Idyll XV. The Festival of Adonis

by Theocritus


Praxinoae in?
Yes, Gorgo dear! At last!
That you're here now's a marvel! See to a chair,
A cushion, Eunoae!
I lack naught.
Sit down.
Oh, what a thing is spirit! Here I am,
Praxinoae, safe at last from all that crowd
And all those chariots--every street a mass
Of boots and uniforms! And the road, my dear,
Seemed endless--you live now so far away!
This land's-end den--I cannot call it house--
My madcap hired to keep us twain apart
And stir up strife. 'Twas like him, odious pest!
Nay call not, dear, your lord, your Deinon, names
To the babe's face. Look how it stares at you!
There, baby dear, she never meant Papa!
It understands, by'r lady! Dear Papa!
Well, yesterday (that means what day you like)
'Papa' had rouge and hair-powder to buy;
He brought back salt! this oaf of six-foot-one!
Just such another is that pickpocket
My Diocleides. He bought t'other day
Six fleeces at seven drachms, his last exploit.
What were they? scraps of worn-out pedlar's-bags,
Sheer trash.--But put your cloak and mantle on;
And we'll to Ptolemy's, the sumptuous king,
To see the _Adonis_. As I hear, the queen
Provides us something gorgeous.
Ay, the grand
Can do things grandly.
When you've seen yourself,
What tales you'll have to tell to those who've not.
'Twere time we started!
All time's holiday
With idlers! Eunoae, pampered minx, the jug!
Set it down here--you cats would sleep all day
On cushions--Stir yourself, fetch water, quick!
Water's our first want. How she holds the jug!
Now, pour--not, cormorant, in that wasteful way--
You've drenched my dress, bad luck t'you! There, enough:
I have made such toilet as my fates allowed.
Now for the key o' the plate-chest. Bring it, quick!
My dear, that full pelisse becomes you well.
What did it stand you in, straight off the loom?
Don't ask me, Gorgo: two good pounds and more.
Then I gave all my mind to trimming it.
Well, 'tis a great success.
I think it is.
My mantle, Eunoae, and my parasol!
Arrange me nicely. Babe, you'll bide at home!
Horses would bite you--Boo!--Yes, cry your fill,
But we won't have you maimed. Now let's be off.
You, Phrygia, take and nurse the tiny thing:
Call the dog in: make fast the outer door!
Gods! what a crowd! How, when shall we get past
This nuisance, these unending ant-like swarms?
Yet, Ptolemy, we owe thee thanks for much
Since heaven received thy sire! No miscreant now
Creeps Thug-like up, to maul the passer-by.
What games men played erewhile--men shaped in crime,
Birds of a feather, rascals every one!
--We're done for, Gorgo darling--here they are,
The Royal horse! Sweet sir, don't trample me!
That bay--the savage!--reared up straight on end!
Fly, Eunoae, can't you? Doggedly she stands.
He'll be his rider's death!--How glad I am
My babe's at home.
Praxinoae, never mind!
See, we're before them now, and they're in line.
There, I'm myself. But from a child I feared
Horses, and slimy snakes. But haste we on:
A surging multitude is close behind.
GORGO [_to Old Lady_].
From the palace, mother?
Ay, child.
Is it fair
Of access?
Trying brought the Greeks to Troy.
Young ladies, they must try who would succeed.
The crone hath said her oracle and gone.
Women know all--how Adam married Eve.
--Praxinoae, look what crowds are round the door!
Fearful! Your hand, please, Gorgo. Eunoae, you
Hold Eutychis--hold tight or you'll be lost.
We'll enter in a body--hold us fast!
Oh dear, my muslin dress is torn in two,
Gorgo, already! Pray, good gentleman,
(And happiness be yours) respect my robe!
I could not if I would--nathless I will.
They come in hundreds, and they push like swine.
Lady, take courage: it is all well now.
And now and ever be it well with thee,
Sweet man, for shielding us! An honest soul
And kindly. Oh! they're smothering Eunoae:
Push, coward! That's right! 'All in,' the bridegroom said
And locked the door upon himself and bride.
Praxinoae, look! Note well this broidery first.
How exquisitely fine--too good for earth!
Empress Athene, what strange sempstress wrought
Such work? What painter painted, realized
Such pictures? Just like life they stand or move,
Facts and not fancies! What a thing is man!
How bright, how lifelike on his silvern couch
Lies, with youth's bloom scarce shadowing his cheek,
That dear Adonis, lovely e'en in death!
Bad luck t'you, cease your senseless pigeon's prate!
Their brogue is killing--every word a drawl!
Where did he spring from? Is our prattle aught
To you, Sir? Order your own slaves about:
You're ordering Syracusan ladies now!
Corinthians bred (to tell you one fact more)
As was Bellerophon: islanders in speech,
For Dorians may talk Doric, I presume?
Persephone! none lords it over me,
Save one! No scullion's-wage for us from _you_!
Hush, dear. The Argive's daughter's going to sing
_The Adonis_: that accomplished vocalist
Who has no rival in "_The Sailor's Grave_."
Observe her attitudinizing now.
Queen, who lov'st Golgi and the Sicel hill
And Ida; Aphrodite radiant-eyed;
The stealthy-footed Hours from Acheron's rill
Brought once again Adonis to thy side
How changed in twelve short months! They travel slow,
Those precious Hours: we hail their advent still,
For blessings do they bring to all below.
O Sea-born! thou didst erst, or legend lies,
Shed on a woman's soul thy grace benign,
And Berenice's dust immortalize.
O called by many names, at many a shrine!
For thy sweet sake doth Berenice's child
(Herself a second Helen) deck with all
That's fair, Adonis. On his right are piled
Ripe apples fallen from the oak-tree tall;
And silver caskets at his left support
Toy-gardens, Syrian scents enshrined in gold
And alabaster, cakes of every sort
That in their ovens the pastrywomen mould,
When with white meal they mix all flowers that bloom,
Oil-cakes and honey-cakes. There stand portrayed
Each bird, each butterfly; and in the gloom
Of foliage climbing high, and downward weighed
By graceful blossoms, do the young Loves play
Like nightingales, and perch on every tree,
And flit, to try their wings, from spray to spray.
Then see the gold, the ebony! Only see
The ivory-carven eagles, bearing up
To Zeus the boy who fills his royal cup!
Soft as a dream, such tapestry gleams o'erhead
As the Milesian's self would gaze on, charmed.
But sweet Adonis hath his own sweet bed:
Next Aphrodite sleeps the roseate-armed,
A bridegroom of eighteen or nineteen years.
Kiss the smooth boyish lip--there's no sting there!
The bride hath found her own: all bliss be hers!
And him at dewy dawn we'll troop to bear
Down where the breakers hiss against the shore:
There, with dishevelled dress and unbound hair,
Bare-bosomed all, our descant wild we'll pour:
"Thou haunt'st, Adonis, earth and heaven in turn,
Alone of heroes. Agamemnon ne'er
Could compass this, nor Aias stout and stern:
Not Hector, eldest-born of her who bare
Ten sons, not Patrocles, nor safe-returned
From Ilion Pyrrhus, such distinction earned:
Nor, elder yet, the Lapithae, the sons
Of Pelops and Deucalion; or the crown
Of Greece, Pelasgians. Gracious may'st thou be,
Adonis, now: pour new-year's blessings down!
Right welcome dost thou come, Adonis dear:
Come when thou wilt, thou'lt find a welcome here."
'Tis fine, Praxinoae! How I envy her
Her learning, and still more her luscious voice!
We must go home: my husband's supperless:
And, in that state, the man's just vinegar.
Don't cross his path when hungry! So farewell,
Adonis, and be housed 'mid welfare aye!

Last updated January 14, 2019