Some say that horsemen, some, a host on foot

is loveliest of all that the dark lands boast,

and some say warships; but I say it’s what

          you love the most.

How effortless to make this perfectly

clear to you all, for the incomparable

Helen, that beauty more than human—she

         forsook her noble,

her royal husband and shipped for Troy, with all

concern for her dear parents and dear child

forgotten, [despite her womanly self-control]

         misled, beguiled

[by Cypris—who makes even] firm minds [stray

and melt in day-dreams,] and does it easily.

And now I’m thinking of Anactoria,

         who’s not with me:

thinking of how I’d rather see her sway—

her dancer’s walk and sparkle, her face beaming—

than all of Lydia’s chariots and array

         of soldiers gleaming.


[Unmarred felicity] is impossible

for mortals; [some small share of happiness]

is all that we can pray for. [I know well]

         the truth of this . . .

                           for those around me

whom I help most do the most harm. It never

         fails to astound me


Queen Hera, on this ground [the chorus rings,]

let your grace [waft and fan] our festival

which Atreus’ sons founded, mighty kings

         who did your will

when they, their epic tribulations over—

both those that they endured at Ilium

and when they landed here—could not discover

         the sea-route home

until they turned to you and Thyone’s son,

the thirsted-for, and to the guest-god, Zeus.

And now we [too do what] of old was done

         in holiness

and b[eauty, as our g]irls and women [draw

near to your altar in a great pro]cession,

and lift in measure, [gladly and with awe,]

         the u[lulation.]


For my sake, Lady Nereids, please grant

my brother his return with life and limb

intact, and anything his heart may want—

         give it to him.

Let him atone for all the wrong he’s done,

and be a joy to friends, a misery

to foes, and may he never be again

         a nobody,

but take a bit more heed of his sister’s honor

in his decisions, and [provide relief,]

to hearts [his] suffering has [caused to suffer,]

         from all our grief

[at Doricha’s in]fluence. The talk of the town

could quickly have turned cutting and drawn blood,

and caused a scandal if ever there was one.

         But he [understood]

before too long—and what could be [better] than

if he should learn [to value a] reputation?

         But you, exalted Cypris . . .


[M]other, is there no [way at all for us

         to hold a b]right

feast in due season? [It’s the one cheer]

our daylong life [is heir to!] May I [rejoice

and still rejoice] as long as I can hear

         [the lyre’s voi]ce

9a. The Brothers Poem

But you keep saying—the gods, including Zeus,

all know by now—‘Charaxus has up and gone

in a full ship.’ Such worries are no use

         to harp upon;

no, send me instead with orders to beseech

Queen Hera that our Charaxus may once more,

safe and sound in an unscathed vessel, reach

         his native shore

and find us well. Whatever else may happen

we must leave up to the Powers of the world:

even from out of the wildest storms, a sudden

         calm is unfurled.

Those whom Olympus’ king has deigned to bless

with guardian presences in times of trial,

they are the happy ones, on whom success

         and fortune smile.

But Larichus, if he’d only be a man

at last, and hold his head up manfully—

then our hearts’ heavy weather would move on

         and set us free.


What can a woman do, if you don’t love [her,]

Cypris, slavedriver, but be ill with craving?

[When all] she wants to do is hi[de] her fever,

         [but you] keep driving?

Idly [you churn] the billows; you split me open

[with lo]nging that, [alas], makes my knees [slack;

the sto]rm will swa[mp the stays], but it wouldn’t happen

         [if you’d hold back]




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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 34 Number 6, on page 28
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