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ALCAEUS : EPIGRAMS

Alcaeus of Messene wrote his epigrams in the years around 200 B.C., as is shown by several references to Philip V, the Macedonian king. Compared to other poets of his time, Alcaeus was particularly outspoken about political events; he was clearly a bitter enemy of Philip, at least from 201 B.C. onwards, and he also managed to offend the Roman general Flamininus ( Plut:Flam_9 ).

All of his surviving epigrams are shown here, in the order that they appear scattered throughout the Greek Anthology. The labels in red at the start of each epigram are their numbers within the Anthology. The labels in green are the numbers assigned to the epigrams in the edition by A.S.F.Gow & D.L.Page, "The Greek Anthology: Hellenistic Epigrams".

The translations are taken from the edition by W.R.Paton (1916-18), but have been modified to remove some of the archaic language. The translator's notes are shown in green.   Click on G to go to the Greek text of each epigram.



[5.10]   { G-P 6 }   G

I hate Love. Why does not his heavy godship attack wild beasts, but always shoots at my heart ? What gain is it for a god to burn up a man, or what trophies of value shall he win from my head ?


[6.218]   { G-P 21 }   G

A begging eunuch priest of Cybele was wandering through the upland forests of Ida, and there met him a huge lion, its hungry throat dreadfully gaping as though to devour him. Then in fear of the death that faced him in its ravening jaws, he beat his tambour from the holy grove. The lion shut its murderous mouth, and as if itself full of divine frenzy, began to toss and whirl its mane about its neck. But he thus escaping a dreadful death dedicated to Rhea the beast that had taught itself her dance.


[7.1]   { G-P 11 }   G

On Homer

In Ios the boys, weaving a riddle *   at the bidding of the Muses, vexed to death Homer the singer of the heroes. And the Nereids of the sea anointed him with nectar and laid him dead under the rock on the shore ; because he glorified Thetis and her son and the battle-din of the other heroes and the deeds of Odysseus of Ithaca. Blessed among the islands in the sea is Ios, for small though she be, she covers the star of the Muses and Graces.

*   The riddle which Homer, according to the story, could not guess was : "What we caught we left, what we did not catch we bring," i.e. lice.


[7.5]   { G-P 22 }   G

On the Same. This epigram is not meant to be sepulchral, but refers to a statue of Homer at Salamis in Cyprus, one of the towns which claimed his parentage.

No, not even if you set me, Homer, up all of beaten gold in the burning lightning of Zeus, I am not and will not be a Salaminian, I the son of Meles will not be the son of Dmēsagoras ; let not Greece look on that. Tempt some other poet, *   but it is you, Chios, who with the Muses shall sing my verses to the sons of Hellas.

*   To call himself yours


[7.55]   { G-P 12 }   G

On Hesiod

In a shady grove of Locris the Nymphs washed the body of Hesiod with water from their springs and raised a tomb to him. And on it the goat-herds poured libations of milk mixed with golden honey. For even such was the song the old man breathed who had tasted the pure fountains of the nine Muses.


[7.247]   { G-P 4 }   G

Unwept, O wayfarer, unburied we lie on this Thessalian hillock, the thirty thousand, a great woe to Macedonia ; and nimbler than fleet-footed deer, fled that dauntless spirit of Philip. *  

*   On the Macedonians slain at the battle of Cynoscephalae (B.C. 197), where Philip V was defeated by Flamininus. For the king's bitter retort see epigram 16.26b.


[7.412]   { G-P 14 }   G

Pylades, *   now you are gone, all Hellas wails shearing her loosened hair, and Phoebus himself took off the laurels from his flowing locks, honouring his singer as is meet. The Muses wept and Asopus stayed his stream when he heard the voice of mourning. The dance of Dionysus ceased in the halls, when you went down the iron road of Hades.

*   A celebrated actor.


[7.429]   { G-P 16 }   G

I ask myself why this road-side stone has only two Phis chiselled on it. Was the name of the woman who is buried here Chilias {"Thousand"} ? The number which is the sum of the two letters points to this. Or am I astray in this guess and was the name of her who dwells in this mournful tomb Phidis ? *   Now am I the Oedipus who has solved the sphinx's riddle. He deserves praise, the man who made this puzzle out of two letters, a light to the intelligent and darkness to the unintelligent.

*   Φ stands for 500. Phidis = Φ dis = twice 500.


[7.495]   { G-P 15 }   G

Arcturus' rising *   is an ill season for sailors to sail at, and I, Aspasius, whose tomb you pass, traveller, met my bitter fate by the blast of Boreas. My body, washed by the waters of the Aegean main, is lost at sea. Lamentable ever is the death of young men, but most mournful of all is the fate of travellers who perish in the sea.

*   Middle of September.


[7.536]   { G-P 13 }   G

Not even now the old man is dead, do clusters of the cultivated vine grow on his tomb, but brambles and the astringent wild pear that contracts the traveller's lips and his throat parched with thirst. But he who passes by the tomb of Hipponax should pray his corpse to rest in sleep.


[9.518]   { G-P 1 }   G

Heighten your walls, Olympian Zeus ; all is accessible to Philip : shut the brazen gates of the gods. Earth and sea lie vanquished under Philip's sceptre : there remains the road to Olympus. *  

*   The epigram is of course ironical. Alcaeus, as the next epigram shows, was the bitter enemy of King Philip V. <


[9.519]   { G-P 2 }   G

{Addressed to King Philip, son of Demetrius}

I drink, Bacchus, I drink ; yes, deeper than the Cyclops drunk when he had filled his belly with the flesh of men ; would I could dash out the brains of my foe and drain Philip's skull to the dregs, Philip who tastes of the blood of his friends as he carouses, pouring poison into the wine. *  

*   Philip is said to have poisoned Aratus, among others, in this manner.


[9.588]   { G-P 17 }   G

Even as you see, stranger, his stout heart in the bronze image, so Hellas saw the might of Cleitomachus. *   For when he had put off the blood-stained cestus from his hands, he straightway fought in the fierce pancratium. In the third event he fouled not his shoulders in the dust, but wrestling without a fall won the three contests at Isthmus. Alone among the Greeks he gained this honour, and seven-gated Thebes and his father Hermocrates were crowned.

*   See Pausanias vi. 15.


[11.12]   { G-P 3 }   G

"Wine slew the Centaur" too, Epicrates, *   not yourself alone and Callias in his lovely prime. Truly the one-eyed monster is the Charon of the wine-cup. Send him right quickly from Hades the same draught.

*   Epicrates the comic poet and Callias the tragic poet were both said to have been poisoned by King Philip, son of Demetrius. This Philip was not, like Philip II, one-eyed, but Alcaeus means that he was a Cyclops in his cruelty.


[12.29]   { G-P 7 }   G

Protarchus is fair and does not wish it ; but later he will, and his youth races on holding a torch. *  

*   As in the torch race the torch was handed on by one racer to another, so is it with the light of youthful beauty.


[12.30]   { G-P 8 }   G

Your leg, Nicander, is getting hairy, but take care lest the same happens to your buttocks. Then shall you know how rare lovers are. But even now reflect that youth is irrevocable.


[12.64]   { G-P 9 }   G

Zeus, Lord of Pisa, crown under the steep hill of Cronos *   Peithenor, the second son of Cypris. And, Lord, I pray you become no eagle on high to seize him for your cup-bearer in place of the fair Trojan boy. If ever I have brought you a gift from the Muses that was dear to thee, grant that the god-like boy may be of one mind with me.

*   At Olympia.


[16.5]   { G-P 5 }   G

Both Xerxes led a Persian host to the land of Hellas, and Titus, *   too, led there a host from broad Italy, but the one meant to set the yoke of slavery on the neck of Europe, the other to put an end to the servitude of Hellas.

*   Titus Quinctius Flamininus, who in the year 196 B.C. proclaimed the freedom of Greece.


[16.7]   { G-P 10 }   G

Mixing in harmony with the singer's voice the notes of his soft flute, Dorotheus, having come in touch with the deathless Graces, piped the mournful Trojans and Semele, slain in her labour by the thunderbolt, and he piped the exploit of the {Trojan} horse. He alone among the holy prophets of Dionysus escaped the nimble wings of Blame. By birth he was a Theban, son of Sosicles, and in the temple of Dionysus he dedicated his mouth-band and reed-pipes. *

*   i.e. his double flute. The mouth-band was used for regulating the force of the breath.


[16.8]   { G-P 18 }   G

On Marsyas

No longer in Phrygia, the nurse of pines, as before, shall you play, speaking music through your deftly-pierced reeds ; nor in your hands shall the craftsmanship of Tritonian Athena *   bloom again as it did previously, O Satyr, son of a Nymph. For now your wrists are bound tight with shackles, because you, a mortal, encountered Phoebus in a strife fit only for gods. And the flutes that shrill a note as honeyed as his lyre's won for you from the contest no crown but death.

*   Athena was said to have invented the flute, but cast it away in disgust because it disfigured her. It was picked up by Marsyas.


[16.196]   { G-P 19 }   G

On a Statue of Love Bound

Who impiously hunted you down and set you here in fetters ? Who crossed and bound your hands, and wrought you with this rueful face? Where, poor child, is your swift bow, where the bitter quiver that held thine arrows? Of a truth in vain the sculptor laboured, making fast in this trap you who agitate the gods with the fury of desire.


[16.226]   { G-P 20 }   G

On a Statue of Pan

O Pan, who walk on the mountains, breathe music with your sweet lips, delighted with your shepherd's reed, pouring forth melody from the sweet-toned pipe, and bring its shrill notes into tune with the words it accompanies, and round you to the beat of the rhythm let the inspired feet of these water-nymphs move in the dance.


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