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  #1  
Unread 04-20-2024, 11:30 AM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is online now
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Default An epigram of Paulus Silentiarius

5.258—Paulus Silentiarius (6th century A.D.)

Better your wrinkles, Philinna, than all of the succulent freshness
     proper to youth in its prime. Cupped in my hands, I would hold
apples that droop from your boughs with the weight of their season
     sooner than fondle a girl’s firmer and shapelier breasts.
Yours is an autumn, Philinna, surpassing the springtime of others.
     Yours is a winter that warms more than the summer of youth.


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5.258—Paulus Silentiarius

Πρόκριτός ἐστι, Φίλιννα, τεὴ ῥυτὶς ἢ ὀπὸς ἥβης
     πάσης· ἱμείρω δ᾽ ἀμφὶς ἔχειν παλάμαις
μᾶλλον ἐγὼ σέο μῆλα καρηβαρέοντα κορύμβοις
     ἢ μαζὸν νεαρῆς ὄρθιον ἡλικίης.
σὸν γὰρ ἔτι φθινόπωρον ὑπέρτερον εἴαρος ἄλλης,
     χεῖμα σὸν ἀλλοτρίου θερμότερον θέρεος.


In place of a crib, here are Paton’s early-20th-century prose translation and a recent update by David Tueller, both for the Loeb Classical Library:

Your wrinkles, Philinna, are preferable to the juice of all youthful prime, and I desire more to clasp in my hands your apples nodding with the weight of their clusters, than the firm breasts of a young girl. Your autumn excels another’s spring, and your winter is warmer than another’s summer.

Your wrinkles, Philinna, are preferable to the youth of any other face; I desire more to clasp in my hands your apples, drooping at the points, than the pert breasts of a young girl. For your autumn is superior to another’s spring, and your winter is warmer than another’s summer.


Note that I improvised in L3. “Clusters” would probably be more accurate than “season,” but while clusters of apples work, I couldn’t deal with clusters of breasts. David Tueller used what seems to be an earlier definition of the word—“uppermost point, head, end,” as in “high-pointed sterns of ships”—but he confessed to me in an email some years ago that he wasn’t comfortable with the Greek here either.

Speaking of games of telephone, this poem was translated rather freely into Russian by Konstantin Batyushkov in 1820, and Pushkin responded in verse in the late 1820s.

Last edited by Carl Copeland; 04-26-2024 at 04:57 AM.
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  #2  
Unread 04-21-2024, 12:11 AM
Glenn Wright Glenn Wright is offline
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This is such a timeless vignette. “No, Sweetheart! I wasn’t ogling that charming young girl. You know that you’re the only girl I’ve ever been attracted to, even though we are well into our seventies and you have given birth to and nursed our seven children!” I wonder if Φίλιννα was mollified or insulted by his poem.

I can imagine an ancient Greek wife asking her husband, “Does this πέπλος make me look fat?”

Last edited by Glenn Wright; 04-21-2024 at 12:27 AM.
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Unread 04-21-2024, 08:57 AM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is online now
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Thanks, Glenn. I suspect that Philinna has been read as an aging courtesan, but I have nothing to support that, and your ironic reading is amusing. I may have fallen into the trap of reading these pieces as straightforward and innocent. Is there much heavy irony in classical verse?
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Unread 04-21-2024, 12:58 PM
Glenn Wright Glenn Wright is offline
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Classical writers, of course, invented literary irony. The best study of biting, vicious irony in the Latin corpus is Juvenal’s satires. Horace wrote satires with a gentler touch, and we still use the adjectives Juvenalian and Horatian to describe the different flavors of satire. My personal favorite to study rhetorical irony is Cicero’s Pro Caelio. The background is that Rufus Caelius, a young playboy, has abruptly and rudely ended his affair with Clodia, a wealthy, notorious woman and former lover of the poet Catullus. In revenge, she brought a lawsuit against Caelius, accusing him of trying to murder her for her money. Cicero, an inveterate enemy of Clodia’s family, defended Caelius, and realized that in order to win, he would have to completely discredit Clodia. Cicero’s scathing attack on her is masterful, and a wonderful lesson in the manipulation of ironic tone.

Last edited by Glenn Wright; 04-21-2024 at 01:01 PM.
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Unread 04-21-2024, 06:23 PM
Glenn Wright Glenn Wright is offline
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I suppose that ancient Greek men were much more anxious about hurting the feelings of their mistresses than their wives. I always got a kick out of Ξανθίππη, who supposedly dumped a pot of urine on the head of Σωκράτης, her husband. Athenian wives were sequestered and their interactions with their husbands were practical and usually pretty unromantic, with notable exceptions in literature. I think the marriage of Ζεύς and ´Ηρα provided a pretty standard picture of the kind of marriage a self-confident, assertive woman could expect. Poor things spent every daylight hour either spinning, weaving, or caring for children. They had no time for love poetry or romance. Their husbands seemed to want to spend as little time with them as possible—even Οδυσσέας and Πηνελοπη.

Last edited by Glenn Wright; 04-21-2024 at 08:05 PM.
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Unread 04-21-2024, 11:31 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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How do you like them apples?

I wish you didn't have to repeat the name, but it's probably a better metrical filler than anything else, so leave it.

I think it's a lovely sentiment, although I do see the potential for it to be taken wrong, depending on how touchy Philinna is about her age.
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Unread 04-22-2024, 03:26 AM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is online now
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Thanks for the good background on classical irony, Glenn. As for women’s plight in ancient Greece, not only was it apparently scandalous for them to be seen outside the house, Euripides’ Hermione (in “Andromache,” translated by Deborah Roberts) says:

But never, never—I’ll say it not just once—
should any married man who has good sense
allow other women to come visiting
his wife at home: they’ll teach her wickedness.
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Unread 04-22-2024, 04:51 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Would you consider one metrical substitution?

Better your wrinkles, Philinna, than all of the succulent freshness
—>
Better your wrinkles, Philinna, than all that succulent freshness
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Unread 04-22-2024, 04:54 AM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Julie Steiner View Post
I think it's a lovely sentiment, although I do see the potential for it to be taken wrong, depending on how touchy Philinna is about her age.
As I told Glenn, I tend to take the epigrams at face value: if she has wrinkles and drooping breasts, it’s obvious to everyone, so why should she take offense? But that wouldn’t fly today, so why do I think it did then? Tricky.
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Unread 04-22-2024, 05:01 AM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Julie Steiner View Post
Would you consider one metrical substitution?
As I scan it, Julie, you’re asking me to turn a dactyl into a trochee. I wonder why.
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