The HyperTexts

Athenian Epitaphs

The purpose of this page is to explore an ancient form of the epigram: these are epitaphs inscribed on steles (tombstones and other monuments) by the ancient Greeks in remembrance of their dead. I use the term "after" for my translations because they are loose translations and/or interpretations rather than word-for-word translations. Four of these epitaph translations were published by Brief Poems in “Tombstone Tropes” and others have become popular and widely circulated on the Internet. If you like these translations you are welcome to share them for noncommercial purposes, but please be sure to credit the original poet and the translator. You can do that by copying the credit line along with the poem. For explanations of how he translates and why he calls his results "loose translations" and "interpretations" please click here: Michael R. Burch Translation Methods and Credits to Other Translators

The Seikilos Epitaph
by Michael R. Burch, after Seikilos of Euterpes

Shine, while you live;
blaze beyond grief,
for life is brief
and Time, a thief.

shine while u can;
blaze beyond grief,
for life is brief,
Time is a thief
and Death takes its toll.

The so-called Seikilos Epitaph is the oldest known surviving complete musical composition which includes musical notation. It is believed to date to the first or second century AD. The epitaph appears to be signed “Seikilos of Euterpes” or dedicated “Seikilos to Euterpe.” Euterpe was the ancient Greek Muse of music.

I am an image, a tombstone.
Seikilos placed me here
as a long-lasting sign
of deathless remembrance.
—tr. Michael R. Burch

Related Pages: The Best Occasional Poems of All Time

The Most Famous of the Ancient Greek Epitaphs

Tell the Spartans we lie
Lifeless at Thermopylae:
Dead at their word,
Obedient to their command.
Have they heard?
Do they understand?
Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

The Sea Knows I'm Buried

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

There are more Plato translations later on this page.

Does my soul abide in heaven, or hell?
Only the sea gulls
in their high, lonely circuits may tell.
Michael R. Burch, after Glaucus

Blame not the gale, nor the inhospitable sea-gulf, nor friends’ tardiness,
mariner! Just man’s foolhardiness.
Michael R. Burch, after Leonidas of Tarentum

Stranger, flee!
But may Fortune grant you all the prosperity
she denied me.
Michael R. Burch, after Leonidas of Tarentum

Everywhere the sea is the sea, the dead are the dead.
What difference to me—where I rest my head?
The sea knows I’m buried.
Michael R. Burch, after Antipater of Sidon

Laments for Fallen Warriors

These men earned a crown of imperishable glory,
nor did the maelstrom of death obscure their story.
Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

Here he lies in state tonight: Great is his Monument!
Yet Ares cares not, neither does War relent.
Michael R. Burch, after Anacreon

They observed our fearful fetters,
marched to confront the surrounding darkness;
now we extol their excellence.
Bravely, they died for us.
Michael R. Burch, after Mnasalcas

Be ashamed, O mountains and seas,
that these valorous men lack breath.
Assume, like pale chattels,
an ashen silence at death.
Michael R. Burch, after Parmenio

Laments for Fallen Children

Stripped of her stripling, if asked, she’d confess:
“I am now less than nothingness.”
Michael R. Burch, after Diotimus

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.
Michael R. Burch, Epitaph for a Palestinian Child

Masters and Slaves

I am thine, O master, loyal even in the grave:
just as you are now death’s slave.
Michael R. Burch, after Dioscorides

The Sea Knows I'm Buried, Part II

I lie by stark Icarian rocks
and only speak when the sea talks.
Please tell my dear father I gave up the ghost
on the Aegean coast.
Michael R. Burch, after Theatetus

Sail on, mariner, sail on,
for while we were perishing,
greater ships sailed on.
Michael R. Burch, after Theodorides

All this vast sea is his Monument.
Where does he lie—whether heaven, or hell?
Perhaps when the gulls repent—
their shriekings may tell.
Michael R. Burch, after Glaucus

His white bones lie bleaching on some inhospitable shore:
a son lost to his father, his tomb empty; the poor-
est beggars have happier mothers!
Michael R. Burch, after Damegtus

Here I lie with sea-enclosed Cyzicus shrouding my bones.
Faretheewell, O my adoptive land that reared me and suckled me;
I again rest at your breast.
Michael R. Burch, after Erycius

Laments for Lives Cut Short

A mother only as far as the birth pangs,
my life cut short at the height of life’s play:
only eighteen years old, so brief was my day.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Having never earned a penny
nor seen a bridal gown address the floor,
still I lie here with the love of many,
to be the love of yet one more.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Little I knew—a child of five—
of what it means to be alive
and all life’s little thrills;
but little also—(I was glad not to know)—
of life’s great ills.
Michael R. Burch, after Lucian

Pity this boy who was beautiful, but died.
Pity his monument, overlooking this hillside.
Pity the world that bore him, then foolishly survived.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Insatiable Death! I was only a child!
Why did you snatch me away, in my infancy,
from those destined to love me?
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Tell Nicagoras that Strymonias
at the setting of the Kids
lost his.
Michael R. Burch, after Nicaenetus

Here Saon, son of Dicon, now rests in holy sleep:
say not that the good die young, friend,
lest gods and mortals weep.
Michael R. Burch, after Callimachus

The light of a single morning
exterminated the sacred offspring of Lysidice.
Nor do the angels sing.
Nor do we seek the gods’ advice.
This is the grave of Nicander’s lost children.
We weep at its bitter price.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Pluto, delighting in tears,
why did you bring our son, Ariston,
to the laughterless abyss of death?
Why—why?—did the gods grant him breath,
if only for seven years?
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Heartlessly this grave
holds our nightingale speechless;
now she lies here like a stone,
who voice was so marvelous;
while sunlight illumining dust
proves the gods all reachless,
as our prayers prove them also
unhearing or beseechless.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

I, Homenea, the chattering bright sparrow,
lie here in the hollow of a great affliction,
leaving tears to Atimetus
and all scattered—that great affection.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

We mourn Polyanthus, whose wife
placed him newly-wedded in an unmarked grave,
having received his luckless corpse
back from the green Aegean wave
that deposited his fleshless skeleton
gruesomely in the harbor of Torone.
Michael R. Burch, after Phaedimus

Once sweetest of the workfellows,
our shy teller of tall tales
—fleet Crethis!—who excelled
at every childhood game . . .
now you sleep among long shadows
where everyone’s the same . . .
Michael R. Burch, after Callimachus

Although I had to leave the sweet sun,
only nineteen—Diogenes, hail!—
beneath the earth, let’s have lots more fun:
till human desire seems weak and pale.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Laments for Animals

Now his voice is prisoned in the silent pathways of the night:
his owner’s faithful Maltese . . .
but will he still bark again, on sight?
Michael R. Burch, after Tymnes

Poor partridge, poor partridge, lately migrated from the rocks;
our cat bit off your unlucky head; my offended heart still balks!
I put you back together again and buried you, so unsightly!
May the dark earth cover you heavily: heavily, not lightly . . .
so she shan’t get at you again!
Michael R. Burch, after Agathias

Hunter partridge,
we no longer hear your echoing cry
along the forest's dappled feeding ground
where, in times gone by,
you would decoy speckled kinsfolk to their doom,
luring them on,
for now you too have gone
down the dark path to Acheron.
Michael R. Burch, after Simmias

Wert thou, O Artemis,
overbusy with thy beast-slaying hounds
when the Beast embraced me?
Michael R. Burch, after Diodorus of Sardis

Dead as you are, though you lie as
still as cold stone, huntress Lycas,
my great Thessalonian hound,
the wild beasts still fear your white bones;
craggy Pelion remembers your valor,
splendid Ossa, the way you would bound
and bay at the moon for its whiteness
as below we heard valleys resound.
And how brightly with joy you would leap and run
the strange lonely peaks of high Cithaeron!
Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

Laments for Fallen Warriors, Part II

Though they were steadfast among spears, dark Fate destroyed them
as they defended their native land, rich in sheep;
now Ossa’s dust seems all the more woeful, where they now sleep.
Michael R. Burch, after Aeschylus

Aeschylus, graybeard, son of Euphorion,
died far away in wheat-bearing Gela;
still, the groves of Marathon may murmur of his valor
and the black-haired Mede, with his mournful clarion.
Michael R. Burch, after Aeschylus

The Sea Knows I'm Buried, Part III

Not Rocky Trachis,
nor the thirsty herbage of Dryophis,
nor this albescent stone
with its dark blue lettering shielding your white bones,
nor the wild Icarian sea dashing against the steep shingles
of Doliche and Dracanon,
nor the empty earth,
nor anything essential of me since birth,
nor anything now mingles
here with the perplexing absence of you,
with what death forces us to abandon . . .
Michael R. Burch, after Euphorion

We who left the thunderous surge of the Aegean
of old, now lie here on the mid-plain of Ecbatan:
farewell, dear Athens, nigh to Euboea,
farewell, dear sea!
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

My friend found me here,
a shipwrecked corpse on the beach.
He heaped these strange boulders above me.
Oh, how he would wail
that he “loved” me,
with many bright tears for his own calamitous life!
Now he sleeps with my wife
and flits like a gull in a gale
—beyond reach—
while my broken bones bleach.
Michael R. Burch, after Callimachus

Cloud-capped Geraneia, cruel mountain!
If only you had looked no further than Ister and Scythian
Tanais, had not aided the surge of the Scironian
sea’s wild-spurting fountain
filling the dark ravines of snowy Meluriad!
But now he is dead:
a chill corpse in a chillier ocean—moon led—
and only an empty tomb now speaks of the long, windy voyage ahead.
Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

Epigrams on Life

You begrudge men your virginity?
Why? To what purpose?
You will find no one to embrace you in the grave.
The joys of love are for the living.
But in Acheron, dear virgin, we shall all lie dust and ashes.
Michael R. Burch, after Asclepiades of Samos

Let me live with joy today, since tomorrow is unforeseeable.
Michael R. Burch, after Palladas of Alexandria

Anacreon Epigrams

Yes, bring me Homer’s lyre, no doubt,
but first yank the bloodstained strings out!
—Anacreon, translation by Michael R. Burch

Here we find Anacreon,
an elderly lover of boys and wine.
His harp still sings in lonely Acheron
as he thinks of the lads he left behind ...
—Anacreon or the Anacreontea, translation by Michael R. Burch

Plato Epigrams

These epitaphs and other epigrams have been ascribed to Plato ...

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
But go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

We left the thunderous Aegean
to sleep peacefully here on the plains of Ecbatan.
Farewell, renowned Eretria, our homeland!
Farewell, Athens, Euboea's neighbor!
Farewell, dear Sea!
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

We who navigated the Aegean’s thunderous storm-surge
now sleep peacefully here on the mid-plains of Ecbatan:
Farewell, renowned Eretria, our homeland!
Farewell, Athens, nigh to Euboea!
Farewell, dear Sea!
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

This poet was pleasing to foreigners
and even more delightful to his countrymen:
Pindar, beloved of the melodious Muses.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Some say the Muses are nine.
Foolish critics, count again!
Sappho of Lesbos makes ten.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Even as you once shone, the Star of Morning, vastly above our heads,
even so you now shine, the Star of Evening, eclipsing the dead.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Why do you gaze up at the stars?
Oh, my Star, that I were Heaven,
to gaze at you with many eyes!
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Every heart sings an incomplete song,
until another heart sings along.
Those who would love long to join in the chorus.
At a lover’s touch, everyone becomes a poet.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

The Apple
ascribed to Plato
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Here’s an apple; if you’re able to love me,
catch it and chuck me your cherry in exchange.
But if you hesitate, as I hope you won’t,
take the apple, examine it carefully,
and consider how briefly its beauty will last.

Ibykos/Ibycus Epigrams

Ibycus has been called the most love-mad of poets.

Euryalus, born of the blue-eyed Graces,
scion of the bright-tressed Seasons,
son of the Cyprian,
whom dew-lidded Persuasion birthed among rose-blossoms.
—Ibykos/Ibycus (circa 540 BC), loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Ibykos/Ibycus Fragment 286, circa 564 B.C.
this poem has been titled "The Influence of Spring"
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Come spring, the grand
apple trees stand
watered by a gushing river
where the maidens’ uncut flowers shiver
and the blossoming grape vine swells
in the gathering shadows.

for me
Eros never rests
but like a Thracian tempest
ablaze with lightning
emanates from Aphrodite;

the results are frightening—
violently jolting me from my soles
to my soul.

Originally published by The Chained Muse

Ibykos/Ibycus Fragment 282, circa 540 B.C.
Ibykos fragment 282, Oxyrhynchus papyrus, lines 1-32
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

... They also destroyed the glorious city of Priam, son of Dardanus,
after leaving Argos due to the devices of death-dealing Zeus,
encountering much-sung strife over the striking beauty of auburn-haired Helen,
waging woeful war when destruction rained down on longsuffering Pergamum
thanks to the machinations of golden-haired Aphrodite ...

But now it is not my intention to sing of Paris, the host-deceiver,
nor of slender-ankled Cassandra,
nor of Priam’s other children,
nor of the nameless day of the downfall of high-towered Troy,
nor even of the valour of the heroes who hid in the hollow, many-bolted horse ...

Such was the destruction of Troy.

They were heroic men and Agamemnon was their king,
a king from Pleisthenes,
a son of Atreus, son of a noble father.

The all-wise Muses of Helicon
might recount such tales accurately,
but no mortal man, unblessed,
could ever number those innumerable ships
Menelaus led across the Aegean from Aulos ...

"From Argos they came, the bronze-speared sons of the Achaeans ..."

Original Greek text:

οἳ κ]αὶ Δαρδανίδα Πριάμοιο μέ-
γ’ ἄσ]τυ περικλεὲς ὄλβιον ἠνάρον
῎Αργ]οθεν ὀρνυμένοι
Ζη]νὸς μεγάλοιο βουλαῖς
ξα]νθᾶς ῾Ελένας περὶ εἴδει
δῆ]ριν πολύυμνον ἔχ[ο]ντες
πό]λεμον κατὰ δακρ[υό]εντα,
Πέρ]γαμον δ’ ἀνέ[β]α ταλαπείριο[ν ἄ]τα
χρυ]σοέθειραν δ[ι]ὰ Κύπριδα.
νῦ]ν δέ μοι οὔτε ξειναπάταν Π[άρι]ν
..] ἐπιθύμιον οὔτε τανί[σφ]υρ[ον
ὑμ]νῆν Κασσάνδραν
Πρι]άμοιό τε παίδας ἄλλου[ς
Τρο]ίας θ’ ὑψιπύλοιο ἁλώσι[μο]ν
ἆμ]αρ ἀνώνυμον· οὐδεπ̣[
ἡρ]ώων ἀρετὰν
ὑπ]εράφανον οὕς τε κοίλα[ι
νᾶες] πολυγόμφοι ἐλεύσα[ν
Τροί]αι κακόν, ἥρωας ἐσ̣θ̣[λούς·
τῶν] μὲν κρείων ᾿Αγαμέ[μνων
ἆ]ρχε Πλεισθ[ενί]δας βασιλ[εὺ]ς ἀγὸς ἀνδρῶν
᾿Ατρέος ἐσ[θλοῦ] πάις ἐκ π̣[ατρό]ς·
καὶ τὰ μὲ[ν ἂν] Μοίσαι σεσοφ[ισμ]έναι
εὖ ῾Ελικωνίδ[ες] ἐμβαίεν λογ̣[ ·
θνατὸς δ’ οὔ κ[ε]ν ἀνὴρ
διερὸ[ς] τὰ ἕκαστα εἴποι
ναῶν ὡ[ς Μεν]έλαος ἀπ’ Αὐλίδος
Αἰγαῖον δ[ιὰ πό]ντον ἀπ’ ῎Αργεος
ἠλύθο̣[ν …..]ν
ἱπποτρόφο[ν …]ε φώτες
χ]αλκάσπ[ιδες υἷ]ες ᾿Αχα[ι]ῶν

Erinna Epigrams

This portrait is the work of sensitive, artistic hands.
See, noble Prometheus, you have human equals!
For if whoever painted this girl had only added a voice,
she would have been Agatharkhis entirely.
—Erinna, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Erinna is generally considered to be second only to Sappho as an ancient Greek female poet. Little is known about her life; Erinna has been called a contemporary of Sappho and her most gifted student, but she may have lived up to a few hundred years later. This poem, about a portrait of a girl or young woman named Agatharkhis, has been called the earliest Greek ekphrastic epigram (an epigram describing a work of art).

Passing by, passing by my oft-bewailed pillar,
shudder, my new friend to hear my tragic story:
of how my pyre was lit by the same fiery torch
meant to lead the procession to my nuptials in glory!
O Hymenaeus, why did you did change
my bridal song to a dirge? Strange!
—Erinna, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You, my tall Columns, and you, my small Urn,
the receptacle of Hades’ tiny pittance of ash—
remember me to those who pass by
my grave, as they dash.
Tell them my story, as sad as it is:
that this grave sealed a young bride’s womb;
that my name was Baucis and Telos my land;
and that Erinna, my friend, etched this poem on my Tomb.
—Erinna, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Translator’s note: Baucis is also spelled Baukis. Erinna has been attributed to different locations, including Lesbos, Rhodes, Teos, Telos and Tenos. Telos seems the most likely because of her Dorian dialect. Erinna wrote in a mixture of Aeolic and Doric Greek. In 1928, Italian archaeologists excavating at Oxyrhynchus discovered a tattered piece of papyrus which contained 54 lines Erinna’s lost epic, the poem “Distaff.” This work, like the epigram above, was also about her friend Baucis.

Excerpts from “Distaff”
by Erinna
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

… the moon rising …
… leaves falling …
… waves lapping a windswept shore …

… and our childish games, Baucis, do you remember? ...

... Leaping from white horses,
running on reckless feet through the great courtyard.
“You’re it!’ I cried, ‘You’re the Tortoise now!”
But when your turn came to pursue your pursuers,
you darted beyond the courtyard,
dashed out deep into the waves,
splashing far beyond us …

… My poor Baucis, these tears I now weep are your warm memorial,
these traces of embers still smoldering in my heart
for our silly amusements, now that you lie ash …

… Do you remember how, as girls,
we played at weddings with our dolls,
pretending to be brides in our innocent beds? ...

... How sometimes I was your mother,
allotting wool to the weaver-women,
calling for you to unreel the thread? ...

… Do you remember our terror of the monster Mormo
with her huge ears, her forever-flapping tongue,
her four slithering feet, her shape-shifting face? ...

... Until you mother called for us to help with the salted meat ...

... But when you mounted your husband’s bed,
dearest Baucis, you forgot your mothers’ warnings!
Aphrodite made your heart forgetful ...

... Desire becomes oblivion ...

... Now I lament your loss, my dearest friend.
I can’t bear to think of that dark crypt.
I can’t bring myself to leave the house.
I refuse to profane your corpse with my tearless eyes.
I refuse to cut my hair, but how can I mourn with my hair unbound?
I blush with shame at the thought of you! …

... But in this dark house, O my dearest Baucis,
My deep grief is ripping me apart.
Wretched Erinna! Only nineteen,
I moan like an ancient crone, eying this strange distaff ...

O Hymen! . . . O Hymenaeus! . . .
Alas, my poor Baucis!

On a Betrothed Girl
by Erinna
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I sing of Baucis the bride.
Observing her tear-stained crypt
say this to Death who dwells underground:
"Thou art envious, O Death!"

Her vivid monument tells passers-by
of the bitter misfortune of Baucis —
how her father-in-law burned the poor girl on a pyre
lit by bright torches meant to light her marriage train home.
While thou, O Hymenaeus, transformed her harmonious bridal song into a chorus of wailing dirges.

Hymen! O Hymenaeus!

Sappho Epigrams

Sappho, fragment 155
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A short revealing frock?
It's just my luck
your lips were made to mock!

(Pollux wrote: "Sappho used the word beudos [Βεῦδοσ] for a woman's dress, a kimbericon, a kind of short transparent frock.")

Sappho, fragment 156
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

She keeps her scents
in a dressing-case.
And her sense?
In some undiscoverable place.

(Phrynichus wrote: "Sappho calls a woman's dressing-case, where she keeps her scents and such things, grutê [γρύτη].")

Sappho, fragment 47
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Eros harrows my heart:
wild winds whipping desolate mountains,
uprooting oaks.

The poem above is my favorite Sappho epigram. The metaphor of Eros (sexual desire) harrowing mountain slopes, leveling oaks and leaving them desolate, is really something―truly powerful and evocative. According to Edwin Marion Cox, this Sapphic epigram was "Quoted by Maximus Tyrius about 150 B.C. He speaks of Socrates exciting Phaedus to madness, when he speaks of love."

You can find a large collection of my Sappho translations by clicking her hyperlinked name.

Antipater Epigrams

Mnemosyne was stunned into astonishment when she heard honey-tongued Sappho,
wondering how mortal men merited a tenth Muse.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

O Aeolian land, you lightly cover Sappho,
the mortal Muse who joined the Immortals,
whom Cypris and Eros fostered,
with whom Peitho wove undying wreaths,
who was the joy of Hellas and your glory.
O Fates who twine the spindle's triple thread,
why did you not spin undying life
for the singer whose deathless gifts
enchanted the Muses of Helicon?
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Here, O stranger, the sea-crashed earth covers Homer,
herald of heroes' valour,
spokesman of the Olympians,
second sun to the Greeks,
light of the immortal Muses,
the Voice that never diminishes.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This herald of heroes,
this interpreter of the Immortals,
this second sun shedding light on the life of Greece,
the delight of the Muses,
the ageless voice of the world,
lies dead, O stranger,
washed away with the sea-washed sand ...
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

As high as the trumpet's cry exceeds the thin flute's,
so high above all others your lyre rang;
so much the sweeter your honey than the waxen-celled swarm's.
O Pindar, with your tender lips witness how the horned god Pan
forgot his pastoral reeds when he sang your hymns.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Here lies Pindar, the Pierian trumpet,
the heavy-smiting smith of well-stuck hymns.
Hearing his melodies, one might believe
the immortal Muses possessed bees
to produce heavenly harmonies in the bridal chamber of Cadmus.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Harmonia, the goddess of Harmony, was the bride of Cadmus, so his bridal chamber would have been full of pleasant sounds.

Praise the well-wrought verses of tireless Antimachus,
a man worthy of the majesty of ancient demigods,
whose words were forged on the Muses' anvils.
If you are gifted with a keen ear,
if you aspire to weighty words,
if you would pursue a path less traveled,
if Homer holds the scepter of song,
and yet Zeus is greater than Poseidon,
even so Poseidon his inferior exceeds all other Immortals;
and even so the Colophonian bows before Homer,
but exceeds all other singers.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I, the trumpet that once blew the bloody battle-notes
and the sweet truce-tunes, now hang here, Pherenicus,
your gift to Athena, quieted from my clamorous music.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Behold Anacreon's tomb;
here the Teian swan sleeps with the unmitigated madness of his love for lads.
Still he sings songs of longing on the lyre of Bathyllus
and the albescent marble is perfumed with ivy.
Death has not quenched his desire
and the house of Acheron still burns with the fevers of Cypris.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

May the four-clustered clover, Anacreon,
grow here by your grave,
ringed by the tender petals of the purple meadow-flowers,
and may fountains of white milk bubble up,
and the sweet-scented wine gush forth from the earth,
so that your ashes and bones may experience joy,
if indeed the dead know any delight.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Stranger passing by the simple tomb of Anacreon,
if you found any profit in my books,
please pour drops of your libation on my ashes,
so that my bones, refreshed by wine, may rejoice
that I, who so delighted in the boisterous revels of Dionysus,
and who played such manic music, as wine-drinkers do,
even in death may not travel without Bacchus
in my sojourn to that land to which all men must come.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Anacreon, glory of Ionia,
even in the land of the lost may you never be without your beloved revels,
or your well-loved lyre,
and may you still sing with glistening eyes,
shaking the braided flowers from your hair,
turning always towards Eurypyle, Megisteus, or the locks of Thracian Smerdies,
sipping sweet wine,
your robes drenched with the juices of grapes,
wringing intoxicating nectar from its folds ...
For all your life, old friend, was poured out as an offering to these three:
the Muses, Bacchus, and Love.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Smerdies, also mentioned by the poet Simonides, was a Thracian boy loved by Anacreon. Simonides also mentioned Megisteus. Eurypyle was a girl also mentioned by the poet Dioscorides. So these seem to be names associated with Anacreon. The reference to "locks" apparently has to do with Smerdies having his hair cut by Anacreon's rival for his affections, in a jealous rage.

You sleep amid the dead, Anacreon,
your day-labor done,
your well-loved lyre's sweet tongue silenced
that once sang incessantly all night long.
And Smerdies also sleeps,
the spring-tide of your loves,
for whom, tuning and turning you lyre,
you made music like sweetest nectar.
For you were Love's bullseye,
the lover of lads,
and he had the bow and the subtle archer's craft
to never miss his target.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Erinna's verses were few, nor were her songs overlong,
but her smallest works were inspired.
Therefore she cannot fail to be remembered
and is never lost beneath the shadowy wings of bleak night.
While we, the estranged, the innumerable throngs of tardy singers,
lie in pale corpse-heaps wasting into oblivion.
The moaned song of the lone swan outdoes the cawings of countless jackdaws
echoing far and wide through darkening clouds.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Who hung these glittering shields here,
these unstained spears and unruptured helmets,
dedicating to murderous Ares ornaments of no value?
Will no one cast these virginal weapons out of my armory?
Their proper place is in the peaceful halls of placid men,
not within the wild walls of Enyalius.
I delight in hacked heads and the blood of dying berserkers,
if, indeed, I am Ares the Destroyer.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

May good Fortune, O stranger, keep you on course all your life before a fair breeze!
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Docile doves may coo for cowards,
but we delight in dauntless men.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Here by the threshing-room floor,
little ant, you relentless toiler,
I built you a mound of liquid-absorbing earth,
so that even in death you may partake of the droughts of Demeter,
as you lie in the grave my plough burrowed.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

This is your mother’s lament, Artemidorus,
weeping over your tomb,
bewailing your twelve brief years:
"All the fruit of my labor has gone up in smoke,
all your heartbroken father's endeavors are ash,
all your childish passion an extinguished flame.
For you have entered the land of the lost,
from which there is no return, never a home-coming.
You failed to reach your prime, my darling,
and now we have nothing but your headstone and dumb dust."
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Everywhere the sea is the sea, the dead are the dead.
What difference to me—where I rest my head?
The sea knows I’m buried.
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Everywhere the Sea is the Sea
by Antipater of Sidon
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Everywhere the Sea is the same;
why then do we idly blame
the Cyclades
or the harrowing waves of narrow Helle?

To protest is vain!

Justly, they have earned their fame.

Why then,
after I had escaped them,
did the harbor of Scarphe engulf me?

I advise whoever finds a fair passage home:
accept that the sea's way is its own.

Man is foam.

Aristagoras knows who's buried here.

Orpheus, mute your bewitching strains
by Antipater of Sidon
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Orpheus, mute your bewitching strains;
Leave beasts to wander stony plains;
No longer sing fierce winds to sleep,
Nor seek to enchant the tumultuous deep;
For you are dead; each Muse, forlorn,
Strums anguished strings as your mother mourns.
Mind, mere mortals, mind—no use to moan,
When even a Goddess could not save her own!

Orpheus, now you will never again enchant
by Antipater of Sidon
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Orpheus, now you will never again enchant the charmed oaks,
never again mesmerize shepherdless herds of wild beasts,
never again lull the roaring winds,
never again tame the tumultuous hail
nor the sweeping snowstorms
nor the crashing sea,
for you have perished
and the daughters of Mnemosyne weep for you,
and your mother Calliope above all.
Why do mortals mourn their dead sons,
when not even the gods can protect their children from Hades?
—Antipater of Sidon, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The High Road to Death
by Antipater of Sidon
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Men skilled in the stars call me brief-lifed;
I am, but what do I care, O Seleucus?
All men descend to Hades
and if our demise comes quicker,
the sooner we shall we look on Minos.
Let us drink then, for surely wine is a steed for the high-road,
when pedestrians march sadly to Death.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
by Antipater of Sidon
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I have set my eyes upon
the lofty walls of Babylon
with its elevated road for chariots

... and upon the statue of Zeus
by the Alpheus ...

... and upon the hanging gardens ...

... upon the Colossus of the Sun ...

... upon the massive edifices
of the towering pyramids ...

... even upon the vast tomb of Mausolus ...

but when I saw the mansion of Artemis
disappearing into the cirri,
those other marvels lost their brilliancy
and I said, "Setting aside Olympus,
the Sun never shone on anything so fabulous!"

Ancient Roman Epigrams

Wall, I'm astonished that you haven't collapsed,
since you're holding up verses so prolapsed!
—Ancient Roman graffiti, translation by Michael R. Burch

Modern Epigrams Influenced by Ancient Greek and Roman Epigrams

Grave Oversight I
by Michael R. Burch

The dead are always with us,
and yet they are naught!

Grave Oversight II
by Michael R. Burch

for Jim Dunlap, who winked and suggested “not”

The dead are either naught
or naughty, being so sought.

An Ancient Akkadian Hymn

Hurrian Hymn No. 6
ancient Akkadian hymn
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

"Hurrian Hymn No. 6" was discovered in the ruins of Ugarit, near the modern town of Ras Shamra in Syria. It is the oldest surviving substantially complete work of notated music, dating to around 1400 BCE. The hymn is addressed to the goddess Nikkal (aka Ningal), the wife of the moon god Sin in ancient Mesopotamian mythology. "Hurrian Hymn No. 6" is one of 36 ancient Akkadian hymns called the "Hurrian Hymns" that were preserved in cuneiform, although the rest of the hymns are not as well-preserved.

Having endeared myself to the Deity, she will embrace me.
May this offering of bread I bring wholly cover my sins.
May the sesame oil purify me as I bow low before your divine throne in awe.
Nikkal will make the sterile fertile, cause the barren to be fruitful:
They will bring forth children like grain.
The wife will bear her husband’s children.
May she who has not yet borne children now conceive them!

For those who receive my offerings,
I place two loaves in their bowls as I perform the rites.

The couple have raised sacrifices to the heavens for their health and good fortune!

I have placed the loaves before your Divine Throne.

I will purify their sins, without denying them.

I will bring the lovers to you, that you may find them agreeable, for you love those who come forward to be reconciled.

I have brought their sins before you, to be removed through the reconciliation ritual.

I will honor you at your footstool.

Nikkal will strengthen them.
She allows married couples have children.
She allows children to be conceived by their fathers.

But the unreconciled will weep: "Why have I not yet born my husband children?"

Related Pages: The Best Occasional Poems of All Time

The following are links to other translations by Michael R. Burch:

Ancient Greek Epigrams and Epitaphs
Poems about EROS and CUPID
Antipater of Sidon
The Seafarer
Wulf and Eadwacer
The Love Song of Shu-Sin: The Earth's Oldest Love Poem?
Sweet Rose of Virtue
How Long the Night
Caedmon's Hymn
Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings
Bede's Death Song
The Wife's Lament
Deor's Lament
Lament for the Makaris
Tegner's Drapa
Alexander Pushkin's tender, touching poem "I Love You" has been translated into English by Michael R. Burch.
Whoso List to Hunt
Oriental Masters/Haiku
Miklós Radnóti
Rainer Maria Rilke
Marina Tsvetaeva
Renée Vivien
Ono no Komachi
Allama Iqbal
Bertolt Brecht
Ber Horvitz
Paul Celan
Primo Levi
Ahmad Faraz
Sandor Marai
Wladyslaw Szlengel
Saul Tchernichovsky
Robert Burns: Original Poems and Translations
The Seventh Romantic: Robert Burns
Free Love Poems by Michael R. Burch

The HyperTexts