Alciphron, Letters IVAlciphron, Letters of the Courtesans, edited and translated by Patrik Granholm, Uppsala University, 2012, full text and commentary available at patrikgranholm.com, used in ToposText by kind permission of Dr. Granholm, who retains full rights. This text has 75 tagged references to 50 ancient places.
CTS URN: urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0640.tlg001; Wikidata ID: Q87780200; Trismegistos: authorwork/6895 [Open Greek text in new tab]
§ i These letters, written in Attic style and ascribed to characters from comedy and famous Greek hetairai, were designed to hold the attention, through humor and sexual situations, of restless adolescents condemned to study a Greek dialect current five centuries before they were born. Man's perennial quest for porn meant the letters would be copied often enough to survive, but of their purported author, a rhetorician called Alciphron, no reliable memory remains. He should, however, belong to the second or early third century CE.
§ 4.1 Fragm. 3 Phryne to Praxiteles:
Have no fear! For who else in mankind has ever accomplished a wonderful thing such as this? Nobody! From the toils of your hands you have set up a statue of your companion in a sacred precinct; for I stand in the middle, in front of Aphrodite and Eros, both yours. Don't begrudge me the honour. For those who see me praise Praxiteles, and because I originate from your art the people of Thespiae don't think me unworthy of being placed between gods. One thing is still missing from your gift: that you come to me so that we may lie down with each other in the sacred precinct. We shall not defile the gods which we ourselves have created. Farewell.
§ 4.2 Glycera to Bacchis:
Our Menander has decided to go to the Isthmian games in Corinth. I don't like it; for you know how it is to lack such a lover even for a short while. But I couldn't talk him out of it since he's not in the habit of often going abroad. I don't know how to entrust him to you when he intends to come for a visit, nor how not to when he himself hopes to be courted by you, and I reckon this will give me honour as well. For I'm aware of the companionship that exists between us; I don't fear you, my dearest, as much as I fear him, for you have a more honest character than lifestyle. But he's divinely passionate, and not even the gloomiest philosopher could keep his hands off Bacchis. The rumour that he has made the trip no less in order to meet you than for the Isthmian games, I don't find very credible. Perhaps you'll accuse me of being suspicious; please forgive the jealousy of a courtesan, my dearest. But I would not think it a small matter to be deprived of Menander as my lover. Especially if there is a quarrel between us or a disagreement arises, I will have to endure being bitterly ridiculed on the stage by some Chremes or Pheidylus. But if he comes back to me the same as he went away, I'll be very grateful to you. Farewell.
§ 4.3 Bacchis to Hyperides:
We courtesans are all grateful to you, and each of us no less than Phryne. Because the trial, which that thoroughly depraved Euthias brought forward, concerned only Phryne, but the danger concerned us all; for if we don't get any money from our lovers when we ask for it, or if we who get money are going to be condemned for impiety by the ones who give it, then we might as well put an end to this lifestyle and no longer have trouble or cause trouble for our companions. Now, however, we shall no longer blame ourselves for being courtesans because Euthias has been found to be a bad lover, but we shall strive for it because Hyperides has been found to be fair. May many good things come to you for your kindness! For you have both saved an honest courtesan for yourself and put us in a mood to thank you on her behalf. If only you would write down the speech you held in Phryne's defence, then indeed we courtesans would set up a golden statue anywhere you want in Greece.
§ 4.4 Bacchis to Phryne:
I wasn't as troubled by your danger, my dearest, as I was glad that you got rid of a bad lover and found a good one in Hyperides. I think that the trial also brought you good luck, for this trial has made you famous not only in Athens, but all over Greece. Euthias is going to pay a sufficient penalty by being deprived of your company; it seems to me that he overstepped the bounds of erotic jealousy because he was stirred by anger due to his innate stupidity. And you can be sure that he now desires you more than Hyperides. For the latter obviously wishes to be courted in return for his advocacy of you and is playing the part of the favoured lover, while the former is enraged by his failure in the trial. So expect once again entreaties, appeals and a lot of gold through him. Don't condemn us courtesans, my dearest, and don't, by accepting the pleas of Euthias, make Hyperides seem like he'd made a bad judgement, and don't believe those who say that the rhetor would not have accomplished anything if you had not torn open your chiton and exhibited your breasts to the judges. For it was his defence that made it possible for this very thing to happen at the right moment.
§ 4.5 Bacchis to Myrrhine:
By Lady Aphrodite, may you not find a better lover, but may Euthias, whom you're now looking after, spend his life with you! You poor, ignorant woman, who have corrupted yourself with such a creature — but perhaps you have trust in your beauty — for obviously he will desire Phryne and look down on Myrrhine. But it seems you want to annoy Hyperides for paying less attention to you now. However, he has a mistress worthy of himself and you have a lover who suits you. Ask him for something, and you'll see that you've set fire to the docks or are dissolving the laws. Be sure, though, that you're hated by all of us who honour a more humane Aphrodite.
§ 4.6 Thais to Thettale:
I would never have thought that after such an intimate friendship there would be a quarrel between me and Euxippe. I don't reproach her with the other matters in which I was of service to her at the time of her voyage from Samos. But when Pamphilus was offering me all that money — and you know this too — I didn't admit the lad because he was thought to occasionally be meeting with her! She repaid me nicely for this, wishing to please that goddamned Megara. I did have a long-standing suspicion of her on account of Straton, but I didn't think she would do anything out of the ordinary slandering me. It was the Haloa, and we were all present at the night-festival as was to be expected. I was amazed at Euxippe's arrogance. First she was showing her hostility by giggling and making jokes with Megara, then she openly sang some verses with the subject of the lover who was no longer paying attention to me. I didn't mind that so much. But then she put away all shame and made fun of me for my rouge and make-up! She seemed to be so badly off that she didn't even own a mirror. For if she had seen that she herself had a red complexion, she wouldn't have slandered me for being ugly. However, I don't care one bit about that, for it is my lovers I want to please, not Megara and Euxippe — those apes! I've told you this so that you won't blame me for anything. For I will avenge myself on them, not with jokes and mockeries, but with the things that will hurt them the most. I bow before Nemesis.
§ 4.7.1 Thais to Euthydemus:
Ever since you got into your head to study philosophy you've become a solemn kind of guy with your eyebrows raised to the top of your head. Then you stroll to the Academy with a pompous appearance and with a booklet in your hands, and walk by my house like you'd never seen it before. You have lost your mind, Euthydemus! Don't you know what sort of person this sophist is who takes on a severe look as he delivers these wonderful discourses to you? How long do you think he has been pestering me for a rendezvous while he's corrupting himself with Herpyllis, the maid of Megara? Then I didn't accept him, for I wanted to sleep embracing you rather than the gold from all sophists together. But since he seems to be turning you away from our intercourse, I'll welcome him and show you, if you like, that this misogynist teacher isn't satisfied with the normal nightly pleasures. This is just nonsense and humbug and profit-making off boys, you fool! Do you think a sophist is any different from a courtesan? Maybe in so far as they don't persuade by the same means, but they certainly both have one and the same goal: gain. How much better and pious we are, though! We don't say there are no gods, but we do believe our lovers when they swear they love us. Nor do we think that it's right for men to have sex with their sisters and mothers, or even with other men's wives. But perhaps we seem inferior to the sophists because we don't know where the clouds come from or what the atoms are like. I, too, have spent some time with these sophists and discussed with many of them.
§ 4.7.6 No one who spends time with a courtesan dreams of tyrannies and revolting against the state; on the contrary, having drained his morning beaker he rests in his drunken stupor until the third or fourth hour. We are no worse at educating the youth! For compare, if you like, Aspasia the courtesan and Socrates the sophist, and judge which one of them educated men better. You will see that Pericles was her pupil and Critias his. Give up this foolishness and unpleasantness, Euthydemus, my love — it doesn't become such eyes to be sullen — and come to your lover as you often did having returned from the Lyceum and wiping off the sweat, so that we may get a little drunk and show each other the sweet goal of pleasure! And to you I will now appear most wise. The deity doesn't give us a long time to live; make sure you don't waste it on riddles and nonsense! Farewell.
§ 4.8 Simalion to Petale:
If you think it brings you any pleasure or distinction from some of your lovers to have me often coming to your door and cry my heart out to the servants sent to the lovers more lucky than I, then you're mocking me not without reason. But know this: although I know I'm doing myself a disservice, I'm behaving like few of your present lovers would behave if they were being neglected. I really thought I would find comfort in the unmixed wine that I was pouring down in great quantities two nights ago at the house of Euphronius, in order to drive away the thoughts that trouble me by night. But it turned out the opposite. For it rekindled my yearning so that my weeping and wailing aroused pity in the decent but laughter in the rest. I have a small consolation and comfort that is already withering, that which you ripped from your very curls and threw at me during the quarrel which distressed the guests, as if you were annoyed with everything I have sent you. If this really brings you joy, then enjoy my distress, and if it should please you, then do tell those who at the moment are happier than me but who will shortly experience pain, that is to say if they are like me. Pray, however, that Aphrodite will not be angry with you for this scorn. Another man would have written reviling and threatening, but I write begging and praying. For I'm in love, Petale, badly. And I fear that if it gets any worse I shall imitate someone more unfortunate in erotic complaints.
§ 4.9 Petale to Simalion:
I wish a courtesan's house could be maintained by tears; I would indeed have been very well off enjoying an abundance of these from you. But now we have need of gold, garments, jewellery and servants; all livelihood comes from that. I don't have a small paternal estate in Myrrhinus, nor a stake in the silver mines, but only my small fees and these unfortunate and lamentable gifts from my stupid lovers. I'm sorely troubled having been sleeping with you for a year now, and my head is filthy not having even seen an unguent within that time, and wearing the old and ragged shawl I feel shame before my friends; may I therefore have some luck! By what should I then make a living, if I'm idly sitting by your side? You are crying, but you will soon stop. I, however, if I don't have a generous lover I will surely starve. I'm also surprised how unconvincing your tears are. O Lady Aphrodite! You say that you're in love, my good man, and wish that your mistress would sleep with you because you can't live without her. So what! Are there no wine-cups in your house? Is there no one who is going to bring back money from your mother or loans from your father? Happy Philotis! The Graces looked on her with more favourable eyes. What a lover she has in Menecleides, who gives her something each day! That's sure better than weeping. But I, miserable creature, have a dirge-singer, not a lover. He sends garlands and roses to me as if I were in an early grave and says he cries all through the night. If you bring me something, come without weeping; otherwise you're going to torture not me but yourself.
§ 4.10 Myrrhine to Nicippe:
Diphilus pays me no attention, but is completely bent on that filthy Thettale. Up to the time of the Adonis festival he would sometimes come to fool around and get laid, although he was already then indifferent and playing the favoured lover, and most often, whenever he was drunk, he was accompanied by Helix; desiring Herpyllis, the latter loved spending time at our house. Now, however, it's clear that he won't have anything to do with me at all, since for four days in a row he's been revelling in the garden of Lysis with Thettale and that goddamned Strongylion, who procured this mistress for him because he for some reason was angry with me. Letters and servants running back and forth and all such things have accomplished nothing, and no help has come of them. They seem to have made him even more crazy and arrogant towards me. The only thing that remains is to lock him out and to reject him if he at some point, in case he should wish to annoy the other one, should come to me to get laid; for arrogance is usually broken down by being slighted. But if I should accomplish nothing even in this way, then I'll need a more efficient drug, like the ones used on the seriously ill. For not only is it bad to be deprived of my fees, but also to be a laughingstock for Thettale. There is a love potion, you say, often tried by you in your youth. That's the sort of remedy I need, which would sweep away not only his delusion, but also his drunken behaviour. I will send him a message and weep convincingly, and say that he should watch out for Nemesis if he neglects me, who desires him, in this way, and I will make up other such things to tell him. Then he'll surely come to take pity on me for burning with desire for him; for he will say that it's good to remember the past and our relationship, puffing himself up, that creep. And Helix too will assist me, since Herpyllis will strip for him. However, love potions tend to be uncertain and will suddenly result in death. I don't care one bit; either he will live for me or die for Thettale.
§ 4.11.1 Menecleides to Euthycles:
My beautiful Bacchis is gone, dearest Euthycles, she's gone, leaving me with many tears and a memory of a love that is as painful now as it was sweet then; for I will never forget Bacchis, that time will not come! How much affection she showed! You wouldn't be wrong in calling her an apology of the courtesan's way of life. And if they all came together and placed a statue of her in the sanctuary of Aphrodite or the Graces, they would, in my opinion, do something righteous. For the common talk, that they are mean, disloyal, only interested in profit, always belonging to whoever is paying, and the cause of every bad thing that happens to their lovers, this she, by her own case, has shown to be an unjust accusation; in this way she opposed the common slander with her own character. You know the Mede who swooped in from Syria and strutted about with all that retinue and equipage, promising eunuchs, maidservants and foreign jewellery; and yet, to his chagrin, she didn't admit him, but was happy to sleep under this cheap and common cloak of mine, and content with the scanty gifts I had sent her, she scorned those luxurious and golden gifts of his. What else? How she told the Egyptian merchant who was offering a lot of money to shove off! I'm sure there would be nothing better than her. What a noble character that some deity led into an unfortunate course of life. And then she's gone having left me behind and from now on Bacchis will lie alone. How unfair, dear Fates. For I ought to lie next to her now as before.
§ 4.11.6 But I survive and I touch food and I'm going to talk with my friends; yet she will never again look at me with her bright eyes and smile, nor will she graciously and favourably spend the night in those most pleasurable punishments. How she spoke just recently, how she gazed, what Sirens frequented her conversations, what sweet and pure nectar dripped from her kisses. It seems to me that Peitho sat on the edge of her lips. She girded herself with all her charm and with all her Graces honoured Aphrodite. Gone are the ditties she sang during our toasts and the lyre she played with her ivory fingers is gone. A silent stone and ashes she lies who was dear to all the Graces. And Megara, that mega-whore, lives who robbed Theagenes so unsparingly that he, having lost his great fortune, seized his shabby military cloak and shield, and went off to war. But Bacchis who loved her lover is dead. I feel better now having cried out to you, my dearest Euthycles. I think it's sweet both to talk and to write about her; for nothing remains but memory. Farewell.
§ 4.12 Fragm. 4 Leaena to Philodemus:
I saw your young wife at the Mysteries, draped in a beautiful summer dress. I pity you, by Aphrodite, miserable man — how you must suffer sleeping with that tortoise! What a complexion for a woman, quite vermilion! What long curls your young wife let loose, bearing no resemblance to the hair on her head! How much white lead she had plastered on! And they slander us courtesans for making ourselves up. She was indeed wearing a great chain; she certainly deserves to spend her life in a chain, but not a golden one, having the face of a ghost. What large feet she has, so broad and disproportionate! Woe, how it is to embrace her naked! I also have the impression that she has bad breath. I would prefer to sleep with a toad, lady Nemesis. I would rather look *** in the face than *** with her chain and anklets ***
§ 4.13.1 Fragm. 6 *** lover's place, saying she owed a sacrifice to the Nymphs. It's located twenty stades from the town. It's actually a meadow or garden; but close to the farm there is a plot of tillage, the rest consists of cypresses and myrtle. It's really a property for a lover, my dear, not a farmer. Right away our departure offered some amusement; for one moment we were making fun of each other or our lovers, and the next we were being teased by the people we met. The lecher Nicias, returning from I don't know where, said to us, 'Where are you going all together? Whose field are you going off to drain? Happy is the estate where you're going! How many figs it will have!' Petale shooed him away and made fun of him in a shameless manner. He cursed us and called us dirty, and then he dashed off. We were picking fire-thorn berries and gathering twigs and windflowers, and then suddenly we were there. We didn't even realise, because of the amusement, that our journey had come to an end quicker than we had expected. At once we busied ourselves with the sacrifice. A short distance from the farm there was a rock, its top shaded by laurels and plane trees. On either side of it were bushes of myrtle, and ivy ran around it somehow from the top, clinging closely to the stone; from it clear water dripped. Under the projecting edges of the rock some statues of Nymphs were set up and a Pan peeped out as though he was spying on the Naiads. Across from it we piled up an improvised altar; then after we had placed splinters and cakes on it, we began by sacrificing a white hen; and after we had poured a libation of mead and milk over the altar and offered frankincense over the little flame and offered many prayers to the Nymphs, and at least as many to Aphrodite, we begged that they give us a quarry of lovers. From then on we were fit for the feast.
§ 4.13.6 'Let's go home', Melissa said, 'and recline at the table.' 'Let's not, by the Nymphs and Pan here,' said I. 'For you see how horny he is. He would gladly see us carousing here! See there under the myrtles how dewy the place is all around and dappled with dainty flowers. I would like to recline on this grass rather than on those rugs and soft sheets in private. Let drinking parties here amid the beauty of the countryside and open air surpass those in town!' 'Yes, yes, you speak well!' they said. So some of us immediately broke off branches of yew, others branches of myrtle, and we spread our cloaks and threw them together in an improvised manner. The ground was soft from clover and trefoil. In the middle circle some hyacinths and a variety of flowers made the sight beautiful. Nightingales, perched amid leaves of spring, sang in a pleasant and twittering way; the drops of water that gently dripped like sweat from the rock made a pleasant sound befitting our springtime drinking party. There was wine, not domestic but Italian, the kind of jars you said you'd bought at Eleusis, very sweet and plentiful. There were eggs, which quivered like buttocks, slices of tender goat and homebred hens. Then there were a variety of milk-cakes, some honey-cakes, others from the frying pan (I think they call them junkets and twists). Then there were sweetmeats as much as the country lavished upon us from its spring fruits. Thereafter the cups went around continuously; there was a limit to drink three friendship toasts, but no limit on how often. In a way drinking parties with no restraints tend to get more because of the continuity; we sipped the wine from small cups, but one after the other. Croumation, Megara's maid, was there and she played the flute, and Simmiche sang to the melody and the music.
§ 4.13.12 The Nymphs at the spring were delighted; and when Plangon got up and danced, moving her hips, Pan almost jumped off the rock straight onto her buttocks. The music immediately excited us women deep down and being somewhat drunk we were in the mood for some...you know what I'm talking about. We caressed our lovers' hands and gently untied their flexed fingers, and fooled around in the presence of Dionysus. Someone lay on her back and kissed her lover and let him feel her breasts, and as if simply turning away she actually pressed her lower abdomen against his groin. The passion was already rising for us women, and that other thing was rising for the men. So we women slipped away and found a shady thicket not far away, a bridal chamber sufficient for our present drunkenness. There we took a rest from the drinking and without enthusiasm jumped into our chitons. And then one girl tied together twigs of myrtle as if twining a garland for herself and said, 'Look, my love, if this suits me'; another girl returning with buds of violet said, 'What a lovely fragrance'; another taking some unripe apples from her fold, showed them and said, 'Look at these!' Another was humming, and yet another was picking leaves from a twig and gnawing them as if playing hard to get. And what was most ridiculous — although we had all got up for the same reason, we didn't wish to be seen by each other. The men came around on the other side behind the thicket. After this little love commerce, we were thirsty again. The Nymphs didn't seem to look at us like before, whereas Pan and Priapus seemed to look at us with greater pleasure. Again we had those small birds, caught with nets, and partridges, and very sweet grapes conserved in must, and chines of hare. Furthermore there were mussels and periwinkles that were brought in from town, and native snails, and mushrooms from the strawberry trees, and roots of parsnip, good for the stomach, steeped in vinegar and honey. Moreover there was lettuce and celery that we ate with greatest delight; and how big do you think the lettuce was? The garden was near by; we each said to our maids, 'Pull this one!' 'No, by Zeus, this one!' 'No, not that one, this one!' Some were leafy and long, others twisted like curly hair, others yet were short and their leaves had a yellowish tinge. They say Aphrodite loves them. So after we had enjoyed the spring and stimulated our appetites afresh, we engaged in a very youthful revelry to the point that neither did we care that we were seen by each other, nor did we bother to make love in secret; the wine filled us with such a bacchic frenzy. I hate the neighbour's cock! His crowing put an end to our revelry. You should at least have the pleasure of hearing about our drinking party — for it was sumptuous and suitable for erotic friendship — even if you couldn't partake in our revelry. So I wanted to write you a detailed written account of everything, and I was urged to do so. If you really were feeling unwell, try and find a way to get better; but if you're staying at home because you're expecting your lover to come, then you're staying at home not without reason. Farewell.
§ 4.14.1 Megara to Bacchis:
Only you have a lover whom you love so much that you can't be separated from him even for a moment. By Lady Aphrodite, that's disgusting! Even though you were invited by Glycera to her sacrificial feast such a long time ago (for she sent us the invitations at the time of the Dionysia) you didn't come — perhaps because of her you can't stand even to see your girlfriends. You've become virtuous and are in love with your lover, congratulations on that reputation! We, on the other hand, are shameless whores. Philo too had a fig-wood staff; so I'm really angry, by the great goddess! We were all present: Thettale, Moscharium, Thais, Anthracium, Petale, Thryallis, Myrrhine, Chrysium and Euxippe. Why even Philoumene, despite recently married and jealously watched, was present, having put her lovely husband to sleep, although she arrived late. Only you stayed to fondle your Adonis, afraid perhaps that if he was left alone by you, his Aphrodite, Persephone would snatch him away. What a drinking party we had — why shouldn't I make you regretful? — full of great delights! Songs, jokes, drinking till cockcrow, perfumes, garlands and sweetmeats. Our place of reclining was shaded by some laurels. Only one thing was missing: you, but nothing else. We have often caroused but rarely with this much pleasure. But what gave us the most delight was that a fierce quarrel arose between Thryallis and Myrrhine concerning which of them had the most beautiful and smooth buttocks. And Myrrhine, having first loosened her girdle — her dress was made of silk — swayed her hips which quivered like junkets through the dress, while she was looking back at the movements of her buttocks. Then she sighed gently like she was making love so that, by Aphrodite, I was astounded. Thryallis, however, didn't give up, but outdid Myrrhine in shamelessness. 'I shall not compete behind curtains', she said, 'nor play coy, but as in a gymnastic contest; for a contest doesn't like excuses.' She took off her dress, tightened her buttocks and said, 'there, look carefully at the skin, Myrrhine, how pure, how spotless; look here at the purple lining of the hips, the slope towards the thighs, which are neither too fat nor too lean, and the dimples at the sides; but, by Zeus, they don't quiver' — and at the same time she smiled — 'like Myrrhine's'.
§ 4.14.6 And then she made her buttocks quiver so much, and she whirled the whole thing around, to and fro, over her loins, like it was flowing, so that we all applauded and declared that the victory belonged to Thryallis. There were also comparisons of hips and breast competitions. However, nobody dared to compare her belly with Philoumene's, since she had not born any children and was plump. So having spent the entire night there speaking ill of our lovers and praying for new ones (for fresh love making is always sweeter) we departed drunk, and carousing a lot on the way we stopped for a revelry at Deximachus's house at the Golden Alley, where you go down to the chaste-tree, near Menephron's house. Thais is madly in love with him and, by Zeus, with reason; for the lad has recently inherited his rich father. Now this time we forgive you for scorning us, but we're celebrating the Adonis festival in Collytus at Thettale's lover's place; for Thettale is dressing up the darling of Aphrodite. See to it that you come bringing a little garden, a doll and your Adonis whom you're now fondling, for we are going to carouse with our lovers. Farewell.
§ 4.15 Philoumene to Crito:
Why do you torture yourself with much writing? What you need is fifty pieces of gold and not letters. So if you love me, hand them over; but if you love money, stop bothering me. Farewell.
§ 4.16 Lamia to Demetrius:
You are the cause of this outspokenness, you who, though you are a mighty king, permit even a courtesan to write to you and don't think it wrong to have my letters when you've had me. I, however, lord Demetrius, when I see you and hear you in public with your bodyguard and your soldiers and your ambassadors and your diadems, then, by Aphrodite, I tremble and I fear and I'm troubled, and I turn away as from the sun, so that I won't burn my eyes; and then you really seem to be the besieger, by Demeter. How you look then, so fierce and warlike! I distrust myself and say, 'Lamia, are you sleeping with this man? Are you charming him with your flute all night long? Has this man sent you a message now? Does he compare Gnathaena the courtesan with you?' In confusion I keep silent and pray to see you at my place, and when you come I greet you. But when you embrace me and kiss me intensely, then again I say to myself just the opposite: 'Is this the besieger? Is this the military commander? Is this the fear of Macedonia, of Greece, of Thrace? By Aphrodite, today I will force him to surrender with my flute and I will see how he's going to treat me, or rather the day after tomorrow.' For you will dine with me (I hope) during Aphrodite's feast. I do this every year and I hold a contest to see if I can beat my earlier celebrations. I shall welcome you in a manner befitting Aphrodite and as seductively as possible, if you give me the necessary means; after all, I've done nothing unworthy of your favour ever since that sacred night, even though you let me use my body as I see fit. On the contrary, I've used it honourably and have not had intercourse with other men. I will not behave like a courtesan, nor will I lie, my lord, like others do. In fact, ever since that time, by Artemis, many no longer send me messages or make an attempt on me, because they fear that you will lay them under siege. Eros is swift, my king, swift to come and swift to fly away. When he's hopeful he has wings but when he despairs and has lost all hope he usually sheds his wings right away. That's why courtesans have a great trick; by constantly postponing the moment of pleasure they have control over their lovers by giving them hope. But with you it's not possible to postpone, so I fear you will get bored. As a result it is necessary that we, by interrupting intimacies that would otherwise quickly wither, sometimes be busy, at other times be unwell, sing, play the flute, dance, make dinners, decorate the house, so that their souls will get more inflammable from the interruptions and kindle more easily, out of fear that there will be yet another obstacle to their present good fortune. I might have been able to take these precautions and play these tricks on others, my king; but, by the friendly Muses, I couldn't bear using these fabrications on you who are so fond of me that you show me openly and boast to the other courtesans that I surpass them all; I'm not that stony-hearted. So even if I gave up everything, even my life, to please you, I'd count the cost as low. For I know very well that the preparation will be talked about not only in the house of Therippides, where I'm going to prepare for you the banquet of the Aphrodisia festival, but also in the whole city of Athens, by Artemis, and in all of Greece. And most of all, those hateful Spartans on their desolate mountains of Taygetus will not cease to criticize my banquets or to invoke the laws of Lycurgus against your generosity, so that they pass as men who were foxes at Ephesus. But let them have their way, my lord; you just remember to reserve the day of the banquet and the hour you chose — whichever you decide will be the best. Farewell.
§ 4.17.1 Leontium to Lamia:
Nothing is harder to please, it seems, than an old man who is just starting to behave like a boy again. How this Epicurus is controlling me, criticizing everything, suspecting everything, writing me incomprehensible letters and chasing me out of his garden. By Aphrodite, even if he had been an Adonis, though nearly eighty years old, I wouldn't put up with him, this lice-ridden and sickly man who is all wrapped up in fleece instead of felt. How long must one endure this philosopher? Let him have his Principal Doctrines on Nature and his distorted Canons, and permit me to live according to nature, my own mistress, without anger and violence. I really have such a besieger, not at all like you, Lamia, have in Demetrius. It's not possible to lead a virtuous life on account of this man. He wants to be a Socrates with his chatter and irony, and he believes Pythocles is an Alcibiades and thinks he can make me his Xanthippe. I will end up leaving for whatever place and flee from land to land rather than to endure his incessant letters. But now he has ventured into the most terrible and intolerable act of all, which is why I'm writing to you, hoping you'll tell me what to do. You know that handsome fellow Timarchus from Cephisia. I don't deny that I'm quite familiar with the young man (I have for a long time been truthful to you, Lamia) and I almost got my first lesson in love from him; he took my virginity when I was living next door. Since that time he has never ceased sending me all sorts of nice things like clothes, gold, Indian maids and Indian servants. I won't mention the rest. But he anticipates the seasons in the smallest delicacies, so that nobody may taste them before I do. So that's the kind of lover about whom Epicurus says, 'Shut him out and don't let him come near you.' What kind of names do you think he's calling him? Not as an Athenian or a philosopher *** or of Cappadocia coming to Greece for the first time.
§ 4.17.6 Even if the whole city of Athens were full of Epicures, by Artemis, I wouldn't weigh them all against Timarchus's arm, or even against his finger! What do you say, Lamia? Isn't this true? Am I not right? And don't, I beg of you by Aphrodite, don't let this answer enter your mind: 'But he's a philosopher, he's distinguished, he has many friends.' He may even take what I have, and teach others. It is not doctrine that warms me, but the object of my desire, and I desire Timarchus, by Demeter! What's more, on account of me the young man has been forced to abandon everything, the Lyceum, his youth, his comrades and friends, in order to live with Epicurus and flatter him and chant his windy doctrines. This Atreus says, 'Get out of my realm and don't approach Leontium!' Like it wouldn't be more fair if Timarchus said 'No, don't you approach mine!' And the man who is young puts up with his elderly rival, the latecomer, but the other can't stand him who has a more rightful claim. By the gods, I implore you, Lamia, what should I do? By the mysteries, by the release from these misfortunes, when I think about my separation from Timarchus I immediately turn cold, my hands and feet begin to sweat and my heart turns upside down. I beg you, take me into your house for a few days, and I'll make him aware of what good things he was enjoying with me in the house. He's not going to stand the boredom any more; that I know for sure. He will immediately send out Metrodorus, Hermarchus and Polyaenus as ambassadors. How often, Lamia, do you think I've told him in private: 'What are you doing, Epicurus? Don't you know how Timocrates, the brother of Metrodorous, is making fun of you because of this, in the assembly, in the theatre, in front of the other sophists?' But what can I do with this man? He's shameless in his desire, and I'm going to be just like him, shameless, and not let go of my Timarchus. Farewell.
§ 4.18.1 Menander to Glycera:
By the Eleusinian goddesses, by their mysteries, — on which I have often sworn to you even in their presence, Glycera, when we were alone — I swear that I don't glorify myself or say and write this wishing to please you; for what pleasure would there be for me without you? What could excite me more than your love, if our autumn of life will forever seem to me as youth thanks to your manner and character? Let us be young together, grow old together and, by the gods, die together, provided we realize that we're dying together, Glycera, so that neither of us may become jealous in Hades if the survivor is going to enjoy further good things. But may I never enjoy them when you are no more; for what good would then be left? What is now urging me to write to you who are in the city celebrating the Haloa of the goddess, as I am lying sick in Piraeus (you know about my usual weakness, which my enemies tend to call luxuriousness and snobbery) is the following. I have received a letter from Ptolemy, the king of Egypt, in which he begs me in every way and — promising in a royal fashion 'all the goods of the earth', as the saying goes — urges both me and Philemon. For they say that he too has received a letter, and Philemon himself has written to me, revealing that his own invitation was simpler in style and less ornamental since it wasn't written to Menander. But he will have to look after himself and make his own decisions.
§ 4.18.6 I'm not going to wait for advice, since you, Glycera, have always been and now will be my judgment, my Areopagus council and my Heliastic court, my everything, by Athena. I have forwarded the king's letter to you so that I won't bother you twice, meeting with both my letter and his. But I want you to know what I've decided to write to him. Setting sail and departing for Egypt, such a vast and distant kingdom, I'm not even considering, by the twelve gods! Even if Egypt was in Aegina here nearby, even then I wouldn't think of leaving my kingdom of your love, alone in a large crowd of Egyptians without Glycera, looking upon a crowded desert. With greater pleasure and less danger I pay court to your embraces rather than those of all the satraps and kings. Servility is dangerous, flattery is contemptible and success is treacherous. As for the Thericlean cups, beakers, golden plates and all the good things born among these which are looked upon with jealousy at the courts, I would not take them in exchange for the yearly Pitcher feast, for the Lenaea festival in the theatres, for the singing at the sheaf-gathering yesterday, for the exercises in the Lyceum and for the sacred Academy, by Dionysus and his Bacchic ivy leaves, with which I would rather be crowned than with the diadems of Ptolemy, as Glycera is watching and sitting in the theatre. Where in Egypt will I see an assembly or a question being put up for vote? Where will I find a democratic crowd with so much freedom? Where will I find junior archons wreathed with ivy in their sacred hair? What perischoinisma (roped enclosure) will I find? What election? What pot-feast, Ceramicus, market place, jury courts, lovely Acropolis, the Semnai Goddesses, Mysteries, neighbouring Salamis, the Narrows, Psyttalia, Marathon, all Greece in Athens, all Ionia, all the Cycladic Islands?
§ 4.18.12 Shall I abandon these and Glycera with them, and go to Egypt to get gold, silver and riches? With whom shall I enjoy this? With Glycera who is so far separated from me by the sea? Will not these things seem like poverty without her? Moreover, if I hear that she has transferred her noble love to another man, will not all my treasures become dust? And when I die, I will carry my sorrows with me and my property is going to lie in the open for those who have the power to do wrong. Surely it's a great thing to live with Ptolemy and satraps and big shots like that, whose friendship isn't constant and whose enmity isn't without risk. But if Glycera is angry with me for something, I just grab her and give her a kiss; if she continues to be angry, I force her even more, and if she's sulky, I am all tears. And therefore, when she no longer endures my tears she finally begs me, since she has neither soldiers, spearmen nor guards, for I am everything to her. Surely it's a great and wondrous thing to see the beautiful Nile; but isn't it also great to see the Euphrates? And isn't it also great to see the Ister? Aren't Thermodon, the Tigris, the Halys, the Rhine among the mighty rivers? If I intend to see all the rivers, my life will be completely submerged and I won't see Glycera. This river Nile, though beautiful, is full of savage beasts, and it's not even possible to go into its eddy since it has so many dangers lying in ambush. May I always be crowned with Attic ivy, king Ptolemy. May I have a mound and grave in my own country, and every year sing in honour of Dionysos at the hearth, perform the rites of the Mysteries and put up a new play at the annual stage-performances, laughing, rejoicing, contending, fearing defeat, and winning. Philemon may even have the good fortune to obtain my goods when he's in Egypt. Philemon doesn't have a Glycera and perhaps he wasn't worthy of such a treasure. But you, my little Glycera, please come to me flying on your saddled mule as soon as the harvest festival is over. I have never seen a longer or more ill-timed festival. Demeter, please forgive me!
§ 4.19.1 Glycera to Menander:
As soon as you sent over the King's letter, I read it. By Calligenea, in whose hands I now am, I rejoiced, Menander, and was beside myself with pleasure and it did not go unnoticed by those present. My mother was there and one of my two sisters, Euphronium, and one of my girlfriends whom you know; she often dined at your house and you praised her local Attic wit, but as if fearing to praise her — the time when I smiled at you and gave you a hotter kiss than usual — don't you remember, Menander? When they saw the unusual happiness in my face and my eyes they asked me, 'Dear Glycera, what great good fortune has come to you, charming and desirable, that you now seem like a different person in soul, body and every aspect and your body is radiant and shining?' 'Ptolemy, the King of Egypt', I replied, 'has invited my Menander, promising, in a way, half his kingdom', raising my voice and speaking with more emphasis so that all present would hear. And as I said this I was shaking and brandishing in my hands the letter with the royal seal. 'You rejoice in being deserted?' they asked. But this wasn't the case, Menander. I would in no way whatsoever, by the gods, be convinced of this, not even if the proverbial ox would speak to me, that Menander would ever want to or be able to leave his Glycera in Athens and alone rule in Egypt in the midst of all its wealth. However, judging from the letter I read, the King obviously had heard about this, my relationship with you, it seems, and he wanted to tease you slightly by insinuation with his Egyptian Attic wit. I'm delighted about this, that our love has sailed over to him in Egypt; and by what he has heard he's certainly convinced that he's striving for the impossible when he wants Athens to come over to him. For what would Athens be without Menander? And what would Menander be without Glycera? I, who set the masks in order for him and put on the clothes, and who stand behind the scenes squeezing my fingers and trembling until the theatre breaks into applause. Then, by Artemis, I recover my breath and embrace you, the blessed head of these plays, and take you in my arms.
§ 4.19.6 But what gave me pleasure then, as I told my friends, was this, Menander, that not only Glycera but also kings across the sea love you, and that your fame overseas proclaims your excellence. Both Egypt, the Nile, the promontories of Proteus and the lighthouse of Pharos are now all in suspense, wishing to see Menander and hear the misers, the lovers, the superstitious, the faithless, the fathers, the sons, the servants and every character that appears on the stage. These they will hear, but they will not see Menander, unless they should come to Glycera in town and see my happiness; the Menander who is known everywhere because of his fame and lies in my arms night and day. Nevertheless, if a desire for the good things over there possesses you, or, if for nothing else, just for Egypt, a great wonder, and the pyramids there and the singing statues and the renowned labyrinth and the other things which by them are prized for their antiquity or art, I beg you, Menander, don't make me your excuse. Don't let the Athenians hate me on account of this when they are already measuring up the bushels of corn which the King is going to send them on your account. Go, with the protection of all the gods, with good fortune, favourable winds and a propitious sky! For I'm not going to leave you. Don't think that I say that, I myself can't do it even if I wanted to. But I shall abandon my mother and my sisters and become a sailor-woman who sails with you; I'm an excellent sailor, I'm sure. Even if the oar should break I will tend to your nausea, I will comfort you in your seasickness; as Ariadne sans thread I will guide you to Egypt, not as Dionysus but as a servant and interpreter of Dionysus. Nor will I be left behind lamenting and bewailing your treachery in Naxos and in a naval wilderness. Away with people like Theseus and the treacherous crimes of the elders! For us every place is safe, both the town, the Piraeus and Egypt. There is no place that will not receive our complete love; even if we should dwell on a rock, I'm sure our affection would make it a shrine of Aphrodite. I'm convinced that you don't desire money or abundance or wealth at all, but you stake your happiness on me and on your plays. However, relatives, country and friends, you probably know, everyone everywhere require many things, they want to be rich and make money.
§ 4.19.12 You will never blame me for anything neither small nor big, I'm sure, you who long ago yielded to me out of passion and love, and who have now to these added judgement, on which I place more reliance, Menander, fearing the brevity of passionate love; for the passionate love is as violent as it's easy to dissolve; †but for those who are adorned with reasoning, for them the relationship is actually stronger, neither chaste as regards both pleasures and abundance, nor very timid. It will solve the problem† as you yourself often instruct and advise me in these matters. But even if you don't reproach or accuse me of anything, I still fear the Attic wasps who begin to swarm all around me when I go out, as if I had taken away the very wealth from the city of the Athenians. So I beg you, Menander, wait a while, and don't yet write any answer to the King. Think it over some more! Wait until we're together and with our friends, both Theophrastus and Epicurus. For perhaps they and you will view this matter differently. Let us rather make sacrifices and see what the offerings tell us, whether it's better for us to go to Egypt or to stay here. And let us send someone to Delphi to consult the oracle; he is our hereditary god. We'll have the gods as an excuse in either case, whether we go or stay. Better still, I will do the following. I have a women who has recently come from Phrygia and who's very experienced in these matters, she's skilled in gastromancy by observing the tension of the strings at night and by calling up the gods. And we don't have to believe just her words, but see for ourselves, as they say. I shall send for her. As a matter of fact, so she says, the woman has to perform a purifying ceremony first and prepare some animals to be sacrificed and some strong frankincense and a long stalk of styrax and moon-shaped wheat cakes and leaves from a wild chaste-tree. I think even you will arrive from Piraeus first; or else tell me just for how long you can't see Glycera, so that I may run down to meet you and have this Phrygian woman ready at once. †And what you are trying by yourself, to accustom me so that the Piraeus, your small estate and Munychia will gradually fall out of my mind, I can't do,† by the gods! Neither can you who are already completely interwoven with me! Even if all the kings would send you letters I'm still more regal to you than all of them and in you I have found a dutiful lover who's also mindful of sacred oaths.
§ 4.19.18 So try rather, my love, to come as soon as possible into town, so that if you should change your mind about going to the King you should have your plays prepared and especially those of your plays from which Ptolemy and his Dionysus (who isn't democratic, you know) can benefit the most, be it Thais or The Hated Man or The Braggart or The Arbitrators or The Girl who Gets Slapped or The Man from Sicyon or whatever it might be. What now? Am I a bold and daring woman to judge Menander's plays when I'm only an amateur? But I have a love for you that is wise and makes me capable of understanding these matters. For you taught me, an attractive woman, to learn quickly from lovers; but lovers dispense it in haste; we feel ashamed, by Artemis, to be unworthy of you not having been quicker to learn. I just beg you, Menander, to produce that play too in which you have cast me, so that even if I should not go with you, I may sail to Ptolemy in another form, and the King may be more aware of how much influence he has over you that you bring your written loves having left your true ones in town. But you're not going to leave them behind, be sure of that. Until you come here to me from Piraeus, I will be learning how to be a helmsman or captain, so that I may steer you with my own hands untouched by the waves as I'm sailing, if this should appear to be the better choice. May that happen, all you gods, which will profit us both, and may the Phrygian woman make a more appropriate prophesy than your Woman Possessed by a God. Farewell.
§ 4.20 [Fragment] The courtesans in Corinth to the courtesans in town:
Are you not aware of the latest developments? Have you not heard the new name among the courtesans? What a great stronghold has not been built against us — Lais, kept as a wild beast by the painter Apelles. Close your workshops, wretched women, or rather shut yourself up in them. There's only one woman now that excites all of Greece, only one. Lais in the barber shops, Lais in the theatres, in the assemblies, in the courts, in the council chamber, everywhere. Everybody talks about her, by Aphrodite, and the deaf and dumb are nodding about her beauty to each other; so does Lais give speech to those who can't even talk. That's reasonable. For with her clothes on she's the fairest of face, and with her clothes off her body seems as fair as her face, neither too wrinkled nor too fleshy but the kind we call thin and juicy. Her hair is naturally curly, blond but not coloured and falls softly over her shoulders. Her eyes, by Aphrodite, are rounder than the full moon, and her pupils are the blackest of black and the encircling white ***