Poetry Review: Meleager of Gadara
Every so often I try to dissect poetry from a tome titled World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time . It does not skimp on the poetry. It does, however, skimp on context. While the editors provide a general introduction to the main divisions and some dates, they provide (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) no info on individual authors and no context for specific works. It’s been my grumble since page 1 and it’s likely I’ll continue to grumble about this until I finish the book. If I finish the book.
Today I’ll be looking at the work of first century BCE Greek poet Meleager of Gadara. He’s best remembered now for creating an anthology of Greek poetry (and including some of his own) he referred to as “The Garland,” arranged alphabetically according to the epigram or introductory poem he created for each of the forty six poets included. He further associated each poet with a flower or plant he felt best fit that particular poet’s “genius.” It was immensely popular in its day and continued to be imitated. It was later incorporated into what in now known as the Greek Anthology, preserved a lot of work from the ancient world.
World Poetry features four short poems of Meleager’s, all dealing with affairs of the heart and the general fickle nature of the beloved. He seems to have been welcoming to both male and female partners, though I have seen translations elsewhere of at least one poem here that speaks of a female partner here speaking of a male partner. Whether that’s ambiguity on Meleager’s part or wishful thinking on the translator’s part, I cannot say.
One poem seems to speak of his, um, versatility:
I WAS THIRSTY
I was thirsty.
I was hot.
I kissed the boy
With the girl-soft skin.
My thirst was quenched . (p. 131)
Another one is just pretty:
WHITE VIOLETS FLOWER
White violets flower
Lilies on hill-slopes
Narcissus nodding to rain-showers
And the queen of lovers’ hopes
The sweet persuasive rose,
Zenophile, more fair those:
O hill o fields your laughter rings
Falsely through the flowered spring
For she outshines your garlanding. (p. 132)
Image Credit » https://pixabay.com/en/antique-mosaic-rome-vestige-403599/ by Aquilatin