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