Callimachus: Epigrams

At the beginning of Callimachus' Aetia, Apollo advises the poet to "keep the Muse slender", and his slender but carefully composed Epigrams are generally agreed to be amongst the best of his poems. They have not survived in their original format, but many of them were included in the Greek Anthology, and they have been extracted from there by modern scholars to form this collection. The English translation is by A.W.Mair (1921).

Click on G to go to the Greek text of each epigram. The numbers assigned to the epigrams in the translation are slightly different from the numbers in the Greek text. A ? before a number indicates that many scholars doubt that the epigram was written by Callimachus.


[1]   G   A Greek proverb, which is mentioned in the Suda.

A stranger from Atarneus thus asked Pittacus of Mytilene, the son of Hyrrhas : " Reverend Father, two marriages invite me. One lady is my equal in wealth and blood : the other is above my station. Which is better ? Come advise me whether of those I should lead to the altar."

So he spake : and Pittacus lifted up his staff, the old man's weapon, and said : " Lo ! these yonder shall tell thee all." Now these were boys who at a wide crossing were spinning their swift tops with blows of the lash. " Follow their tracks," saith he. And the stranger stood by them : and they were saying : " Keep your own rank ! " When the stranger heard the words, he laid to heart the saying of the boys and spared to grasp at the greater estate. Now, even as he led home the humble bride, so go thou and keep thine own rank.


[2]   G

One told me, Heracleitus, of thy death and brought me to tears, and I remembered how often we two in talking put the sun to rest. Thou, methinks, Halicarnasian friend, art ashes long and long ago ; but thy nightingales live still, whereon Hades, snatcher of all things, shall not lay his hand.


[? 3]   The epitaph of Timon of Athens.

[All about my grave are sharp thorns and stakes : thou wilt hurt thy feet if thou comest nigh :]

I, Timon, hater of men, inhabit here ; but go thou by ; curse me as thou wilt, but go.


[4]   G

Bid me not " farewell," evil heart, but go by. It is well with me if thou refrain from laughter.


[5]   G

Timon (for thou art no more), which is hateful to thee - Darkness or Light ? " The Darkness, for there are more of you in Hades."


[6]   G   On a nautilus shell dedicated to Arsinoē Aphrodite of Zephyrium by Selenaea, daughter of Cleinias.

An old shell am I, O Lady of Zephyrium, but now, Cypris, I am thine, a first offering from Selenaea : I the nautilus that used to sail upon the sea, if there were wind, stretching my sail on my own forestays, if Calm [Galenaea], that bright goddess, prevailed, rowing strongly with my feet - so that my name befits my deed ! - till I fell on the shores of Iulis, that I might become thy admired toy, Arsinoē, and that in my chambers may no more be laid, as erstwhile - for I am dead - the eggs of the water-haunting kingfisher. But give thou grace to the daughter of Cleinias ; for she knows to do good deeds and she is from Aeolian Smyrna.


[7]   G   A poem called "The Capture of Oechalia", attributed either to Homer or to Creophylus of Samos - see Strabo, 14.1.18.

I am the work of the Samian, who once received the divine singer in his house ; and I celebrate the sufferings of Eurytus and of fair-haired Ioleia ; but I am called the writing of Homer. Dear Zeus, for Creophylus this is a great thing.


[? 8]

A youth was garlanding the grave-pillar of his step-mother, a short stone, thinking that with change of life her nature too was changed. But as he bent over the grave, the stone fell and killed the boy. Ye step-sons, shun even the grave of a step-mother.


[9]   G   Concerning Theaetetus, a poet.

Theaetetus travelled a splendid path. If that path, Bacchus, leads not to thine ivy wreath - other men's names the heralds will voice a little while, but his skill Hellas will voice for ever.


[10]   G

Short is the speech, Dionysus, of the successful poet : " Won," says he, at most. But if thou breathe not favourably and one ask, " What luck? "   "'Tis a hard business," he says. Be these the words of him who broods injustice ; but mine, O Lord, the monosyllable !


[11]   G

Here Saon of Acanthus, son of Dicon, sleeps the holy sleep. Say not that the good die.


[12]   G

If thou seekest Timarchus in the house of Hades to learn aught of the soul, or how it shall be with thee hereafter, seek the son of Pausanias of the Ptolemaic tribe, and thou shalt find him in the abode of the righteous.


[13]   G

Short was the stranger : wherefore the line, though brief its tale : " Theris, son of Aristaeus, Cretan," is long for me.


[14]   G

If thou goest to Cyzicus, it will be small trouble to find Hippacus and Didyme : for not obscure is their family. And a painful message thou wilt tell them, yet tell them this, that I here cover Critias, their son.


[15]   G

Doth Charidas rest under thee ?   " If thou meanest the son of Arimmas of Cyrene, under me."   O Charidas, what of the world below ?   " Much darkness."   And what of the upward way?   "A lie."   And Pluto?   "A fable."   We are undone.   "This that I say to you is the true tale, but if thou wouldst have the pleasant tale, a great ox costs but a [Pellaean] copper in Hades."


[16]   G

Who knows aright to-morrow's fortune ? When even thee, Charmis, whom we saw with our own eyes yesterday, next day we laid in the grave with tears. Than that thy father Diophon hath seen nothing more painful.


[17]   G

"Timonoë." Who art thou? By the gods I had not known thee, were not the name of thy father Timotheus on thy tombstone, and Methymna, thy city. Great, methinks, is the sorrow of thy widowed husband Euthymenes !


[18]   G

Crathis, of many tales, skilled in pretty jest, do the daughters of the Samians oft-times seek - their sweetest companion, always talking ; but she sleeps here the sleep that is due to all.


[19]   G

Would that swift ships had never even been! So should we not be mourning Sopolis, son of Diocleides. But now he floats somewhere in the sea, a corpse, and, in his stead, his name and empty tomb we pass by.


[20]   G   The setting of the Kids, in December, was a time of dangerous storms.

Not on land died Lycus of Naxos, but at sea he saw ship and life perish together, when sailing as a merchant from Aegina. And he in the wet sea is a corpse, while I, the tomb that holds only his name, proclaim this message of utter truth : Flee the company of the sea, O mariner, when the Kids are setting !


[21]   G

Here the father laid his twelve-year son : here Philippus laid his great hope - Nicoteles.


[22]   G

At morn we buried Melanippus : as the sun set the maiden Basilo died by her own hand ; for she could not endure to lay her brother on the pyre and live ; and the house of their father Aristippus beheld a twofold woe ; and all Cyrene bowed her head to see the home of happy children made desolate.


[23]   G   On Battus, the son of Callimachus the general, and father of Callimachus the poet.

Whosoever thou art who walkest past my tomb, know that I am son and sire of Callimachus of Cyrene. Thou wilt know them both. For the one once led the arms of his fatherland, the other sang songs beyond the reach of envy. Naught in this is there to surprise ; for on whom as children the Muses look with no sidelong glance, those they do not reject as friends when their heads are grey.


[24]   G   Astacides is worshipped as a hero, after being carried off by a nymph.

Astacides, the Cretan, the goat-herd, a nymph carried off from the hill, and now Astacides is made holy. No more beneath the oaks of Dicte, no more of Daphnis shall we shepherds sing, but always of Astacides.


[25]   G   On the suicide of Cleombrotus, a pupil of Plato.

Farewell, O Sun, said Cleombrotus of Ambracia and leapt from a lofty wall into Hades. No evil had he seen worthy of death, but he had read one writing of Plato's, On the Soul.


[26]   G   Heroes were usually represented on horseback and attended by a snake. But Eëtion is of Trojan descent, and hates the idea of a horse in consequence of the wooden horse made by Epeius. So the hero at his door is represented on foot.

I, a Hero, am set by the doors of Eëtion of Amphipolis - a small statue by a small vestibule, with coiling snake and a sword - no more : Wroth with the man Epeius he has set me also by his house on foot.


[27]   G   A Greek proverb about the Megarians, which is discussed in the Suda.

Callignotus swore to Ionis that he would never hold man or woman dearer than her. He sware : but what they say is true - that lovers' oaths enter not the ears of the immortals. And now his flame is a man, while of poor Ionis there is, as of the Megarians, "nor count nor reckoning."


[28]   G

With little means I led a humble life doing no dreadful deed nor injuring any. Dear Earth [Gaia], if I, Micylus, have praised any evil thing, be not thou light to me, nor light ye other Spirits which have me in your keeping.


[29]   G   On the Phaenomena of Aratus.

Hesiod's is the theme and Hesiod's the manner. I misdoubt that not to the utter end but only the most honeysweet of his verses has the poet of Soli copied. Hail subtle discourses, the earnest vigil of Aratus.


[30]   G   "Odi profanum vulgus et arceo" ( Horace, Odes_3.1 ).

I hate the cyclic poem, nor do I take pleasure in the road which carries many to and fro. I abhor, too, the roaming lover, and I drink not from every well ; I loathe all common things. Lysanias, thou art, yea, fair, fair : but ere Echo has quite said the word, says someone, "He is another's."


[31]   G   A toast with unmixed wine (the river Achelous represents water).

Fill the cup and say again "To Diocles!" And Achelous knows not of his sacred cups. Fair is the boy, O Achelous, and very fair : and if any denies it, may I alone know how fair he is !


[32]   G

Cleonicus of Thessaly, poor youth ! poor youth ! nay, by the scorching sun I knew thee not. Where, poor wretch, hast thou been ? Thou hast but bones and hair. Hath then the same doom overtaken thee as me, and hast thou met a hard dispensation of the gods ? I know - Euxitheus hath caught thee too : for thou, too, didst come and gaze upon the fair one, poor youth, with both thine eyes.


[33]   G   A poem copied by Horace ( Sat_2.1'105-108 ).

The hunter on the hills, O Epicydes, searches out every hare and the tracks of every roe, beset by frost and snow. But if one say, " Lo ! here is a beast shot " he takes it not. Even such is my love : it can pursue what flees from it, but what lies ready it passes by.


[34]   G

Empty of wealth, I know, are my hands. But, for the Graces' sake, Menippus, tell not "my own dream to me." Pained through and through am I, when I hear this bitter saying. Yes, my friend, of all I have had from thee this is the most unloverlike.


[35]   G

Artemis, to thee Phileratis set up this image here. Do thou accept it, Lady, and keep her safe.


[36]   G   An offering to Heracles.

To thee, O Lord, Strangler of the Lion, Slayer of the Boar, I, a branch of oak, am dedicated -   "By whom?"   Archinus.   "Which?"   The Cretan.   "I accept."


[37]   G

'Tis the tomb of Battus' son that thou art passing - one who was well skilled in poesy and well skilled in season to laugh over the wine.


[38]   G

Menitas of Lyctus dedicated this bow with these words : " Lo ! I give to thee horn and quiver, Sarapis ; but the arrows the men of Hesperis have."


[39]   G

These gifts to Aphrodite did Simŏn, the light o' love, dedicate : a portrait of herself and the girdle that kissed her breasts, and her torch, yea, and the wands which she, poor woman, used to carry.


[40]   G   An offering to Demeter and Corē, apparently at Thermopylae.

To Demeter of the Gates, to whom Pelasgian Acrisius builded this shrine, and to her daughter under earth, Timodemus of Naucratis dedicated these gifts as a tithe of his gains. For so he vowed.


[41]   G

Priestess, Sir, of old was I of Demeter and again of the Cabeiri and afterward of Dindymene [Cybele] - I the old woman who am now dust, I who in {the travail of Eleutho} was the friend of many young wives. And two male children were born to me and in a ripe old age I closed my eyes in their arms. Go thy way and farewell !


[42]   G

Half of my soul still lives, but half I know not whether Love or Death hath stolen : only it is vanished. Has it gone again to where the boys are ? and yet I forbade them often : '' O youths, receive not the runaway!" There help me, some one, to search ; for there somewhere of a surety flits that lovesick one, worthy to die by stoning.


[43]   G

If of my free will, Archinus, I serenaded thee, blame me ten thousand times ; but if I came unwillingly, away with rashness! Wine and Love constrained me ; whereof the one dragged me, the other allowed me not to away with rashness. And when I came, I did not shout thine or thy father's name, but kissed the doorpost. If this be wrong, then I have done wrong.


[44]   G

The stranger had a wound and we knew it not. How painful a sigh, marked you ? he heaved when he drank his third cup, and the roses, shedding their petals, fell from his garlands all upon the ground. He is badly burnt, by the gods, my guess is not amiss - a thief myself I know the tracks of a thief.


[45]   G

There is something hidden, by Pan, there is, yes, by Dionysus, some hidden fire beneath these ashes. No confidence have I : embrace me not. Oft-times the quiet river undermines the wall unmarked. So now I fear, Menexenus, lest this fawning gypsy slip in and whelm me in love.


[46]   G   A lover thanks Hermes, god of luck, for his short wait.

" Thou wilt be caught ! flee and save thyself, Menecrates!" said I on the 20th of Panemos, and on Loios the - what? - the 10th, the ox came to the plough unbidden. Well done, my Hermes, well done ! with the twenty days' interval I find no fault.


[47]   G   Polyphemus the Cyclops composed a love song to Galateia ( Theocritus, Idyll 11 ).

How excellent was the charm that Polyphemus discovered for the lover. By Earth, the Cyclops was no fool ! The Muses, O Philippus, reduce the swollen wound of love. Surely the poet's skill is sovereign remedy for all ill. Methinks hunger, too, hath this good and this alone in regard to evil : it drives away the disease of love. We have both remedies against thee, remorseless Love : " There, boy ; have thy wings cut, little boy ! We fear thee not a jot ; for we have in store both charms for thy cruel hurt."


[48]   G   Salt and sea-water.

The salt-cellar, whereon, by eating frugal salt for relish, he escaped the mighty storms of debt, Eudemus dedicated to the gods of Samothrace [the Cabeiri], saying, "According to my vow, O people, saved from salt, I dedicated this here."


[49]   G   Children recite the "Bacchae" of Euripides next to a mask of Gaping Dionysus ( Plin:HN_8.57-58 ).

Simus, son of Miccus, offered me to the Muses, praying for ease of learning. And they, like Glaucus [ Hom:Il_6'234 ] gave him a great gift for a small. And here I am set, gaping twice as widely as the Samian (Dionysus), the tragic Dionysus, hearkening to children as they say "Sacred is the lock of hair," [ Eur:Bacch_494 ] repeating "my own dream to me."


[50]   G

Say, Stranger, that I am set up as a witness of the victory of Agoranax of Rhodes, a comic witness indeed - Pamphilus, not a single love-worn face but half of it like roasted figs and the lamps of Isis.


[51]   G

Phrygian Aeschra, his good nurse, so long as she lived, Miccus cared for in her old age with all good things, and when she died, he set up her statue for future generations to see, so that the old woman has received thanks for her nursing breasts.


[52]   G   On Berenice, the wife of Ptolemy Euergetes.

Four are the Graces ; for beside those three another has been fashioned lately and is yet wet with perfume. Happy Berenice and resplendent among all - without whom even the Graces themselves are not Graces.


[53]   G

If Theocritus with finely darkening cheek hates me, four times as much mayst thou hate him, or if he loves me, love. Yea, by Ganymedes of the fair locks, O Zeus in heaven, thou too hast loved. I say no more.


[54]   G

Even so again, Eilethyia, come thou when Lycaenis calls, to bless her pains with easy birth ; so may thy fragrant shrine have, as now this offering for a girl, some other offering hereafter for a boy.


[55]   G

Know, Asclepius, that thou hast received the debt which Aceson owed thee by his vow for his wife Demodice. But if thou dost forget and demand payment again, the tablet says it will bear witness.


[56]   G

To the god [Sarapis] of Canopus did Callistiŏn, daughter of Critias, dedicate me - a lamp enriched with twenty nozzles : a vow for her child Apellis. Looking on my light thou wilt say, "Hesperus, how art thou fallen?"


[57]   G

Euaenetus, who set me up, says - for I know not - that in return for a victory of his I am offered - a bronze cock - to the Tyndaridae : I believe the son of Phaedrus, son of Philoxenides.


[58]   G

In the temple of Isis, daughter of Inachus, is set the statue of Aeschylis, daughter of Thales, in fulfilment of the vow of her mother, Eirene.


[59]   G

Who art thou, O shipwrecked stranger ? Leontichus found thee here a corpse upon the beach, and covered thee in this tomb, with tears for his own hazardous life. For no quiet life is his either, but restless as the gull he roams the sea.


[60]   G   A dramatist recalls the friendship of Orestes and Pylades (the Phocian).   [The translation has been altered slightly, as suggested by more recent scholars.]

Orestes of old was happy, Leucarus, because though mad in all else, he was not seized by the greatest madness, nor tried the Phocian by the one test which proves the friend ; nay, had he produced but one drama, soon would he by so doing have lost his comrade- even as I have no more my many Pyladae.


[61]   G

Whosoever ye be who pass the tomb of Cimon of Elis, know that ye pass the son of Hippaeus.


[62]   G   "It was wine that made foolish even the centaur, glorious Eurytion" ( Hom:Od_21'295 ).

Menecrates of Aenus - for thou, it seems, wert not to be here for long - what, best of friends, made an end of thee ? Was it that which was the undoing of the Centaur? " 'Twas the destined sleep that came to me, but wretched wine has the blame."


[63]   G

Ye goats of Cynthus, be of good cheer ! for now the bow of Cretan Echemmas is laid up in Ortygia in the temple of Artemis, - that bow wherewith he made the great hill empty of you. But now he hath ceased, ye goats, since the goddess hath wrought a truce.


[? 64]   G   A lament at the door ( paraklausithyron ).

So mayst thou sleep, Conopiŏn, as thou makest thy lover lie by this cold porch ; so mayst thou sleep, O most unkind, as thou makest thy lover lie ; but pity thou hast not met even in a dream. The neighbours pity, but thou not even in a dream. But the grey hair will presently remind thee of all these things.



[7.344b]   G

Never, unless Leo had had my courage and strength would I have set foot on this tomb. *  

*   On the tomb of one Leo, on which stood a lion.


[7.454]   G

The cup of unmixed wine drained twice straight off has run away with Erasixenus the deep drinker.


[13.9]   G

(Bacchic pentameter. *   The epigram is not complete)

From Chios, rich in wine, ploughing the Aegean comes many a jar, and many a one that brings us nectar, flower of the Lesbian vine.

*   "Trochaic pentameter" would be more correct.


[13.10]   G

(Tetrameters of sixteen syllables. *   This also is imperfect)

O ship, who have carried off the only sweet light of my life, I beseech you by Zeus, the watcher of the harbour . . .

*   Metre of Horace, Od. i. 18.


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