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NICARCHUS : EPIGRAMS

Nicarchus was a Greek poet who lived in the later part of the first century A.D.; he wrote skoptic (satirical) epigrams, in the same manner as Lucillius.   The poetry of Nicarchus has been discussed by G.Nisbet, "Greek Epigram in the Roman Empire: Martial's Forgotten Rivals", chapter 4 ( Google Books ).

All his epigrams that have been preserved in the Greek Anthology are shown here, together with some that were discovered more recently at Oxyrhyncus. The labels in red at the start of each epigram are their numbers within the Anthology.

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 translation of 11.328 is taken from A.Veragdos, "Nicarchus A.P. xi 328 and Homeric Interpretation" ( academia.edu ). The translations of the fragments from Oxyrhyncus are based on the Italian translation by A.M.Morelli, "Il papiro di Nicarco (POxy LXVI 4502) e l'epigramma latino" ( academia.edu ); also the German commentary by A. Schatzmann, "Nikarchos II: Epigrammata: Einleitung, Texte, Kommentar" ( Google Books ); and W.Luppe, "Zum neuen 'Schiffs-Epigramm' P.Oxy. 4501" ( PDF ).   Click on G to go to the Greek text of each epigram.




[5.38]   G

A fine and largely built woman attracts me, Similus, whether she be in her prime, or elderly. If she be young she will clasp me, if she be old and wrinkled, she will lick me.


[5.39]   G

Must I not die ? What care I if I go to Hades with gouty legs or in training for a race ? I shall have many to carry me ; so let me become lame, if I wish. As far as that goes, as you see, I am quite easy, and never miss a banquet.


[5.40]   G

Don't listen to your mother, Philumenē ; for once I am off and out of the town, pay no attention to those who make fun of us, but give them tit for tat, and try to be more successful than I was. Leave no stone unturned, make your own living, and write and tell me what pleasant spot you have visited. Try and behave with propriety. If you have anything over, pay the rent and get a coat for me. If you get with child, bring it to the birth, I entreat you. Don't be troubled about that : when it grows up it will find out who its father was.


[6.31]   G

I have offered this as a common gift to Pan the goat-treader, to Dionysus the giver of good fruit, and to Demeter the Earth-goddess, and I beg from them fine flocks, good wine and to gather good grain from the ears.


[6.285]   G

Nicarete, who formerly was in the service of Athene's shuttle, and stretched out many a warp on the loom, made in honour of Cypris a bonfire in front of her house of her work-basket and bobbins and her other gear, crying, "Away with you, starving work of wretched women, that have power to waste away the bloom of youth." Instead the girl chose garlands and the lyre, and a gay life spent in revel and festivity. "Cypris," she said, "I will pay you tithe of all my gains. Give me work and take from it your due."


[7.159]   G

Orpheus won the highest prize among mortals by his harp, Nestor by the skill of his sweet-phrased tongue, divine Homer, the learned in lore, by the art of his verse, but Telephanes, whose tomb this is, by the flute.


[7.166]   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.


[9.330]   G

A. "I am goat-footed Pan, whom Simon put up by the clear waters of the spring."   B. "And why?"   A. " I will tell you. From the fountain drink as much as you wish, and take this hollow pitcher, too, and draw. But offer not the crystalline gifts of the Nymphs to your feet to bathe them. Do you not see my menacing form?"   B. "Revered god - "   A. "You shall not speak another word, but shall let me take my will of you. Such is the custom of Pan. But if you do it *   on purpose, having an inclination for the penalty, I know another trick. I will break your head with my club."

*   i.e. bathe your feet.


[9.576]   G

On a Statue of Athena holding an Apple. Aphrodite speaks

Trito-born maiden, why do you vex me now by grasping in your hand my prize of which you have robbed me. You remember how formerly, amid the rocks of Ida, Paris pronounced me fairest, not you. Yours are the spear and shield, but mine is the apple. For the apple that old war was surely enough.


[11.1]   G

At the feast of Hermes, Aphrodisius, as he was carrying six choes of wine, stumbled and threw us into deep mourning. "Wine was the death even of the Centaurs." *   Would it had been ours ; but now it is the wine we have lost.

*   It was the cause of their fatal fight with the Lapiths.


[11.7]   G

No one, Charidemus, can constantly sleep with his own wife and take heart-felt pleasure in it. Our nature is so fond of titillation, such a luster after foreign flesh, that it persists in seeking the illusion of a strange liaison.


[11.17]   G

Stephanus was poor and a gardener, but now having got on well and become rich, he has suddenly turned into Philostephanus, adding four fine letters to the original Stephanus, and in due time he will be Hippocratippiades or, owing to his extravagance, Dionysiopeganodorus. *   But in all the market he is still Stephanus.

*   Hippocratippiades is a comic name invented by the author as indicative of great wealth and position owing to its very horsey sound. Dionysiodorus is another name of very aristocratic sound, spoilt however by the malicious introduction of pegano (rue, a common pot-herb) in allusion to Stephanus' former profession.


[11.18]   G

Philaenis without conceiving bore a girl child to Heliodorus spontaneously, and when he was vexed at its being a girl she let six days pass and said she had borne a boy. So it is all over with Bubastis ; *   for if every woman is brought to bed like Philaenis, who will pay any attention to the goddess ?

*   The Egyptian representative of Diana presiding over childbirth.


[11.71]   G

Niconoē was once in her prime, I admit that, but her prime was when Deucalion looked on the vast waters. Of those times we have no knowledge, but of her now we know that she should seek not a husband, but a tomb.


[11.73]   G

A handsome old woman (why deny it ?) you know she was, when she was young ; but then she asked for money while now she is ready to pay her mount. You will find her an artist, and when she has had something to drink then all the more you will have her submissive to whatever you want. For she drinks, if you consent, three or four pints, and then things are all topsy-turvy with her ; she clings, she scratches, she becomes passive ; and if one gives her anything, she accepts, if not, the pleasure is her payment.


[11.74]   G

Turn out that stone-deaf old woman, Onesimus, for God's sake, she is such a nuisance to me. If we tell her to bring soft cheeses (turoi), she comes not with cheeses, but with fresh grains of wheat (puroi). The other day I had a headache and asked her for rue (peganon) and she brought me an earthenware frying-pan (teganon) ; if I ask her for -- she brings me a rafter ; if I say when I am hungry, " Give me some greens " (lachanon), she at once brings a night-stool (lasanon). If I ask for vinegar (oxon), she brings me a bow (toxon), and if I ask for a bow, she brings vinegar ; in fact she does not comprehend a word I say. It would disgrace me to become a crier all for the sake of the old woman, and to get up at night and practise outside the town.


[11.82]   G

Charmus in Arcadia in the long race with five others came in (wonderful to say, but it is a fact) seventh. "As there were six," you will probably say, "how seventh ? " A friend of his came in his overcoat calling out "Go it, Charmus," so that thus he ran in seventh and if he had had five more friends, Zoilus, he would have come in twelfth.


[11.96]   G

The birds of Stymphalus vexed not so the Arcadians, as those dead thrushes vexed me with their dry bones, very harpies, ten of them, a dry drachma's worth. Out on you, wretched creatures, true bats of the fields.


[11.102]   G

Thin little Diodorus once in taking a thorn out made a hole in the needle with his foot. *  

*   i.e. instead of piercing his foot with the needle.


[11.110]   G

Three thin men were competing the other day about thinness, to see which of them would be adjudged the very thinnest. The one, Hermon, exhibited great skill and went through the eye of a needle holding the thread. But Demas coming out of a hole stopped at a spider's web, and the spider spinning hung him from it. But Sosipater exclaimed, "Give me the prize, for I lose it if I am seen, since I am nothing but air."


[11.111]   G

Lean Diophantus once wishing to hang himself took a thread from a spider's web and did so.

On Physicians (112-126)


[11.112]   G

Before he anoints your eyes, Demostratus, say "Adieu dear light," so successful is Dion. Not only did he blind Olympicus, but through his treatment of him put out the eyes of the portrait of himself he had.


[11.113]   G

The physician Marcus laid his hand yesterday on the stone Zeus, and though he is of stone and Zeus he is to be buried to-day.


[11.114]   G

The astrologer Diophantus told Hermogenes the doctor that he had only nine months to live, and he, smiling, said, "You understand what Saturn says will happen in nine months, but my treatment is more expeditious for you." Having said so he reached out his hand and only touched him, and Diophantus, trying to drive another to despair, himself gave his last gasp.


[11.115]   G

If you have an enemy, Dionysius, call not down on him the curse of Isis or Harpocrates or of any god who blinds men, but call on Simon and you will see what a god's power is and what Simon's is.


[11.116]   G

Lord Caesar, as they tell, Eurystheus once sent down great Heracles to the house of Hades ; but now Menophanes the physician has sent me. So let him be called Doctor Eurystheus and no longer Doctor Menophanes.


[11.124]   G

A. Stranger, what do you seek to know ?   B. Who are here in earth under these tombs ?   A. All those whom Zopyrus robbed of the sweet daylight, Damis, Aristoteles, Demetrius, Arcesilaus, Sostratus, and the next ones so far as Paraetonium. *   For with a wooden herald's staff and counterfeit sandals, like Hermes, he leads down his patients to Hell.

*   On the Egyptian coast a considerable distance west of Alexandria. The cemetery of Alexandria did not of course extend so far.


[11.162]   G

One came to ask the prophet Olympicus if he should take ship for Rhodes and how to sail there safely. And the prophet said, "First have a new ship and don't start in winter, but in summer. If you do this you will go there and back, unless a pirate catches you at sea."


[11.169]   G

Yesterday, Glaucus, Deinarchus the miser being about to hang himself, did not die, poor fellow, all for the sake of six chalci ; for the rope cost six chalci, but he tried to drive a hard bargain, seeking perhaps some other cheap death. This is the very height of wretched avarice, for a man to be dying, Glaucus, and not able to die, poor fellow, all for the sake of six chalci.


[11.170]   G

Pheidon the miser weeps not because he is dying, but because he paid five minas for his coffin. Let him off this, and as there is room in it, put one of his many little children into it besides.


[11.186]   G

The night-raven's song bodes death, but when Demophilus sings the night-raven itself dies.


[11.241]   G

Your mouth and your breech, Theodorus, smell the same, so that it would be a famous task for men of science to distinguish them. You ought really to write on a label which is your mouth and which your breech, but now when you speak I think you break wind.


[11.242]   G

I can't tell whether Diodorus is yawning or has broken wind, for he has one breath above and below.


[11.243]   G

Onesimus went to the bath to bathe on the twelfth of the month Dystrus in the year of Antiphilus, leaving at home a child at the breast, whom when he has finished bathing he will find to be the father of two other children. . . . He writes us to say he will go again next year, for the bath-men promise to take off the heat then. *  

*   The joke is evidently about a bath which it took an enormous time to heat. There appears to be something missing after the second couplet.


[11.251]   G

A stone-deaf man went to law with another stone-deaf man, and the judge was much deafer than the pair of them. One of them contended that the other owed him five months' rent, and the other said that his opponent had ground corn at night. *   Says the judge, looking at them : "Why are you quarrelling ? She is your mother ; you must both maintain her."

*   Probably to avoid certain dues.


[11.252]   G

If you kiss me you hate me, and if you hate me you kiss me. But if you don't hate me, dear friend, don't kiss me ! *  

*   There is a play which cannot be rendered on the two meanings of philein, to love and to kiss.


[11.328]   G

Once upon a time, Hermogenes and I and Cleobulus led Aristodice, just her alone, into joined love; the lot granted me alone to dwell in her grey sea; for each of us obtained one part, we didn't divide everything amongst ourselves. Next, Hermogenes obtained the hateful and murky abode, the hindermost place, entering into a gloomy area, where the shores of the dead and the wind-beaten fig-trees are buffeted by the whirling breeze of ill-sounding winds. Now, consider Cleobulus to be Zeus, whom the lot granted to ascend the heavens holding in his hand the smoky fire. The earth remained common to all; for we spread a mat on it and split the old woman like this.


[11.329]   G

Demonax, do not always turn down your eyes, nor indulge your tongue ; the pig *   has a formidable thorn. And you live . . . and sleep in Phoenicia, and though not Semele's son, you are nourished by a thigh.

*   = pudendum muliebre.


[11.330]   G

I was invited yesterday, Demetrius, and came to supper to-day. Don't find fault with me ; you have a long staircase. I spent an age on it, and I should not have got safe up it to-day only I came up holding on to a donkey's tail. You touch the stars : Zeus, it seems, when he ran away with Ganymede, went up with him by this route. But from here how long will it take you to reach Hades ? You are not wanting in cleverness ; you have hit on a trick for being immortal.


[11.331]   G

Philo had a boat called the "Saviour," but in it perhaps not even Zeus himself can be saved. Its name only was Saviour, but the passengers sailed either close to land or to Persephone.


[11.332]   G

Eicander the captain embarked us, it seems, on his twenty-oarer, not for a sail, but to bale her out. For the water in her is not little, but Poseidon seems to sail over in her to the opposite shore. It is the first time a ship with the dropsy has been seen. But I, at least, fear lest you may see what was once a long boat turn into our long home. *  

*   There is a play on eikosoroa and soros (coffin).


[11.395]   G

A fart which cannot find an outlet kills many a man ; a fart also saves, sending forth its lisping music. Therefore if a fart saves, and on the other hand kills, a fart has the same power as kings.


[11.398]   G

A man, by dyeing his head, destroyed the hair itself, and his head from being very hairy became all like an egg. The dyer attained this result, that no barber now ever cuts his hair be it white or dark.


[11.405]   G

Crook-nosed Nicon has an admirable nose for wine, but he can't tell quickly what it is like, for scarcely in three summer hours *   does he smell it himself, since his nose is two hundred cubits long. O what a huge nose ! When he crosses a river he often catches little fish with it.

*   As twelve hours were counted from sunrise to sunset, summer hours were longest.


[11.406]   G

I see Nicon's hooked nose, Menippus, and it is evident that he himself is not far off. Well, he will come ; let us wait all the same, for at most he is not, I suppose, more than half a mile from his nose. But it, as you see, comes on in front of him, and if we stand on a high hill we shall get a view of him too.


[11.407]   G

As lean Menestratus was sitting in spring-time an ant came out and pulled him into a crevice ; but a fly flew up and carried him off, just as the eagle carried Ganymede to the heavenly chamber of Zeus. He fell from the fly's hands, but not even so did he light on the earth, but is hanging by his eyelids from a spider's web.


[11.415]   G

Who, Mentorides, so obviously transferred your breech to the place where your mouth formerly was ? For you break wind and do not breathe, and you speak from the lower storey. I wonder how your lower parts became your upper !


[POxy 4501,1]

. . . Rushing into the harbour, he did not bring the ship and us to land, but brought the harbour to the ship. Boy, who turned this sieve into a ship, or who was the first to attach a rudder to this wooden river?


[POxy 4502,1]

. . . do not have anal intercourse . . . Do not move Camarina; for the place . . . throws a sharp missile at your genitals.


[POxy 4502,2]

On an old man marrying a young girl

Do not take a youthful maid to be your wife . . ., and do not say, "Cypris is better than Plutus", and do not purchase strife and tears for yourself. (?) Be content to gulp down barley-water and gruel; and do not put your hope in rocket *   . . . and another man will do (?) what you cannot . . . with cups and the wide . . . led you to poverty.

*   Rocket was thought to be an aphrodisiac.


[POxy 4502,4]

{On the riddle of the Sphinx}

What creature walks the earth on two legs, and four, and three? At first it stumped them all - but it's the poof. Standing, he's a biped; face down and taking it on hands and knees, he's a quadruped; and with that . . . penis of his, the beast is three-legged, just like the rocky peak is near Thebes. No-one could decipher it more smartly than me. If I had been around back then, my friends, I would have taken possession of seven-gated Thebes.


[POxy 4502,5]

On an adulterer

You are entrusting cheese to a mouse, or straw to a donkey, or honey to the swarm, or chicory to geese, or a boar to dogs, or clothes to slaves, or a cloak to a man shivering with cold, or taxes to a theatre manager, or meat to athletes, or fine dishes to a gourmand, Alexis, when, at dinner with Damon the adulterer, you bring your wife along close to him. As soon as he rises up from the table, he corrupts her, and because of this (?) you have a son who looks just like his father - his real father.


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