Byzantium & Friends

Byzantine erotic epigrams of the sixth century

November 21, 2019


Byzantine erotic epigrams of the sixth century from the Greek Anthology, book 5 (trans. A. Kaldellis)


For how long must we disguise our burning gaze,

as we aim to hit each other with furtive glances?

Our passion must be declared publically. And if someone

hinders the tender embraces that will end our pain, then

the sword will be the cure for both of us. Sweeter it will be

for us to be together forever, whether in life or in death.

(221: Paulos)



[The following is in a woman’s voice.]

As I kiss Hippomenes, my mind is fixed on Leandros.

But as I press against Leandros’ lips,

I bring to mind the image of Xanthos. Yet when entwined

with Xanthos, I lead my heart back home to Hippomenes.

Thus I always spurn the one I hold, ever exchanging

one for the other in the shifting embrace of my arms.

I seek the riches of Aphrodite. If anyone blames me,

let him remain stuck in monogamy.

(232: Paulos)



When I saw Melite, I grew pale, for her husband

was with her. Here is what I said, trembling:

“May I push open the bolts on your door,

loosening the peg of your folding entrance,

and, penetrating the wet bottom of your front-doors,

plant the tip of my key right in the middle?”

She laughed and said, looking at him sideways,

“You’d better stay away from the doors, or the dog will get you.”

(242: Eratosthenes scholastikos)



Galateia’s kisses are long and noisy, Demo’s are tender,

and Doris bites. Which arouses me more?

We should not judge kisses from what we hear. We have

to taste the three mouths, and only then cast our vote.

Ah, my heart, you were wrong: you knew the tender

kisses of Demo, and the sweet honey of her dewy mouth.

Stay with that. Hers is an objective win. If someone else takes

pleasure in another, he will not pull me away from Demo.

(244: Paulos)



Let us drop these clothes, delightful one. Nude on nude,

we lie with our limbs entwined.

Let nothing be between us. Even that thin fabric you wear

seems to me like the walls of Semiramis.

Let us our breasts be joined, our lips too. As for the rest,

let’s keep quiet about it. I hate vulgarity.

(252: Paulos)



Your wrinkles, Philinna, are preferable to the very face

of youth. And I long to hold in both my palms

your apples, heavy as they are and hanging with clusters,

more than the perky breasts of a young girl.

Your autumn surpasses her spring,

and your winter is warmer than another’s summer.

(258: Paulos)



Your eyes are heavy, Chariklo, touched by passion,

as if you had just risen from bed.

Your hair is disheveled and your cheeks, usually rosy

and bright, are now pale and your body is relaxed.

If this is because of some all-night exertions, then

he who held you in his arms was fortunate indeed.

But if you’re melting with hot passion, please be melting for me.

(259: Paulos)



I once sat alone between two real dames,

the one I fancied, while to the other I did it as a favor.

The one who liked me pulled me to her, but I, like a thief,

kissed the other on the lips, yet still with great restraint.

I sought to evade the jealously of the first one, dreading

her reproach; and her gossip could kill my passion.

Angry now, I said, “It seems that for me both loving and

being loved are equally hard to bear, and I am doubly punished.”

(269: Agathias)



Her breasts are in my hands, we are joined mouth-to-mouth,

and I feed furiously about her silver neck.

I have not yet taken the whole of Aphrodite, I am still working

hard, busying with this maiden who refuses the bed.

She has given half to Aphrodite and half to Athena,

and I waste away caught in the middle.

(272: Paulos)



One evening beautiful Menekratis was sprawled asleep,

with her arm wound around her head.

I dared to enter her bed. With pleasure I then

journeyed half the way to the libation of Aphrodite,

but the girl awoke, and with her white hands

started to pull out all my hair.

She struggled, but we completed the journey of love.

Then, with tears filling her eyes, she said,

“You jerk, you now done what you wanted, for which

I have often refused gold from your hand.

And now you will leave and roll another into your embrace.

You are truly servants of insatiable Aphrodite.”

(275: Paulos)



May Aphrodite herself and the charming Erotes

waste my empty heart in hatred

if I ever love men. May I never get lucky that way,

nor slip into greater sins.

Offenses with women are enough! I will carry on

with those, but leave young men to stupid Pittalakos.

(278: Agathias)



Eluding the watchful eyes of her mother,

that sexy girl gave me a pair of rosy apples.

Surely she secretly applied the magic torch

of love to those red, red apples.

For I, poor me, am now burning up, but

instead of breasts I hold only apples in my idle hands!

(290: Paulos)



That jealous old hag lay down right next to the girl

erecting a broad barrier obliquely across the bed

and projecting like an insurmountable rampart.

Like a tower, a blanket with ample folds covered the girl.

A dour waiting-woman had fastened the doors of the room,

but she slept deeply, thanks to unmixed wine.

In any case, thedidn’t scare me. With silent hands

I slightly lifted the latch on the door,

extinguished the bright flame by fluttering my cloak

and advanced sideways across the room

evading the sleeping sentry. I reached the other

side of the bed by crawling on my belly under its frame

and slowly stood up, where the rampart could be mounted.

Placing my chest alongside the girl,

I clasped her breasts. I took my pleasure with her face,

taking in a mouthful of her soft lips.

Her beautiful mouth was my trophy, and her kiss was

the token of my nightime escapade.

I have not yet stormed the tower of the dear maiden,

it’s still tightly shut, undisputed, delayed.

For all that, if we have another go at this battle,

indeed I may well breach the walls of her virginity.

No ramparts will then hold me back. If get so lucky,

I will weave a wreath for you, Aphrodite Trophy-Bearer.

(294: Agathias)



What is the best sex? If you have to resort to the street corners,

then you will regret lewd women’s greed for gold and luxury.

If you approach a virgin’s bed, it will end in lawful marriage,

or in punishment for corrupting her.

And who can bear to arouse joyless lust,

required to do his duty with his lawfully wedded wife?

Adulterous beds are the worst, outside the realm of love,

and the mad lust for boys is just as bad.

As for widows, the one who is loose sleeps around with everyone,

and knows all the arts of lewdness.

While the chaste one barely consents to do it,

and is stung by unfeeling remorse,

hating what was done. She still has a bit of shame

and pulls back again, annoucing the affair’s end.

If you sleep with your own servant, know that you too will submit

to being her servant in turn, to her, a female slave.

But if with someone else’s servant, then the law will brand you

with infamy, for offending against someone’s else property.

That’s why Diogenes fled from all of this,

and just did it with his own hand, having no need for Laïs.

(302: Agathias)


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