A little ‘Palladas of Alexandria’ Sampler
‘Contemplating Alexandria by night’,
a still from the movie Agora.
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, is a little sampler of epigrams by Palladas of Alexandria. Our Via-HYGEIA English translation derives from Marie-Louis-Jean-André-Charles de Martin du Tyrac – Comte de Marcellus’ 1851 publication,’Episodes littéraires en Orient’, volume II, in which he edits together all Palladas’ known epigrams, rescuing them from their long exile, scattered all throughout the five volumes of the ‘Greek Anthology’.
A little introduction
Palladas (Greek: Παλλαδᾶς; fl. 4th century AD) was a Greek poet, born in Chalcis, Euboea, who lived in Alexandria, Egypt; he was a doctor and professor of grammar. All that is known about this poet has been deduced from his 151 epigrams preserved in the Greek Anthology (Anthologia graeca). Often compared with the Roman epigrammatist, Martial, due to his witty, tongue-in-cheek and (slightly) sarcastic tone denouncing the hypocrisy, stupidity and ignorance of his time, he observed, disenchanted, his city, Alexandria, under an overwhelming Christian rule with recurring riots and ethnic pogroms, choosing, as a last stand, to remain loyal to his disappearing Hellenic roots with the bitter feeling to have overlived his time.
“Palladas is still, if I am not mistaken, among all the epigrammatists of all times and all nations, the most chaste and the most reserved; and that is no small merit, considering in what age of corruption of every kind he was born. We will at least agree that in this respect he has no great difficulty in winning over Martial. Finally, you have undoubtedly experienced it yourself, when, in this heap of verses that are always instructive, but very often, despite their nature, tedious and monotonous, you arrive, following them in their confused order, if I dare say so, and their material classification, at an epigram of Palladas, you stop with joy to applaud your stubbornness, to catch your breath, and above all to enjoy this style so elegant, this thought so lucid, which elevates Palladas, the misunderstood doctor, the poor grammarian, the forgotten poet, above all the rivals given to him by our voluminous Greek Anthology.” A Greek friend of Count Marcellus about his edition of Palladas’ epigrams.
Divine scissors, blessed scissors consecrated by Pamphylia, after she cut the braids of her hair! It was not a mortal hand that created you; But grace itself, the goddess Charis-with the radiant veil-so to speak like Homer-who with her own hands forged you at Hephaistos’ forge with a golden hammer.
Instead of a ox or offerings of gold, Pamphylia vowed to Isis her beautiful hair; present far more pleasant to the goddess than the riches offered to Apollo by Croesus, king of Lydia.
A statue of Eros
This Eros is nude; this is why he looks so soft, as he is without neither his arc, nor his burning arrows. If in one hand he holds a dolphin and in the other a flower, it is because with one he rules the sea and with the other, he rules the earth.
A Statue of Nike
I stand here as a gracious maiden, crowning the city leading by its virtue. Real friends of the country represented me, in such auspicious features, to embody Victory.
For the Bust of Magnus the physician
When Magnus the physician treaded on the dark edges, Hades shouted: “Is he coming to bring back the dead?”
‘The sun shines less than you thought; it radiates a temperate light yielding to the eyes of men; and it darts afar a light always soft, agreeable, with long lasting effects.’
The unknown future
Between the cup and the lips, many things exist.
The comforting wine
How was I born? From where did I come from? Why? Towards where will I depart? And how to learn this, I who know nothing? I was void; I will become void again. Void and nothing, here’s the man. Pour me some of this liquor worthy of Bacchus, my female leisure friend: there is no stronger remedy to the evils of life.
Drink and rejoice! What will we have tomorrow and then? Nobody knows. Don’t run or work; give if you can; keep a jolly mood; eat, and ponder that everything withers. To live or not, does it matter? Life is a seesaw. You own everything if you live; if you dye, you got nothing, and everything goes to others.
As the bride was abducted, Fate also took the wedding away, slaughtering a group of guests in the middle of their celebration. A bridal chamber became a common coffin. Penthesilea, Pentheus, unfortunate betrothed! Your union brought death only.
Note by Comte Marcellus: These verses remind me of a verse by Sapho: “For her, Hades’ dark dwelling became her bridal chamber.”
The grammar teacher
The beginning of grammar is a curse in five verses: In the first, I find anger; in the second a baneful atmosphere; after this come the many suffering of the Hellenes. The third leads the soul into the Tartarus; the fourth talks about a dog’s prey; the fifth, of voracious birds and Zeus’s ire. How does a Grammarian, in the middle of these five nefarious omens, not wither away?
Note: they are the 5 first verse of Homer’s Iliad: ” The wrath sing, goddess, of Peleus’ son, Achilles, that destructive wrath which brought countless woes upon the Achaeans, and sent forth to Hades many valiant souls of heroes, and made them themselves spoil for dogs and every bird; thus the plan of Zeus came to fulfillment, § 1.5 from the time when first they parted in strife Atreus’ son, king of men, and brilliant Achilles. Who then of the gods was it that brought these two together to contend? The son of Leto and Zeus; for he in anger against the king roused throughout the host an evil pestilence, and the people began to perish…“
I am selling my scrolls of Callimachus, Pindar and even my worn grammar treatise, withering myself towards poverty; Dorothea took away my teacher’s pension, so, consequently, I have nothing to eat or drink. My good Theophilus don’t let me die from misery’s consumption!
Notes: Dorothea was probably a courtesan. Theophilus the first, was the 23rd Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Seat of Saint Mark. He became pope at an escalating and volatile time of conflict between the newly dominant Christians and the pagan establishment in Alexandria, each of which was supported by a segment of the Alexandrian populace. Non-Christian teachers were lead towards unemployment and Greek Paideia was slowly ‘Christianized’ to finally being replaced by textbooks aligned with the new Christian faith.
To a pharmacist
I need some Conditos. From where does this potion’s name come from, as it is so alien to the Greek language? If it’s from Rome, you should know, as you are emblematically Roman. Prepare me some anyway; for the stomach aches I am plagued with, it is said to be an excellent remedy.
Note: A Conditos was a potion blending wine, honey and pepper. Originally, it was an aged wine that was taken for stomach aches. The formula evolved in time.
A physician prescription
It is not without reason that I attribute to the croton seed a quasi divine virtue: Yesterday, I administered it to a patient who had a quartan fever for more than a year; and after that he felt as strong as the croton plant itself!
Note: Paladas was a physician too. The croton was used for treating severe constipation or heal lesions, and was used as a purgative. Currently, it is considered unsafe and it is no longer listed in the pharmacopeias of many countries. Quartan fever is a sort of malaria. Castor Oil has long been in use for the same usage.
Between ‘colax’ and ‘corax’ there is only the difference of a letter. Hence the crow and the voracious parasite are the same. Above all, my friend keep me from that bird; as you very well know that the flatterers are the crows of the humans.
Note: ‘ο κολακευτής και το κοράκι’, the flatterer and the crow.
The ruins of the temple of Fortune (τύχη, týchi, Tyche)
Obviously everything goes backwards, as we now witness how unfortunate Fortune has become.
The gambling poet.
Calliope is the goddess of poets, while your Calliope, is called Tablaiope.
Note: Tabla means gamble table; it is a Grecized Latin word word. Palladas through this word play makes Calliope become the goddess of gambling.
To a woman
If I want to spend a beautiful day, I just needs to meet with you; and if I want to bear the opposite, I only have to avoid you and then it is a bad day!
I was naked when i came to earth; I will be naked when I go back into the underworld. Why all these vain efforts, when the end of all things must without fail strip me naked?
Life is a stage and a game: Learn how to play, and study your chances; otherwise, know how to bare your misfortune.
Life is a dangerous navigation: at the mercy of storms, we drift uncertain like the sea, with only our good fortune as our pilot; and we are often more pitiful than the sailors. They can, unlike us, enjoy a pleasant crossing and repeat it; but for us, only one haven is awaiting us-and all of us-and it is underground.
The Hellenes, also called Ghosts
Is it not true, Hellenes, that in this deep night, as everything sinks into the abyss, we only appear to live, imagining that life is a pure dream? Poor Hellenes, plagued with all evils: Our existence is nothing but a nightmare; and if we are alive, it is a dead life.
We are raised and fed for death, alike these herds of swine to be soon violently slaughtered.
A brass statue of Eros
From a brass statue of Eros they made a cooking pan. Why not? Is it not Love’s turn to be burned?
Of the immortality of the soul
The body, hell, destiny, the weight of necessity, injustice inflicted by our own neighbors, the torment of pains: these are the suffering of the soul here on earth; but, as soon as it escapes its material envelop and the chains of death, it flies towards the bosom of the eternal god.
The plight of Hellas
The great evil of envy has assaulted god’s favorite! You fools! It has mislead our thoughts, and by its folly meticulously has prepared us for slavery! Hellenes, how unfortunate are we, ashes and dust! Our hopes have vanished or are dead, and everything will never be the same.
A limping blacksmith
You have Eros as a son and Aphrodite for wife: My Hephaestian blacksmith, isn’t it obvious why you get a lame foot?
I don’t think, as Homer would say it, that Circe metamorphosed into wolves and swine men coming to her. She was an expensive courtesan, and would ruin those that she attracted in her skillful nets. She made them loose their heads; and when they would have nothing left, she would feed them, corralled like savage beasts. Wise Odysseus, to escape this threat, did not have to be saved by Hermes and the flower Moly. Reason, alone, in its own nature was enough; and it was the best antidote against seduction and magic.
Silence is a marvelous institution; I take as a witness wise Pythagoras. Skilled in speech, he taught others to be quiet, and made silence the adjunct of rest.
About his work as a grammarian
After so many years devoted to grammar, conversing with students and friends in the quietness of books and in the presence of the dead they recall. I tried with passion to spread the awe of ancient lore to a despiteful time. I will soon walk down to the Underworld with the title of senator of the dead.
At the Serapeum’s grammar school
It is here that at the despised Serapeum that grammarians teach by starting with poisonous anger (the opening lines of Homer’s ‘Iliad’). It is here that every nanny nowadays brings nervously our monthly salary in an attached paper, like misery to the books of every pupil. It is here that surreptitiously she places a bit of frankincense at the feet of the statue of Serapis, like she would throw a coin into a mausoleum and runs away, afraid of being seen.
I have been surprised to see that at our cross-roads, statues of Herakles have been toppled and lie, abandoned, on the dust the walkways; and I said to him, out of compassion: ‘Conqueror of scourges! Thee who used three nights to be born, invincible hero, how come have you been overthrown?’-At night, the god appeared to me, and answered, smiling: “Even though I am a god, I am nevertheless the slave of time and fashion.”
Vanity of science
From where does this pretention to measure the world and its length come to you, as your body was just formed with a bit of earth? Know your self first! measure your self, then you can cope with large expanses. If you cannot give a correct account of the small pile of mud you were formed with, how would you understand the measure of infinity?
Against bearded philosophers
If a long beard is the distinctive sign of philosophy, then a goat can rival Plato.
Against the recluse philosophers
If they are recluse, why are they so many? And if they are so many how can they be recluse? This multitude of recluse does break solitude.
I look at you and kneel in reverence, and on your writings, when I see the sign of Virgo entering her starry House: For your work touches heaven, HYPATIA, your sacred ornament to literature, pure shining star of teaching that is wise.
by the Comte de Marcellus
A worthy translation and selection
of the Greek Anthology
by Gideon Nisbet