My dear fellow piglets, this final episode of ‘Bilitis’ details the final decline and demise of the now-aging courtesan… It is also my ‘farewell’ to you all, as I intend to take a long break from the pub. I have a strange intuition that somehow or other I am responsible for the recent sudden mass exodus of piglets which seems to have left the front bar so bereft of clientele. If this is indeed the case, then I can only assume that I must have said or done something pretty bad to offend someone or other, and for this offense, whatever it is, I do most sincerely apologize. I only hope that my prolonged absence may eventually prompt their return…
Anyway, I hope you all enjoy this final piece, as I quote the words of Scott of the Antarctic, “I’m going outside now… I might be gone for some time…” (Asty)
BILITIS: Elegies at Mytilene, (part 2)
131 – THE JUGGLER
When the first dawn mingled with the
weakening glimmer of the torches, I introduced to
the orgy a flute player, defective and nimble [?vicieuse et agile? contradictory!]
who trembled a bit, being cold.
Hire the little girl with the blue eyelids,
with short hair, with pointy breasts, clothed
only in a girdle, from which hung some
yellow ribbons and some stalks of black irises.
Hire her! Because she was clever and did some
difficult turns. She juggled with some
hoops, without breaking anything in the room, and
slid across it like a grasshopper.
Occasionally she performed cartwheels [‘… faisait la roué sur les mains et sur les pieds’] Or with two arms in
the air and her knees apart she bent herself
backwards and touched the earth, laughing.
132 — THE FLOWER DANCE
Anthis, the dancer from Lydia, has seven veils
around her. She unrolls the yellow veil,
her black hair spills out. The pink veil
slides from her mouth. The white veil falls
letting us see her naked arms.
She releases her small breasts from the red veil
which she unravels. She drops the green veil from
her hips to her feet. She pulls the
blue veil from her shoulders, but she presses
on her modesty the last, transparent veil.
The young people beg her: she shakes her
head back. To the sound of flutes alone,
she tears it away just a little, then entirely, and,
with the gestures of the dance, she plucks
flowers from her body,
Singing, “Where are my roses, where are my
perfumed violets? Where are my sprigs of
parsley? – There are my roses, I give them to you.
There are my violets, do you want them? There is
my beautiful curly parsley.”
133 – SATYRA’S DANCE (not translated)
134 – MYDZOURIS CROWNED (not translated)
135 — VIOLENCE
No, you will not take me by force, it doesn’t
count, Lamprias. If you had heard said
that someone had violated Parthenis, you know
what that puts in her breast, because no-one enjoys us
without being invited.
Oh! Away from your betters, make some effort, it’s
missing. Meanwhile I protect myself from pain.
I shall not call for help. And I
shall not even struggle; but I move. Poor friend,
Continue. This little game amuses me. In the same proportion
that I am sure to vanquish you. One more unhappy
attempt, and perhaps you will be less
disposed to prove to me your extinct desires.
Tyrant, what are you doing! Dog! You’re breaking
my wrists! And this knee is disembowelling me!
Ah! Go, now, it is a beautiful victory,
to ravish a tearful young girl on the ground.
136 – SONG
The first gave me a necklace, a necklace of
pearls which was worth [?’…qui vaut…’] a town, with the palace and
the temples, and the treasures and the slaves.
The second made me some verses. He said
that my hair was black as the
night on the sea and my eyes were blue like
The third was so beautiful that his mother
could not kiss him without blushing. He put his
hand on my knees, and his lips on my
You, you have said nothing to me. You have given
me nothing, because you are poor. And you are not
beautiful, but it is you that I love.
137 – ADVICE TO A LOVER
If you wish to be loved by a woman, oh young
friend, such as she, don’t tell her that
you want her, but make her see you every
day, then disappear, so you can return.
If she addresses her words to you, be amorous
without being too earnest. She will come to you
by herself. Know then, to take her by force, the
day she intends to give herself to you.
When you receive her into your bed, forget
about your own pleasure. The hands of a woman
in love are trembling and without caresses.
Dispense with them to be zealous.
But you, take no rest. Prolong
your embraces until you lose your breath. Do not let
her sleep, even if she begs you. Always
kiss the part of her body towards which
she turns her eyes.
138 – FRIENDS AT DINNER
Myromeris and Maskhale, my friends, come with
me, because I have no lover this evening, and,
lying on beds of [?’byssos’], we
will chat over dinner.
A night of rest will do you good: you
will sleep in my bed, even without make-up and
un-coiffed. Put on a simple tunic of wool
and leave your jewels in their chest.
No-one will make you dance to admire your
legs and the heavy movements of your loins.
no-one will ask you for sacred symbols,
to judge if you are lovers.
And I have not commanded, for us, two
flute-players with beautiful mouths, but
two cooking-pots of peas, rissoles, some
honey-cakes, some fried croquettes and my last
wine-skin from Khios.
139 – TOMB OF A YOUNG COURTESAN
Here is housed the delicate body of Lydia, little
dove, the most joyous of all the
courtesans, who more than any other loved
orgies, her floating hair, the soft
dances and tunics of hyacinth.
More than any other she loved savoury [?’glottismes?]
kisses on the cheek, the games
which the lamp alone saw and love which broke
her limbs to pieces. And now, she is a
But before she was put in her tomb, she was
marvellously coiffed and laid
among roses; even the stone which covers her
is all impregnated with essences and perfumes.
Sacred earth, nurturer of all, welcome
gently the poor dead, let her sleep in
your arms oh Mother! And let grow all around
the stele, not nettles and brambles, but
delicate white violets.
140 – THE LITTLE ROSE-SELLER
“Yesterday,” Nais told me, “I was in the square,
when a little girl in red rags
passed, carrying roses, in front of a group of
young people. And here is what I heard:
“Buy something from me.” – “Explain yourself,
little one, because we don’t know what your are selling:
You? Your roses? Or both at once?” — “If
you buy all my flowers, you may have
the seller for nothing.”
“And how much do you want for your roses?” — “I must have
six obols for my mother or else I shall be beaten
like a dog.” – “Follow us. You shall have one
drachma.” – “Then shall I go and look for my little sister?”
“This child was not a courtesan, Bilitis,
nobody knew her. Truly is it not a
scandal… and shall we tolerate these girls
coming to dirty during the day the beds which
we rely upon during the evening?”
141 – THE DISPUTE
Ah! By Aphrodite, there you are! Bloodsucker!
Putrefaction! Stinker! Barren! Riff-raff [?‘carcan’?]!
Left-hander! Good-for-nothing! Sow!
Don’t try to run away from me, but come here…
And again closer still…
See me, this sailors’ woman, who
doesn’t even know how to pleat her robe over
her shoulder and who puts on such bad make-up that
the black from her eyelashes runs down her cheek
in rivers of ink.
You are Phoenician: sleep with those of
your own race. For me, my father was Greek:
I have a right over all those who wear the [?’petase’?].
and even over the others, If I so choose.
Don’t stop any more in my street, or I’ll send you
to Hades to make love with Charon, and I
shall say very justly, “May the earth rest
lightly upon you…”
So the dogs can dig you up!
142 – MELANCHOLY
I shiver; the night is cool, and the
forest all moist. Why have you brought me
here? Isn’t my big bed
sweeter than this moss strewn with stones?
My flowery dress will be stained with greenery
my hair will be tangled with twigs;
my neck, look at my neck,
how soiled it is already by the humid earth.
Of old however, I’d have followed into these
woods here… Ah! Leave me alone for little while.
I am sad, this evening. Leave me, without speaking,
hands over my eyes.
In truth, can you not wait! Are
we brute beasts to take each other
thus! Leave me alone. You shall not open my
knees nor my lips. My eyes even, from
fear of crying, are closed.
143 – LITTLE PHANION
Stranger, stop, look who has beckoned
you: it’s little Phanion from Kos, she
deserves that you choose her.
See, her hair is frizzy as parsley,
her skin is sweet as a bird’s down.
She is small and brown. She speaks well.
If you wish to follow her, she will not ask
for all the money from your voyage; no, but
one drachma or a pair of shoes.
You will find at her house a good bed, some fresh
figs, some milk, some wine, and, if it is
cold, there will be a fire.
144 – SIGNS
If you must have, passer-by who stops, slender
thighs and nervous loins, a hard
throat, knees which grip, go to the house of
Plango, she’s my friend.
If you’re looking for a laughing girl, with
exuberant breasts, of a delicate height, her crutch
fleshy and moist [‘grasse’], go to the corner
of this street, where lives Spidorrhodellis.
But if long tranquil hours in the
arms of a courtesan with sweet skin,
a warm belly and pleasantly scented hair
look for Milto, and you will be content.
Do not hope for much from love; but
profit from her experience. One can ask
all from a woman, when she is naked,
when it is night, and when the hundred drachmas
are on the mantel.
145 – THE SELLER OF WOMEN
“Who is there?” — “I am the seller of
women. Open the door, Sostrata, I have
presented to you on two occasions before this one.
Approach, Anasyrtolis, and undo your robe.” –“She
is a bit fat.”
“She is a beauty. What’s more, she dances
the Kordax and she knows eighty
songs.” – “Turn around. Lift your arms.
Show your hair. Give me your foot. Smile. That’s good.
This one, now.” – “She is too
young!” — “No she’s not, she was twelve years old
the day before yesterday, and you would not have to teach
her anything.” – “Remove your tunic. Let’s see? No, she
is too thin.”
“I’m only asking one mina.” – “And the
first?” – “Two minas thirty.” – “Three minas
for both of them?” – “Done!”. “Go in there
and wash yourselves. You, farewell.”
146 – THE STRANGER
Stranger, go no further into the town.
You will not find elsewhere but in my house
girls younger or more expert. I am
Sostrata, famous across the sea.
See this one whose eyes are green
as water in the grass. You don’t want her?
Here are some other eyes which are black as
violets, and hair three cubits long.
I have still better. Xantho, open your [?cyclas?].
Stranger, her breasts are hard as quinces,
Touch them. And her beautiful belly, as you see,
wears the three folds of Kypris.
I bought her with her sister, who is not yet
of an age to love, but who seconds her
usefully. By the two goddesses! You are of a
noble race. Phyllis and Xantho, follow the
147 – PHYLLIS (not translated)
148 — THE MEMORY OF MNASIDIKA
They danced one in front of the other, with
rapid, flying movements; seeming
always to want to be entwined, and yet they
never touched at all, except at the tips of their lips.
When they turned their back in dancing,
they looked at each other over their shoulders,
and the sweat shone on their raised arms,
and their fine hair brushed across their breasts.
The languor of their eyes, the fire of their
cheeks, the gravity of their faces, were
three earnest songs. They brushed against each other
furtively, bowing their bodies at the hips.
and suddenly, they fell, to
perform on the ground a softer dance [la danse molle]… Memory
of Mnasidika, it was then that you appeared to me,
and everything, outside your dear image, was tiresome.
149 – THE YOUNG MOTHER
Do not believe, Myromeris, that, having become a
mother, that you will be diminished in beauty. See here, how
your body under your dress has drowned its thin
form within a voluptuous softness.
Your breasts are two vast flowers inverted
on your chest, whose cut stems
nurture a milky sap. Your belly,
sweeter still, swoons under the hand.
And now consider the tiny little child
which is born from the thrills that you had one
evening in the arms of a passer-by whose name you
no longer know. Dream of her remote destiny.
Her eyes which opened to pain will be elongated
one day with a line of black paint, and they
will sprinkle over men sadness or joy,
with a movement of their lashes.
150 — THE UNKNOWN
He’s sleeping. I don’t know him. He
horrifies me. However, his purse is full of gold
and he gave a slave four drachmas when he
came in. I hope for a mina for myself.
But I have said to the Phrygian to get into the bed
in my place. He was drunk and mistook her for
me. I would sooner die on the
rack than to stretch out next to this man.
Alas! I dream of the prairies of the Taurus…
I had been a little virgin… Then, I had a
light chest, and I was so foolish with a
lover’s envy that I hated my married sisters.
What would I not have done to obtain that which
I refuse tonight! Today, my
breasts are shapeless [‘se plient’], and in my worn-out
heart too, Eros sleeps from weariness.
151 – TRICKERY
I wake up… Is he gone then? Did he
leave anything? No: two empty
amphorae and some soiled flowers. The whole carpet
is red with wine.
I slept, but I am still drunk… With
whom then, did I come home?… Nevertheless we
slept together. The bed is even soaked
Perhaps there were several; the bed is
such a mess [si bouleverse] I don’t know any more… But I
saw them! There’s my Phrygian! Still
sleeping across the door.
I kicked her in the chest
and I shouted, “Bitch, you couldn’t…”
I was so hoarse I couldn’t speak.
152 – THE LAST LOVER
Child, do not pass by without having loved me.
I am still beautiful, in the night; you will see
how much my warmer is my autumn than the
springtime of another.
Do not look for love from virgins. Love
is a difficult art in which young girls are
little versed. I have taught them all my
life to give to my last lover.
My last lover, it will be you, I know.
Here is my mouth, for which a whole people [pour laquelle un peuple a…]
have paled with desire. Here is my hair, the same
hair that Psappho the Great sang about.
I shall receive in your favour all that
is left to me of my lost youth. I shall burn
the memories themselves. I shall give you
the flute of Lykas, the girdle of Mnasidika.
153 – THE DOVE
I have already been beautiful for a long time; the day
is coming when I will no longer be a woman. And then I
shall know torn memories, the
solitary burning envies and the tears
in my hands.
If life is a long dream, what good is it
to resist it? Now, four and five times a
night I ask for the joy of love, and
when my flanks are exhausted I sleep where
my body falls.
In the morning, I opened my eyelids and I
shudder in my hair. A dove is
on my windowsill; I asked it what month
it was. She said to me, “It is the month when
women are in love.”
Ah! Whatever the month, the dove spoke
truly, Kypris! And I throw my two arms
around my lover, and with much
trembling I pull to the foot of the bed my
Legs, still numb.
154 – THE MORNING RAIN
Night wears on. The stars disappear.
Here are the last courtesans
going home with their lovers. And me, in the
morning rain, I wrote these verses on the sand.
The leaves are full of sparkling water.
That streams across the footpath,
soaking the earth and the dead leaves.
The rain, drop by drop, makes holes
in my song.
Oh! How sad and alone I am and here! The
youngest don’t look at me; the oldest
forget me. But it’s good. They and the children of their
children are learning my verses,
There is something about which neither Myrtale, nor Thais, nor Glykera
tell themselves, the day when their beautiful cheeks
become hollow. Those who love after me
will sing my stanzas together.
155 — DEATH
Aphrodite! Unpitiable goddess, you wished
that on me also the happiness of long-haired
youth should disappear in a few days.
How is it I am not dead entirely!
I looked at myself in the mirror: I no longer
had neither smiles nor tears. Oh sweet face
that loved Mnasidika, I cannot believe that you
Could it be that it’s all finished? I no longer have
[?’vecu’?] five times eight years, it seems to me
that I was born yesterday, and already here is
what I must say: They will love me no more.
All my hair cut off, I twisted it
into my girdle and I offer it to you eternal
Kypris! I shall not cease to adore you.
This is the last verse of the pious
156 – FIRST EPITAPH
In the country where springs are born of the
sea, and where the riverbed is made of
sheets of rock, I, Bilitis, was born.
My mother was Phoenician; my father
Damophylos, Greek. My mother taught me
the songs of Byblos, sad as the
I adored Astarte in Kypris. I knew
Psappha in Lesbos. I sang as I loved.
If I have [?‘bien vecu’?], Passer-by, tell it
to your daughter.
And don’t sacrifice for me a black goat;
but, in sweet libation, press her teats
on my tomb.
157 – SECOND EPITAPH
On the sombre banks of the Melas, at Tamassos of
Pamphylia, I, daughter of Damophylos, Bilitis,
was born. I rest far from my country, as you can see.
Whilst still a child, I learned the loves of Adonis [l’Adon] and of Astarte,
the mysteries of the sacred Syrie (?) and
Death and the return to
If I was a courtesan, what blame is there in that?
Was it not my duty as a woman?
Stranger, the Mother-Of-All-Things guides us.
To misunderstand that is not prudent.
In gratitude to you who have stopped, I
wish you this destiny: Strive to be loved,
not to love. Goodbye. Remember in your
old age, that you have seen my tomb.
158 – LAST EPITAPH
Under the black leaves of the laurels, under
the beloved flowers of roses, it is here that
I am lying, I who interwove verse
Upon verse to make embraces flourish.
I grew up in the land of the Nymphs; I have
[‘vecu’] in the isle of friends; I am dead in
the Isle of Kypris. That is why my name is
illustrated and my stele rubbed with oil.
Do not cry for me, you who stop: they gave me
a beautiful funeral, the mourners
raked their cheeks; they lay my
mirrors and my necklaces in my tomb.
And now, on the pale prairies
of asphodel, I walk, an impalpable
shade, and the memory of my earthly
Life is the joy of my existence under the ground.