Women poets II.

— Erinna
— Moero
— Anyte
— Hedyle
— Nossis

1. Erinna, 4th c. BCE. The 10th c. CE Suda lists four possible origins for Erinna: Teos, Lesbos, Rhodes, and Telos.

1a. Red-figure hydria, c. 440 BCE in the British Museum. Image: British Museum. The central, seated woman spins, holding a distaff in her left hand.


1b. Erinna no. 42* (Balmer): “The Distaff” (Alakata):
*transmitted by Oxyrhynchus papyrus, PSI IX 1090 (c. 200 CE).

the rising moon…

…falling leaves…

waves spinning on a mottled shore….

…and those games, Baucis, remember?
twin white horses, four frenzied feet — and one Tortoise
to your hare: ‘Caught you,’ I cried. ‘You’re Mrs Tortoise now.”
But when your turn came at last to catch the catcher
you raced on far beyond us, out from the great shell
of our smoke-filled yard…

…Baucis, these tears are your embers
and my memorial, traces glowing in my heart,
now all that we once shared has turned to ash…
…as girls
we played weddings with our dolls, brides in our soft beds,
or sometimes I was mother allotting dawn wool
to the women, calling for you to help spin out
the thread…
… and our terror (remember?) of Mormo
the monster — big ears, and tongue, forever flapping,
her frenzy on all fours and changing shapes — a trap
for girls who had lost their way…
…But when you set sail
for a man’s bed Baucis, you let it slip away,
forgot the lessons you had learnt from your ‘mother’
in those far-off days — no, never forgot; that thief
Desire stole all memory away…
…My lost friend,
here is my lament: I can’t bear that dark death-bed,
can’t bring myself to step outside my door; won’t look
on your stone face, won’t cry or cut my hair for shame…
but Baucis, this crimson grief
is tearing me in two…

1c. Greek jointed dolls from the MFA, c. 4th c. BCE. Left to right: 92.261690.18901.788318.460.

1d. Oxyrhynchus papyrus, PSI IX 1090 (c. 200 CE) containing Erinna’s “Distaff.” Rediscovered 1928 (see Balmer 1996: 57).

PSI IX 1090 BML inv. 18106 Erinna.jpg


2. Moero, Byzantium. c. 300 BCE. Map: Byzantium, image: Pleiades projectScreen Shot 2018-10-29 at 6.32.28 PM.png

2a. Josephine Balmer, Women Classical Poets (1996: 64):

“An ancient source records that she was the wife of one Andromachus, who may have been the author of an etymological dictionary, and the mother of Homerus, a tragic poet [=Suda on “Myro”]. She is known to have written hexameter verse, hymns, lyrical and elegiac poetry, although only two epigrams survive in the Greek Anthology, as well as a ten-line extract from what appears to be an epic poem on the mythology of the Greek god Zeus. Although she was honoured with a statue in antiquity, and the male epigrammatist Meleager referred to her poems as ‘lilies’, even those modern scholars sympathetic to classical women’s poetry find it difficult to praise her work. Her epigrams have been described as ‘affected’, while her hexameter poem on Zeus has been seen as ‘commonplace’ and ‘of no great originality.’ Such judgements seem rather hasty.”

2b. Moero no. 47* (Balmer): “The Childhood of Zeus”:
* transmitted by Athenaeus (c. 200 CE), The Learned Banquet (491b).

Lord Zeus was once fostered in Crete
far from the blessed gods
safe from his father’s searing sight.
And his strength slowly grew.
Deep in a timeless cave he dwelt
tended by trembling doves
and suckled on sweet ambrosia
from soft ocean streams;
a great eagle
always eager
gnawed nectar from a rock
for the bird to bear in his beak
a beaker for wise Zeus.
Triumphing over father Cronos
far-thundering Zeus
made the eagle an immortal
his intimate on high.
And those timorous trembling doves
he treasured too above
set them in heaven’s skies
our seasons’ timeless harbinger.

+ Athenaeus (c. 200 CE), The Learned Banquet (490e): The variation in the name, by which the Pleiades are referred to as Peleiai and Peleiades, occurs in many poets. The first to correctly grasp what the Homeric lines mean was Moero of Byzantium, who said in her poem entitled Mnemosyne that the Pleiades bring Zeus his ambrosia. The literary scholar Crates appropriated her interpretation and published it as if it were his own argument.

2c. Moero no. 47* (Balmer): “A Temple Offering”:
*transmitted in the Greek Anthology (6.119).

Hang there, beneath Aphrodite’s golden pillars,
temple grapes, heavy with the wine-god’s heady sap;
your mother-vine is curled around her lover branch,
won’t hold your head again between her scented leaves.

3. Anyte, Tegea in Arcadia. c. 300 BCE. Map: Tegea, image: Pleiades project.

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 1.02.30 AM.png

3a. Josephine Balmer, Women Classical Poets (1996: 67):

“Anyte’s subjects include the traditional laments for the dead, particularly of mothers for their daughters, and temple offerings, as well as more innovative pastoral scenes, animal poetry and memorials for dead pets. Such apparently whimsical concerns have upset male scholars and feminist revisionists alike.”

3b. Anyte no. 50* (Balmer): “Philainis”:
* transmitted in the Greek Anthology (7.486).

Over and over at this small tomb, Cleina weeps in sorrow,
a mother lamenting her daughter,
the final race which death has won.
Again and again she calls to you, her dearest Philainis,
you sailed away but not to marriage
across green-gloaming Acheron.

3c. Anyte no 58* (Balmer): “Aphrodite by Sea”:
*transmitted in the Greek Anthology (9.144).

This place is sacred to the goddess.
Here her constant pleasure
is to watch the sea as it shimmers from the shore,
and ensure the comfort of sailors;
all around the ocean
trembles as it gazes on her statue, oil-smooth.

3d. Anyte no 61* (Balmer): “A Lost Puppy”:
*transmitted by Pollux (5.48).

You met your fate like those great dogs of old
by the curling roots
of a coward’s bush; Loci, of Locri,
swiftest of pups — especially to bark,
into your light paws he sank harsh poison
that speckle-necked snake.

4. Hedyle, Athens. 3rd c. BCE. “The only extant Athenian woman poet” (Balmer 1996: 80).

4a. Hedyle no 71* (Balmer): “Scylla”:
*transmitted by Athenaeus The Learned Banquet (7.297a).

“I brought you shells, Scylla, from clear coral reefs
and king-fisher chicks, still learning how to fly —
those halcyon days to come. All these I gave
without faith, without hope.”
At Glaucus’ grief
Sirens wept, his fellow dwellers of the deep;
and they swam in sorrow from their rocky shore
by simmering Etna.

4b. Hyginus (1st c. BCE and CE), Fabulae 199. cf. Ovid Metamorphoses 13.904ff. and 14.66ff. 

They say that Scylla, the daughter of the river Crataeis, was a spectacularly beautiful young woman. Glaucus loved her, but Circe daughter of the Sun loved Glaucus. Since it was Scylla’s habit to bathe in the sea, Circe daughter of the Sun poisoned the waters out of jealousy. When Scylla went into the water, dogs sprouted from her loins and she became savage. yet she got her revenge for the injuries done to her: she robbed Ulysses of some of his crew as he sailed by.

4c. Fragment of an Apulian (South Italian) red-figure bell krater (c. 375-350 BCE). Depicting Scylla with a woman’s upper body, a fishy lower body, and a ring of dogs’ heads around her waist. Image: Getty.

86.AE.417 Scylla.png


5. Nossis, Locri. 3rd c. BCE. Map: Locri, image: Pleiades project.

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 2.21.39 AM.png

5a. Nossis no 72* (Balmer): “The Flowers of Love”:
*transmitted in the Greek Anthology (5.170).

Nothing is sweeter than love. Nothing.
All other delights, all pleasures come
poor second
— the honey I have spat from my lips.

Listen. Nossis speaks: whoever falls
from Cypris’ favour can never know
such flowers
— roses opening, coming into bloom.

5b. Nossis no 77* (Balmer): “Melinna”: 
*transmitted in the Greek Anthology (6.353).

Melinna herself stands recreated here:
looks down on us and smiles, soft and sweet;
the image of her mother — living proof
that child is equal to her parent.

5c. Nossis no 83* (Balmer): “Nossis’ Farewell”:
*transmitted in the Greek Anthology (7.718).

Stranger, if you should sail to Mytilene, city of fair song,
enticed by Sappho’s fragrant garland, its heady bloom,
say only this: that the land of Locri gave me life,
long-treasured by the Muses and by Her.
One more thing: My name is Nossis.
Now go.