Dioscorides : Epigrams

Dioscorides was a Greek poet who probably lived in Egypt in the second half of the 3rd century B.C.; for a summary of what is known about him, see see J.Clack, "Dioscorides and Antipater of Sidon: The Poems", pp.2-6 ( Google Books ).

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". To go to a specific epigram in the Gow-Page edition, type the number in the box below, and hit [go].
  → (in range 1 - 40):  

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.   The translations of 5.54 & 55 ( G-P 7 & 5 ) are taken from D.Iordanoglou, "Literary Loves: Interpretations of Dioscorides 1-5 and 7" ( PDF ).   Click on G to go to the Greek text of each epigram.

[5.52]   { G-P 6 }   G

To Love we offered the vow we made together ; by an oath Arsinoē and Sosipater plighted their troth. But false is she, and her oath was vain, while his love survives, and yet the gods have not manifested their might. For a wedding song, Hymen, chant a dirge at her door, rebuking her faithless bed.

[5.53]   { G-P 3 }   G

Winning Aristonoē wounded me, dear Adonis, tearing her breasts by your bier. If she will do me the same honour, when I die, I hesitate not ; take me away with you on your voyage.

[5.54]   { G-P 7 }   G

  Never lay her heavy with child on your bed face to face,
  taking pleasure in procreative Cypris.
  For in the middle, there will be a huge wave, and it will be no small labour
  as she is rowed and you ride at anchor.
  No, turn her round and take pleasure in her rosy bottom,
  thinking of your wife as male-boy Cypris.

[5.55]   { G-P 5 }   G

  Having stretched out Doris the rose-bottomed on top of a bed,
  I became immortal in verdant flowers.
  Straddling me in the middle with her extraordinary legs,
  she completed the long-distance course of Cypris without bending,
  her eyes looking torpidly; her . . ., like leaves in the wind,
  as she was vibrating all around, trembled crimson,
  until white force was poured forth as an offering, from and to both of us,
  and Doris was poured out with relaxed limbs.

[5.56]   { G-P 1 }   G

They drive me mad, those rosy prattling lips, soul-melting portals of the ambrosial mouth, and the eyes that flash under thick eyebrows, nets and traps of my heart, and those milky paps well-mated, full of charm, fairly formed, more delightful than any flower. But why am I pointing out bones to dogs ? Midas' reeds *   testify to what befalls tale-tellers.

*   The story of the reeds that whispered "King Midas has ass's ears" is told by Ovid ( Met_11'172-193 ).

[5.138]   { G-P 2 }   G

Atheniŏn sang "The Horse," an evil horse for me. All Troy was in flames and I burning with it. I had braved the ten years' effort of the Greeks, but in that one blaze the Trojans and I perished.

[5.193]   { G-P 4 }   G

Tender Cleo took me captive, Adonis, as she beat her breasts white as milk at your night funeral feast. Will she but do me the same honour, if I die, I hesitate not ; take me with you on your voyage. *  

*   The bier of Adonis was committed to the sea. cp. No. 53 above.

[6.126]   { G-P 15 }   G

Not idly did Hyllus the son of Polyttus, the stout Cretan warrior, blazon on his shield the Gorgon, that turns men to stone, and the three legs. *   This is what they seem to tell his foes : "O you who brandish your spear against my shield, look not on me, and fly with three legs from the swift-footed man."

*   The triquetra, later the arms of Sicily and of the Isle of Man.

[6.220]   { G-P 16 }   G

Chaste Atys, the gelded servant of Cybele, in frenzy giving his wild hair to the wind, wished to reach Sardis from Phrygian Pessinus ; but when the dark of evening fell upon him in his course, the fierce fervour of his bitter ecstasy was cooled and he took shelter in a descending cavern, turning aside a little from the road. But a lion came swiftly on his track, a terror to brave men and to him an inexpressible woe. He stood speechless from fear and by some divine inspiration put his hand to his sounding tambour. At its deep roar the most courageous of beasts ran off quicker than a deer, unable to bear the deep note in its ears, and he cried out, "Great Mother, by the banks of the Sangarias I dedicate to you, in thanks for my life, my holy cell {thalame} *   and this noisy instrument that caused the lion to fly."

*   These were receptacles into which the organs of these castrated priests were deposited.

[6.290]   { G-P 14 }   G

With sweetest Urania *   did Parmenis leave her fan, the ever gentle ministrant of soft breezes, a tithe from her bed ; but now the goddess averts from her by tender zephyrs the heavy heat of the sun.

*   Aphrodite the Celestial.

[7.31]   { G-P 19 }   G

On Anacreon

O Anacreon, delight of the Muses, lord of all revels of the night, you who were melted to the marrow of your bones for Thracian Smerdies, O you who often bending over the cup did shed warm tears for Bathyllus, may founts of wine bubble up for you unbidden, and streams of ambrosial nectar from the gods ; unbidden may the gardens bring you violets, the flowers that love the evening, and myrtles grow for you nourished by tender dew, so that even in the house of Demeter you may dance delicately in your cups, holding golden Eurypyle in your arms.

[7.37]   { G-P 22 }   G

On Sophocles. A statue of a Satyr is supposed to speak - the Satyr would have carried the mask of Sophocles' best creation.

A. "This is the tomb of Sophocles which I, his holy servant, received from the Muses as a holy trust to guard. It was he who, taking me from Phlius where I was carved of holly-oak and still trod the tribulum {threshing board}, wrought me into a creature of gold and clothed me in fine purple. *   On his death I ceased from the dance and rested my light foot here."   B. "Blessed you are, and how excellent your position ! And the mask of a girl in your hand with shaven hair as of a mourner, from what play is she?"   A. "Say Antigone if you wish, or say Electra ; in either case you are not wrong, for both are supreme."

*   i.e. from the rude Satyric drama he evolved Attic tragedy - a very exaggerated statement.

[7.76]   { G-P 33 }   G

{This epigram is out of place here, as Philocritus is a person unknown to history}

Philocritus, his trading over and yet a novice at the plough, lay buried at Memphis in a foreign land. And there the Nile running in high flood stripped him of the scanty earth that covered him. So in his life he escaped from the salt sea, but now covered by the waves he has, poor wretch, a shipwrecked mariner's tomb.

[7.162]   { G-P 28 }   G

Burn not Euphrates, *   Philonymus, nor defile Fire for me. I am a Persian as my fathers were, a Persian of pure stock, yes, master : to defile Fire is for us bitterer than cruel death. But wrap me up and lay me in the ground, washing not my corpse ; I worship rivers also, master.

*   The slave's name.

[7.166]   { G-P 39 }   G

In Africa on the banks of the Nile with her twin babes rests Lamisca of Samos the twenty year old daughter of Nicarete and Eupolis, who breathed her last in the bitter pangs of labour. Bring to the girl, O maidens, such gifts as you give to one newly delivered, and shed warm tears upon her cold tomb.

[7.167]   { G-P 40 }   G

Call me Polyxena the wife of Archelaus, daughter of Theodectes and ill-fated Demarete, a mother too in so far at least as I bore a child ; for Fate overtook my babe ere it was twenty days old, and I died at eighteen, for a brief time a mother, for a brief time a bride - in all short-lived.

[7.178]   { G-P 38 }   G

I am a Lydian, yes a Lydian, but you, master, laid me, your foster-father Timanthes, in a freeman's grave. Live long and prosper free from calamity, and if stricken in years you come to join me, I am yours, O master, in Hades too.

[7.229]   { G-P 30 }   G

Dead on his shield to Pitana came Thrasybulus, having received seven wounds from the Argives, exposing his whole front to them ; and old Tynnichus, as he laid his son's blood-stained body on the pyre, said "Let cowards weep, but I will bury you, my son, without a tear, you who are both mine and Sparta's."

[7.351]   { G-P 17 }   G

Not, by this tomb, the solemn oath of the dead, did we daughters of Lycambes, who have obtained such an evil name, ever disgrace our maidenhead or our parents or Paros, queen of the holy islands ; but Archilochus poured on our family a flood of horrible reproach and evil report. By the gods and demons we swear that we never set eyes on Archilochus, either in the streets or in Hera's great precinct. *   If we had been wanton and wicked, he would never have wished lawful children born to him by us.

*   Archilochus had accused the daughters of Lycambes of disgraceful conduct in these public places. He is said to have married one of them.

[7.407]   { G-P 18 }   G

Sappho, sweet pillow for the loves of young men, verily Pieria or ivied Helicon honour you together with the Muses ; for your breath is like to theirs, O Muse of Aeolian Eresus. Either Hymen Hymenaeus bearing his bright torch stands with you over the bridal couch ; or you look on the holy grove of the Blessed, mourning in company with Aphrodite the fair young son of Cinyras {Adonis}. Wherever you are, I salute you, my queen, as divine, for we still deem your songs to be daughters of the gods.

[7.410]   { G-P 20 }   G

I am Thespis, who first modelled tragic song, inventing a new diversion for the villagers, at the season when Bacchus led in the triennial chorus whose prize was still a goat and a basket of Attic figs. Now my juniors remodel all this ; countless ages will beget many new inventions, but my own is mine.

[7.411]   { G-P 21 }   G

This invention of Thespis and the greenwood games and revels were raised to greater perfection by Aeschylus who carved letters not neatly chiselled, but as if water-worn by a torrent. In matters of the stage he was also an innovator. O mouth in every respect accomplished, you were one of the demigods of old !

[7.430]   { G-P 31 }   G

Who hung the newly-stripped arms on this oak ? By whom is the Dorian shield inscribed ? For this land of Thyrea is soaked with the blood of champions and we are the only two left of the Argives. Seek out every fallen corpse, lest any left alive illuminate Sparta in spurious glory. Nay ! stay your steps, for here on the shield the victory of the Spartans is announced by the clots of Othryadas' blood, and he who wrought this still gasps hard by. O Zeus our ancestor, look with loathing on those tokens of a victory that was not won. *  

*   This refers to the celebrated fight at Thyreae between three hundred Argives and as many Spartans. Two Argives survived at the end, who, thinking all the Spartans dead, went off to announce the victory ; but the Spartan Othryadas remained on the field and, according to this epigram and some others, erected a trophy and inscribed it with his blood.

[7.434]   { G-P 32 }   G

Demaeneta sent eight sons to encounter the phalanx of the foes, and she buried them all beneath one stone. No tear did she shed in her mourning, but said this only : "Ho! Sparta, I bore these children for you."

[7.450]   { G-P 26 }   G

The tomb is that of Samian Philaenis ; but be not ashamed, Sir, to speak to me and to approach the stone. I am not she who wrote those works offensive to ladies, and who did not acknowledge Modesty to be a goddess. But I was of a chaste disposition, I swear it by my tomb, and if anyone, to shame me, composed a wanton treatise, may Time reveal his name and may my bones rejoice that I am rid of the abominable report. *  

*   A certain obscene book was attributed to Philaenis.

[7.456]   { G-P 29 }   G

Here lies Hieron's nurse Silenis, who when she began to drink unmixed wine never made a grievance of being offered one cup more. He laid her to rest in his fields, that she who was so fond of wine should even dead and buried be near to vats.

[7.484]   { G-P 27 }   G

Five daughters and five sons did Bio bear to Didymon, but she got no joy from one of either. Bio herself so excellent and a mother of such fine babes, was not buried by her children, but by strange hands.

[7.485]   { G-P 25 }   G

Cast white lilies on the tomb and beat by the stele of Aleximenes the drums he used to love; whirl your long flowing locks, ye Thyiades, in freedom by the city on the Strymon, whose people often danced to the tender strains of his flute that breathed sweetly on your . . .

[7.707]   { G-P 23 }   G

I, too, red-bearded Scirtus the Satyr, guard the body of Sositheus as one of my brothers guards Sophocles on the Acropolis. For he wielded the ivy-bough, yes by the dance I swear it, in a manner worthy of the Satyrs of Phlius, and restoring ancient usage, led me, who had been reared in new-fangled fashions, back to the tradition of our fathers. Once more I forced the virile rhythm on the Doric Muse, and drawn to magniloquence . . . a daring innovation introduced by Sositheus. *  

*   Sositheus was a tragic poet of the 4th century. His Satyric dramas, of which we have some fragments, were especially celebrated. The Satyric drama is said to have originated at Phlius.

[7.708]   { G-P 24 }   G

Light earth, give birth to ivy that loves the stage to flourish on the tomb of Machon *   the writer of comedies. For you hold no re-dyed drone, but he whom you cover is a worthy remnant of ancient art. This shall the old man say : "O city of Cecrops, sometimes on the banks of the Nile, too, the strong-scented thyme of poesy grows."

*   Machon is known to us chiefly as the author of frivolous anecdotes in verse, many of which are quoted by Athenaeus. This epigram was actually engraved on his tomb at Alexandria where he spent most of his life.

[9.340]   { G-P 35 }   G

The double flute was the work of Phrygian Hyagnis at the time when the Mother of the gods first revealed her rites on Cybela, and when the frantic servant of the Idaean chamber first loosed his lovely locks to my notes. But if the shepherd of Celaenae {Marsyas} was known earlier as a better player, his strife with Phoebus flayed him. *  

*   I cannot restore line 5 satisfactorily, but it is evident that Dioscorides disputes or does not recognise the story that Marsyas was son of Hyagnis. Marsyas was flayed by Apollo for daring to match his flute with Apollo's lyre.

[9.568]   { G-P 34 }   G

Nile, rising in vast volume, you have carried away in your random course the farm of Aristagoras and all his possessions. But the old man himself, abandoning all hope, swam, clinging to a clod of his own land, to his neighbour's half-destroyed farm, saying : "O long toil and useless work of my aged arms, you are all become water, and this wave so sweet to farmers was the bitterest of floods for Aristagoras."

[9.734]   { - }   G

In vain, bull, you rush up to this heifer, for it is lifeless. The sculptor of cows, Myron, deceived you.

[11.195]   { G-P 36 }   G

Aristagoras danced the part of a gallus, while I, with great labour, went through the story of the warlike Temenidae. He was dismissed with honour, but one unceasing storm of rattles sent poor Hyrnetho off the boards. *   Into the fire with you, you exploits of the heroes ! for among the illiterate even a lark sings more musically than a swan.

*   The Temenidae of Euripides dealt with the feud between King Temenos' sons and their sister Hyrnetho ( Paus_2.28 ). The complainant here had been dancing in the pantomime the part of Hyrnetho.   The last line may seem odd to a modern reader, but the Greeks believed that swans were very musical birds ( e.g. Aelian, NA_11.1 ).

[11.363]   { G-P 37 }   G

Gone is the honour of the Alexandrians and Moschus, Ptolemaeus' son, has won glory among the young men in the torch-race: Moschus, Ptolemaeus' son ! Woe for my city ! And where are his mother's deeds of shame and her public prostitution ? *   Where are the . . . ? Where are the pigsties ? Give birth, you whores, give birth, persuaded by Moschus' crown.

*   Literally, "work on the roof." The calling of a prostitute is still called "work" in Greece.

[12.14]   { G-P 9 }   G

If Demophilus, when he reaches his prime, gives such kisses to his lovers as he gives me now he is a child, no longer shall his mother's door remain quiet at night.

[12.37]   { G-P 10 }   G

Love, the murderer of men, moulded soft as marrow the body of Sosarchus of Amphipolis in fun, wishing to irritate Zeus because his thighs are much more honeyed than those of Ganymedes.

[12.42]   { G-P 13 }   G

When you look on Hermogenes, boy-vulture, have your hands full, and perhaps you will succeed in getting that of which your heart dreams, and will relax the melancholy contraction of your brow. But if you fish for him, committing to the waves a line devoid of a hook, you will pull plenty of water out of the harbour ; for neither pity nor shame dwells with an extravagant cinaedus.

[12.169]   { G-P 8 }   G

I escaped from your weight, Theodorus, but no sooner had I said "I have escaped from my most cruel tormenting spirit" than a crueller one seized on me, and slaving for Aristocrates in countless ways, I am awaiting even a third master.

[12.170]   { G-P 12 }   G

Libation and Frankincense, and ye Powers mixed in the bowl, who hold the issues of my friendship, I call you to witness, solemn Powers, by all of whom the honey-complexioned boy Athenaeus swore.

[12.171]   { G-P 11 }   G

Zephyr, gentlest of the winds, bring back to me the lovely pilgrim Euphragoras, even as you did receive him, not extending his absence beyond a few months' space ; for to a lover's mind a short time is as a thousand years.

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