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Ancient History Sourcebook:
Theocritus:
Fifteenth Idyll, c. 250 BCE


[Gorgo, a lady of Alexandria, goes by appointment to the house of her friend Praxinoi, where the dialogue begins]:

[ They go into the street.]

Ye gods, what a crowd! How on earth are we ever to get through this coil? They are like ants that no one can measure or number. Many a good deed have you done, Ptolemy; since your father joined the Immortals, there's never a malefactor to spoil the passer-by, creeping on him in Egyptian fashion---oh! the tricks those perfect rascals used to play. Birds of a feather, ill jesters, scoundrels all! Dear Gorgo, what will become of us? Here come the king's war horses! My dear man, don't trample on   me. Look, the bay's rearing; see, what temper! Eunoi, you foolhardy girl, will you never keep out of the way? The beast will kill the man that's leading him. What a good thing it is for me that my brat stays safe at home!

GORGO.---Courage, Praxinoi. We are safe behind them now, and they have gone to their station.

PRAXINOI.---There! I begin to be myself again. Ever since I was a child, I have feared nothing so much as horses and the chilly snake. Come along, the huge mob is overflowing us.

GORGO [to an old woman].---Are you from the Court, mother ?

OLD WOMAN.---I am, my child.

PRAXINOI.---Is it easy to get there?

OLD WOMAN.-The Achaians got into Troy by trying, my prettiest of ladies. Trying will do everything in the long run.

GORGO.---The old wife has spoken her oracles, and off she goes.

PRAXINOI.---Women know everything; yes, and how Zeus married Hera!

GORGO.---See, Praxinoi, what a crowd there is about the doors!

PRAXINOI.---Monstrous, Gorgo! Give me your hand; and you, Eunoi, catch hold of Eutychis; never lose hold of her, for fear lest you get lost. Let us all go in together; Eunoi, clutch tight to me. Oh, how tiresome, Gorgo, my muslin veil is torn in two already! For heaven's sake, sir, if you ever wish to be fortunate, take care of my shawl!

STRANGER.---I can hardly help myself, but, for all that, I will be as careful as I can.

PRAXINOI.---How close-packed the mob is, they hustle like a herd of swine!

STRANGER.---Courage, lady; all is well with us now.

PRAXINOI.---Both this year and forever may all be well with you, my dear sir, for your care of us. A good, kind man! We're letting Eunoi get squeezed---come, wretched girl, push your way through. That is the way. We are all on the right side of the door, quoth the bridegroom, when he had shut himself in with his bride.

GORGO.---Do come here, Praxinoi. Look first at these embroideries. How light and how lovely! You will call them the garments of the gods.

PRAXINOI.---Lady Athena! what spinning women wrought them, what painters designed those drawings, so true they are? How naturally they stand and move, like living creatures, not patterns woven! What a clever thing is man! Ah, and himself---Adonis---how beautiful to behold he lies on his silver couch, with the first down on his cheeks, the thrice-beloved Adonis---Adonis beloved even among the dead!

A STRANGER.---You weariful women, do cease your endless cooing talk! They bore one to death with their eternal broad vowels!

GORGO.---Indeed! And where may this person come from? What is it to you if we are chatterboxes! Give orders to your own servants, sir. Do you pretend to command ladies of Syracuse? If you must know, we are Corinthians by descent, like Bellerophon himself, and we speak Peloponnesian. Dorian women may lawfully speak Doric, I presume?

PRAXINOI.---Lady Persephone!---never may we have more than one master! I am not afraid of your putting me on short commons.

GORGO.---Hush, hush, Praxinoi! the Argive woman's daughter, the great singer, is beginning the Adonis; she that won the prize last year for dirge singing. I am sure she will give us something lovely; see, she is preluding with her airs and graces.

THE PSALM OF ADONIS.

O Queen that loves Golgi, and Idalium,
And the steep of Eryx,
O Aphrodite, that playes with gold,
Lo, from the stream eternal of Acheron
They have brought back to you Adonis---
Even in the twelfth month they have brought him,
The dainty-footed Hours.
Tardiest of the Immortals are the beloved Hours,
But dear and desired they come,
For always, to all mortals,
They bring some gift with them.
O Cypris, daughter of Dione,
From mortal to immortal, so men tell,
You have changed Berenice, dropping softly in
The woman's breast the stuff of immortality.
Therefore, for your delight,
O you of many names and many temples,
Does the daughter of Berenice, even Arsinoë,
Lovely as Helen, cherish Adonis with all things beautiful.
Before him lie all ripe fruits that the tall trees' branches bear,
And the delicate gardens, arrayed in baskets of silver,
And the golden vessels are full of incense of Syria.
And all the dainty cakes that women fashion in the kneading tray,
Mingling blossoms manifold with the white wheaten flour,
All that is wrought of honey sweet, and in soft olive oil,
All cakes fashioned in the semblance of things that fly,
And of things that creep, lo, here they are set before him.
Here are built for him shadowy bowers of green,
All laden with tender anise, and children flit overhead---
The little loves---
As the young nightingales perched upon
The trees fly forth and try their wings
From bough to bough.
O! the ebony, O! the gold, O! the twin eagles of white
Ivory that carry to Zeus, the son of Cronos,
His darling, his cupbearer!
O! the purple coverlet strewn above,
More soft than sleep!
So Miletus will say,
And whoso feeds sheep in Samos.
Another bed is strewn for beautiful Adonis,
One bed Cypris keeps, and one the rosy-armed Adonis.
A bride-groom of eighteen or nineteen years is he,
His kisses are not rough, the golden down being yet upon his lips!
And now, good-night to Cypris, in the arms of her lover!
But lo, in the morning we will all of us gather with the dew,
And carry him forth among the waves that break upon the beach,
And with locks unloosed, and ungirt raiment falling to the ankles,
And bosom bare, will we begin our shrill, sweet song.
You only, dear Adonis, so men tell,
You only of the demi-gods,
Do visit both this world and the stream of Acheron.
For Agamemnon had no such lot, nor Aias,
That mighty lord of the terrible anger, nor Hector,
The eldest born of the twenty sons of Hecuba, nor Patroclus,
Nor Pyrrhus, that returned out of Troy land,
Nor the heroes of yet more ancient days,
The Lapithai and Deucalion's sons,
Nor the sons of Pelops, and the chiefs of Pelasgian Argos.
Be gracious now, dear Adonis, and propitious
Even in the coming year.
Dear to us has your advent been, Adonis,
And dear shall it be when you come again.

GORGO.---Praxinoi, the woman is cleverer than we fancied! Happy woman to know so much, thrice happy to have so sweet a voice! Well, all the same, it is time to be making for home. Diocleides has not had his dinner, and the man is all vinegar---don't venture near him when he is kept waiting for dinner.---Farewell, beloved Adonis, may you find us glad at your next coming!


Source:

From: Mitchell Carroll, Greek Women, (Philadelphia: Rittenhouse Press, 1908), pp. 369-375.


This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall, Janaury 1999
halsall@murray.fordham.edu