  “Dear Bilitis, tell us,

as we are good, the story of the hero

Perseus or the death of little Helle.”



Our mothers were pregnant at the same time and

tonight, Melissa, my dearest friend was married. 

The roses are still on the

road; the torches are still burning.


And I return by the same path, with

Mummy, and I imagine:  This day is hers,

so I too will be able to wed also.

Am I not already a big girl?


The procession, the flutes, the nuptial song and

the flowered chariot of the spouse, all these festivities,

one more night, unrolls in front of me,

among other things, olive branches.


As at this same hour Melissa, I

shall reveal myself in front of a man, I shall know

love in the night, and later the little

children will nourish themselves at my swelling breasts…


20  —  SECRETS

The next day, I went to her house, and

we blushed when we saw each other.

She bade me enter into her bedroom

so we could be alone together.


I had lots of things to say to her; but

I forgot them all upon seeing her.  I

didn’t even dare to throw myself

upon her neck.  I looked at her high girdle.


I was astonished that nothing was changed on her

face, that she seemed to be still my friend and yet

in the interval, since the vigil, she had

Learned so much that startled me.


Suddenly I sat on her knees, and I took

Her into my arms, I whispered into her ear

Quickly, anxiously.  Then she put her mouth

Against my ear, and told me everything.



At night, the hair of the women tangles in the

branches of the willows.  I

walk beside the water’s edge.  Suddenly,

I heard singing:  Only then I

recognized that they were young girls.


I said to them:  “What are you singing?” They

answered:  “The Homecomers.”  The one

waited for her father and the other her brother; but

the one who waited for her fiancé was the most impatient.


They had woven for themselves coronets

and garlands, cut palms from

palm-trees and pulled lotuses from the water.  They

held each other by the neck and sang, one

after the other.


I had walked the length of the stream, sadly,

and all alone, but when I looked around

me, I saw that behind the large trees the

Moon with blue eyes had led me back. 


22  —  REFLECTIONS  (not translated)



“Shadow of the woods where she must come”, said I,

where has my mistress gone?”  “She has

gone down to the plain.”  “Plain, where has

my mistress gone?”  “She followed the banks of

the river.


Beautiful river who saw her pass, tell me,

is she near here?  She left me for the

path.   Path, can you still see her?

She left me for the road.


Oh, white road, road to the town, tell me,

where did you take her?  To the golden street

which enters Sardis.  Oh street of light,

can you feel her naked feet?  She has entered

the palace of the king.


Oh palace, splendour of the world,

give her to me!  Look, she has necklaces

on her breast and hoops in her

hair, a hundred pearls the length of her legs,

two arms around her shapely body.” 


24  —  LYKAS

Come, we shall go into the fields, under the

juniper bushes; we shall eat

honey in the rushes, we shall make traps

for grasshoppers with stalks of asphodel.


Come, we shall go to see Lykas, who guards

his father’s flocks on the peaks of the

shadowy Taurus range.  Surely he will give us

some milk.


I can already hear the sound of his flute.  He is a

very skilful player.  Here are the dogs and the

lambs, and himself, standing under a tree.

Isn’t he as handsome as Adonis!


Oh, Lykas, give us some milk.  Here are some

figs from our fig-trees.  We are going to stay

with you.  Bearded billy-goats, don’t leap about, for

fear of exciting the restless nanny-goats.



It is not for Artemis that one adores

Pergamus, this garland woven by my hands,

although Artemis is a good goddess who

keeps me safe in difficult times.


It is not for Athena that one adores

Sidon, although she is of ivory and gold and

she carries in her hand a pomegranate

which tempts the birds.


No, it is for Aphrodite whom I worship

in my breast, because she alone gives me

that which my lips miss, if I hang

my garland of tender roses from her

sacred tree.


But I shall not speak too loudly of that which I

beseech her to grant me.  I shall stretch myself up on

the tips of my toes and through a cleft in

the bark I shall confide my secret.



The storm lasted all night.  Selenis, of the

beautiful hair, had come to spin with me.  She

stayed from fear of the mud.  We had  

heard the prayers and were squeezed one against

the other… we filled my little bed.


When girls sleep in pairs, sleep

stays at the door.  “Bilitis, tell me,

tell me who you love.”  She slid

her arm against mine to caress me



And she said, in front of my mouth:  “I know,

Bilitis, who you love.  Close your eyes, I

am Lykas.”  I replied as I touched her:  “Do

I not see very well that you are a girl?  Your

joke is pointless.


But she replied:  “In truth, I am Lykas,

if you close your eyelids.  Here are his arms,

there are his hands…”  And tenderly, in the

silence, she enchanted my dreams with a

singular illusion.



Purified by the ritual ablutions, and

clothed in violet tunics, we have

kissed the earth our hands full of

olive branches.


“Oh, Subterranean Persephone, or whatever name

you desire, if the name agrees with you,

listen to us oh Hair of Darkness.  Barren,

Unsmiling Queen.


“Kokhlis, daughter of Thrasymachos, is ill,

and dangerously.  Do not call her back

yet.  You know she cannot escape you:

One day, later, you will take her.


“But don’t drag her away so quickly, O Invisible

tyrant, because she mourns the loss of her virginity.

She beseeches you through our prayers, and we

give three black unshorn ewes to save her.”



As we both loved to do, we

played knucklebones.  And this was

a memorable game.  Lots of young girls



Her first throw gained her the Cyclops, and

I won Solon.  But she won

Kallibolos, and, feeling myself lost, I

prayed to the goddess.


I played. I had Epiphenon, she the terrible

Chios, I, the Antiteukhos, she the

Trikhias, and I Aphrodite which won

this lover’s dispute.


But seeing her pale, I took her by the neck

and I spoke very close to her ear (so that only she could hear),

“Don’t worry my little friend.

We shall let them choose between the two of us”



For the whole day my mother had shut me up in

the girls’ school, with my sisters, who I don’t like and

who speak amongst themselves in low voices. 

In a little corner, I spun my distaff.


Distaff, as I am alone with you,

it is to you that I shall speak.  With your

wig of white wool you are like an

old woman.  Listen to me.


If I could, I would not be here,

sitting in the shadow of the wall spinning with

boredom:  I would be lying among the violets

on the slopes of the Taurus mountains.


As he is poorer than I am, my mother

does not want him to marry me.  And nevertheless, I

shall tell you:  or I will not see the wedding-day

where it will be he who carries me across the




For Hyacinthus Day, he gave me

a flute made of tall reeds,

held together with white wax which is sweet to

my lips, like millet.


He is teaching me to play, sitting on his knees;

but I am trembling a little.  He plays it

after me, so softly that I can hardly hear.


We have nothing to say to each other, so close

are we to each other; but our songs

want to respond, and turn and turn about our

mouths unite on the flute.


It is late, here is the song of the green frogs

which starts with the onset of night.  My mother

will never believe that I stayed so long

to look for my lost girdle…



He said to me:  “Last night I had a dream. 

I had your hair around my neck. 

I had your hair like a black necklace around

the nape of my neck and on my chest.


I caressed it, and it was mine; and

we were thus tied together forever, by the

same hair, mouth on mouth, in the manner of

two laurels which often have but one root.


And bit by bit, it seemed to me, our

limbs were so entangled, that I was becoming

you or that you were entering into me like my



When he had finished, he gently put his

hands on my shoulders, and he looked at me

with a look so tender, that I kissed his eyes

with a shiver.


32 – THE CUP

Lykas saw me coming, clad only in a

brief shift, because the days were

stifling; he wanted to mould my breast which

was still uncovered.


He took some fine potter’s clay, kneaded in cold water

and light.  When he had pressed it onto

my skin, I thought I would faint, so cold

was this clay.


From the mould of my breast, he made a cup,

rounded and stemmed.  He put it to dry

in the sun and painted it purple and

ochre, pressing flowers into it all around.


Then we went up to the spring

that was sacred to the nymphs, and we

threw the cup into the current, with

stalks of gillyflowers.



As night mounted the sky, the world

was ours and the Gods’.  We’re going to the

fields at the spring, the dark woods with

clearings where we guided our naked feet.


The brilliant little stars enough for the

little shadows which are us.  Sometimes,

under the low branches, we find

sleeping deer.


But the most charming part of the night above all

else was a place known to us alone and

which drew us across the forest: a thicket

of mysterious roses.


Because nothing on earth is so divine as

the perfume of roses in the night.  How

was it that at times when I was alone I

felt no intoxication?



At first I didn’t answer, and I had a

blush on my cheeks, and the beating of

my heart hurt within my breast.


Then I resisted, I said: “No!  No!”  I

turned my head away and the kiss did not

broach my lips, nor love my

clenched knees.


Then he asked my forgiveness, he caressed

my hair, I felt his burning breath,

and he was gone… Now I am alone.


I looked at the empty place, the deserted woods, the

trodden earth.  And I bit my knuckles until they

bled and muffled my cries in the grass.



All alone I was sleeping, like a

partridge in the heather.  The light breeze,

The sound of the waters, the sweetness of the night

kept me there.


I was sleeping, an imprudent thing to do,

and I awoke with a cry.  I struggled, and

I wept; but already it was too late.

What can the arms of a woman do?


He didn’t leave me.  On the contrary,

More tenderly in his arms he clasped me to

Him and I saw nothing more in the world, neither earth nor

The trees but only the gleam of his eyes…


To you, victorious Kypris, I dedicate these

Offerings still moist, still pink; the traces

Of the sorrows of the virgin, the end of my

Dream and of my resistance.



Washerwomen, do not say that you have seen me!

I trust myself to you; do not repeat it!

Between my tunic and my breast I brought you



I am like a frightened little chicken…

I don’t know if I dare to tell you… My

Heart beats like I shall die… it is a

Veil that I brought you.


A veil and the ribbons from my legs.  You

See; there is blood.  By Apollo it was

In spite of me!  I was well defended; but

A man who loves is stronger than us.


Wash them well; spare neither salt nor

Chalk.  I shall put four obols for you

At the feet of Aphrodite; and even

A silver drachma.


37 – SONG

When he returned, I hid my

Face with both hands.  He said to me: 

“Fear nothing.  Who saw us embrace?”  “Who

Saw us?  The night and the moon.


“And the stars and the first light of dawn.  The moon

Was admiring itself in the lake and told the water under

The willows.  The water of the lake told the pole.


“And the pole told the boat and the boat

Told the fisherman.  Alas!  Alas!  If that were

All!  But the fisherman told a woman.


“The fisherman told a woman:  my father and

my mother and my sisters, and

all of Hellas will know.”



One woman envelopes herself in white wool. 

Another clothes herself in silk and gold.  Another

covers herself with flowers, with green leaves and



I know only to live naked.  My lover,

take me as I am:  without robes nor jewels

nor sandals; here is Bilitis alone.

But my hair is black with its own blackness and my

lips red with their own redness.  My curls

float around me, free and round

like feathers.


Take me just as my mother made me in

A night of love long ago, and if I please you

Then don’t forget to tell me.



The little house where his bed is, is the most

beautiful on earth.  It is made with the

branches of trees, four walls of dry earth

and a garland of thatch.


I love it, because we lie there since the nights grew

cold; and the colder the night, the longer it is. 

At the rise of day I feel myself finally weary.


The mattress is in the sun; two blankets

of black wool enclose our bodies which

are warming up again.  His chest compresses my breasts.

My heart beats…


He enters me so hard that I thought he would break me, poor

little girl that I am; but while he is

in me I no longer know anything of the world, and

you could have cut off my four limbs without

waking me from my joy.


40 – JOY (not translated)



Alas for me!  I have lost his letter.  I

had put it between my skin and my breast-band,

in the warmth of my breast.  I ran; it fell.


I’m going to retrace my steps:  if someone

found it, he would tell my mother and I

shall be whipped in front of my mocking sisters.


If it is a man who finds it, he will give it

back to me; or even, if he wanted to talk to me in

secret I know the means to charm him.


If it is a woman, who puts it up for sale, O Zeus

the Protector, protect me!  Because she would tell

everybody, or she would take my lover.


42 – SONG

The night is so deep that it enters through

my eyes.  – You could not see the way. You could

lose yourself in the forest.


The noise of the waterfalls fills my

ears.  – You would not hear the voice of

your lover even if he was only twenty feet away.


The odour of the flowers is so strong that I

swoon and am about to fall. – You would not feel

them if they carpeted your path.


Ah!  It is good, far from here, on the other

side of the mountain, but I see it and I

hear it and I feel it as if it were touching me.



“When the water of the stream flows back up

to the snow-covered summits;

when we sow barley and wheat in

the moving furrows of the sea;


“when the pines sprout in the lakes and the

water-lilies on rocks, when the sun

becomes black, when the moon falls onto the grass.


“Then, but only then, will I take

another wife and forget you Bilitis,

soul of my life, heart of my heart.”


He said that to me!  He said that to me!  What matters

the rest of the world to me!  Where are you, insane happiness

which can compare with my happiness!


44 — NIGHT

It is me now, looking for him again.

each night, very softly, I leave the

house, and I go by a long road,

to his meadow, to watch him sleep.


Sometimes I stay a long time without speaking,

happy just to see him, and I put my lips close

to his, to kiss only

his breath.


Then suddenly, I spread myself over him.  He

wakes in my arms, and he can no longer

get back up because I wrestle with him!  He submits, and laughs and

pleads with me.  And so we played through the night.


… First dawn, Oh mischievous clarity, you already!

In what forever-nocturnal cavern, on

which subterranean meadow could we

love for so long, that we lose even your



45 – LULLABY (BERCEUSE:  lit: ‘She who rocks the cradle’)

Sleep!  I asked in Sardis for your toys, and

your clothes in Babylon.  Sleep, you are the daughter

of Bilitis and of a king of the rising sun.


The woods, they are the palace in which we fought for

you alone and which I give you.  The trunks

of the pines, these are its columns; the high

branches, these are its vaulted roof.


Sleep.  So that he doesn’t wake you, I would sell

the sun to the sea.  The wind from the wings of

a dove is not as light as your breath.


Daughter of mine, flesh of my flesh, you will tell me

when you open your eyes, if you want the

plain or the town, or the mountain or the

moon, or the white procession of the gods.



The length of the rime-covered woods, I

walked; the hair in front of my mouth was

blossoming with little icicles, and my

sandals were heavy with piled-up slush.


He said to me:  “What are you looking for?” “I’m

on the tracks of a satyr.  His cloven little footsteps

alternate like the holes in a white

shawl.”  He said to me: “The Satyrs are dead.


“The satyrs and the nymphs too.  In

thirty years we have not had a winter so

terrible.  The footprint which you see is that of

a goat.  But let us stay here, where their tomb is.”


And with the iron of his hoe he broke the ice

on the spring where once laughed the Nyads.

He took large cold pieces, and,

lifting them to the pale sky, looked through them.

The Life of Bilitis (translated by DL Rowlands)

Filed under: Poetry,The Life of Bilitis — astyages @ 11:11 pm

The Life of Bilitis

By Pierre Louys

Translated by

David Lloyd Rowlands

An Independant anthropological publication. 

©  David L Rowlands: All rights reserved



A Lyrical novel

 This little book about ancient love is dedicated respectfully to the young girls of the society of the future.  (Pierre Louys)



Bilitis was born at the beginning of the sixth century before our own era, in a mountain village situated on the border of Melas, to the east of Pamphylia.  This country is dangerous and melancholy, darkened by deep forests, dominated by the enormous mass of the Taurus mountain ranges; petrifying springs emerge from the rock into large saltwater lakes; the heights and the valleys are full of silence.

She was the daughter of a Greek father and a Phoenician mother.  She seems not to have known her father, because he is not mentioned anywhere in the memories of her childhood.  Perhaps he was even dead before she came into the world.  Otherwise one could hardly explain how she came to bear a Phoenician name, which only her mother could have given her.

In this nearly deserted land, she lived a peaceful life with her mother and her sisters.  Other young girls, who were to become her friends, lived not far from there.  On the wooded slopes of the Taurus range, shepherds grazed their flocks.

In the morning, at cockcrow, she rose, went to the stable, to water and milk the animals.  During the day, if she wished, she could stay in the women’s quarters and spin wool.  If the weather was fine, she could run in the fields and play with her friends the thousand games about which she tells us.

Bilitis had an ardent piety regarding the Nymphs.  The sacrifices she offered were almost always for their spring.  Often she even spoke to them, but it seems that she never saw them, to the degree that she recounts with veneration the memories of an old man which otherwise would have been surprising.     

The end of her pastoral existence was made sorrowful by a love affair which we know a good bit about because she spoke of it at length.  She stopped singing about it when it became unhappy.  Having become the mother of a child whom she abandoned, Bilitis left Pamphylia, under mysterious circumstances, and never dreamed again of the place of her birth.

We find her again at Mytilene where she had come by the sea route along the beautiful coast of Asia.  She was scarcely sixteen years old, according to the conjectures of M. Heim, who plausibly established some dates in the life of Bilitis, taken from a verse which makes allusion to the death of Pittakos.

Lesbos was then the centre of the world.  Halfway between beautiful Attica and the ostentation of Lydia, she had as her capital, a city more enlightened than Athens, and more corrupt than Sardis:  Mytilene, built on a peninsula in sight of the coast of Asia.  The blue sea surrounded the town.  From the height of the temples one could distinguish on the horizon the white line of Atarnia, which was the port of Pergamus.                

The streets, narrow and crowded by the resplendent multitude dressed in multi-coloured fabrics, tunics of purple and hyacinth, cyclases (a kind of sleeveless surcoat) of transparent silks, bassaras (a type of mantle) dragging in the dust stirred up by yellow shoes.  The women wore large golden rings strung with rough pearls in their ears, and on their arms massive bracelets of silver roughly carved in relief.  The men themselves had shining heads of well-coiffed hair.  Through the open doors could be heard the joyful sounds of instruments, the cries of the women, and the noise of the dances.  Pittakos, who wanted to give a bit of order to this perpetual debauch, even passed a law which forbade flute-players who were too tired being employed in the nocturnal festivities; but this law was never severe.

In a society where the husbands are so busy at night with wine and the dancers, the women were inevitably forced to reconcile themselves to find among themselves the consolation of their solitude.  From the outcome, that they softened to these delicate amours, to which antiquity has already given their name, and which they maintain, what they thought of men was more true passion than faulty research.

Sappho was still beautiful.  Bilitis knew her, and she speaks to us about her under the name of Psappha which she used in Lesbos.  Undoubtedly this was what made this admirable woman, who taught young Pamphylians the art of singing in rhythmic phrases, preserve for posterity the memory of these dear beings.  Unhappily Bilitis gives little detail about this figure which is today so poorly known and this is cause for regret because the least word touching the great Inspiratrice is precious.  In revenge she has left us some thirty elegies, the history of her own friendship with a young girl of her own age who she names Mnasidika, and who lived with her.  Already we know the name of this young girl from a verse of Sappho’s where her beauty is exalted; but the name was doubtful, and Bergk was near to thinking that she was simply called Mnais.  The songs one reads further prove that this hypothesis must be abandoned.  Mnasidika seems to have been a small girl, very sweet and very innocent, one of those charming beings who have for their mission to let themselves be adored, so much more cherished are they that they make less effort to merit that which is given them.  Love without reason lasts longest; this one lasted for ten years.  We shall see how it was broken off through Bilitis’ fault, whose excessive jealousy failed to understand the least eclecticism.

When she felt that nothing was left for her in Mytilene except unhappy memories, Bilitis made a second voyage:  she went to Cyprus, a Greek and Phoenician island like Pamphylia herself and which must have often reminded her of her native country.

So it was that Bilitis recommenced her life for the third time and in a way of which it would be more difficult to make admission if one has not yet understood at which point love became a sacred thing among the ancient peoples.  The courtesans of Amathonte were not like our own, creatures in disgrace, exiled from all worldly society; they were girls from the best families in the city, and who thanked Aphrodite for the beauty which she had given them, and consecrated in service to her cult this recognized beauty.  All the towns which possessed, like those of Cyprus, a temple rich in courtesans had in the regard of these women the same respectful care.

The incomparable history of Phryne, which Athena has transmitted to us, will give some idea of a real veneration.  It is not true that Hyperidas needed to go naked to persuade the Areopagus and nevertheless, the crime was great: she had killed.  The orator only tears the top of his tunic and reveals only his breast.  And he supplicates the Judges “not to put to death the priestess and those inspired by Aphrodite”.  On the contrary the other courtesans went out wearing clothing of transparent silk through which may be seen all the details of their bodies.  Phryne was costumed so that even her hair was enveloped in great pleated vestments whose grace the figurines of Tanagra has preserved.  No-one, if it were not her friends, ever saw her arms, nor her shoulders, and never would she be seen in the public baths.  But one day something extraordinary happened.  This was the day of the feast of Eleusis, twenty mule persons, who came from every country in Greece, were assembled on the beach, when Phryne advanced close to the waves:  She removed her clothing, she undid her girdle, she even removed her under-tunic, “she let down her hair and entered into the sea”.  And in this crowd there were Praxiteles, who after this living goddess drew the “Aphrodite of Cnidus” and Apelle who half-lived in the form of his “Anadyomene”.  Admirable people, in front of whom beauty could be displayed nude without exciting laughter or false shame [fausse honte].

I would like this history to be that of Bilitis, because, in translating her Songs, I was seized by a love for the friend of Mnasidika.  Without doubt her life was also totally marvellous.  I regret only that I have not spoken further and that the ancient authors, those at least we have surveyed, are so lacking in information about her.  Philodemus, who plundered her twice, doesn’t even mention her name.  In default of pretty stories, I pray that one would really like to content oneself with the details which she gives us herself on her life as a courtesan.  She was a courtesan, that is undeniable; and even her last songs prove that if she had the virtues of her vocation, she also had its worst weaknesses.  But I do not wish to know only her virtues.  She was pious, and even practicing.  She lived faithfully at the temple, such that Aphrodite consented to prolong the youth of her purest worshipper.  The day she ceased to be loved, she stopped writing, she says.  Nevertheless, it is difficult to admit that the songs of Pamphylia were written in the period they were about.  How was a little shepherdess from the mountains able to learn how to scan her verses which depended on the difficult rhythms of the Aeolian tradition?  It seems more plausible that, on growing old, she could no longer sing for herself the memories of her distant childhood.  We know nothing about this last period of her life.  We do not even know at what age she died.

Her tomb was rediscovered by M G Heim at Palaeo-Limisso, beside an ancient road, not far from the ruins of Amathonte.  These ruins had virtually disappeared for over thirty years, and perhaps the stones of the house where Bilitis lived today pave the quays of Port Said.  But the tomb was underground, according to Phoenician custom and it escaped tomb-robbers [voleurs du tresor].  M. Heim penetrated a narrow shaft, filled with earth, at the bottom of which he encountered a walled door which he had to demolish.  The cavern, spacious and low, paved with flagstones of marble, had four walls lined with a veneer of black amphibolite, where there were graven in primitive capitals all the songs which we are about to read, as well as three epitaphs which decorated the sarcophagus.

It was there where reposed the friend of Mnasidika, in a large coffin of baked earth, under a cover modelled by a delicate statuary which was figured in potters clay, her death-mask:  her hair was painted black, the eyes half-shut and lengthened with pencil as if she were living and the cheeks artfully adorned with a light smile which emphasized the lines of the mouth.  Nothing more would ever be said by these lips, at once clear and well-defined, soft and fine, united the one with the other, as if they had drunkenly come together.  The celebrated traits of Bilitis were often reproduced by the artists of Ionia, and the Louvre Museum possesses a baked-earth tablet from Rhodes which is her most perfect monument, after the bust by Lanarka.

When the tomb was opened, she appeared in a pose with one hand piously arranged, twenty-four centuries previously.  Vials of perfumes were hanging from earthen pegs, and one of these, even after such a long time, still smelled sweet.  The polished silver mirror in which Bilitis saw herself and the stylus which had traced the blue on her eyelids were discovered in their proper places.  A little nude statue of Astarte, a relic never so precious, keeping perpetual vigil over the ornate skeleton and all her jewels of gold and white, like snow-laden branches but so soft and fragile that at the moment they were gently touched they turned to dust.


Constantine, August 1894.

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