By in Writing

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 hot.
I kissed the boy
With the girl-soft skin.
My thirst was quenched . (p. 131)

Another one is just pretty:


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)


Wikipedia entry on Meleager of Gadara

Wikipedia entry on the Greek Anthology

Image Credit » by Aquilatin

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Rufuszen wrote on November 22, 2015, 10:35 AM

I don't read as much poety as I used to. Not sure why

msiduri wrote on November 22, 2015, 10:53 AM

I don't either. I'm pretty sure I know why I don't. It takes a lot more effort. And lot of modern poetry is so abstract, so vulgar or so self-referential that it really is a foreign language. Just my humble opinion.

Rufuszen wrote on November 22, 2015, 11:10 AM

I think the most modern I have read is Lew Welch, from the 60s

msiduri wrote on November 22, 2015, 12:18 PM

Ah. Then you've missed a lot of weeping and wailing. emoticon :smile:

Rufuszen wrote on November 22, 2015, 3:39 PM

A narrow escape! emoticon :tongue:

MegL wrote on November 22, 2015, 4:32 PM

Interesting. I understand that ancient Greece was pretty relaxed about such things. I liked that second poem, that drew a picture of beauty.

msiduri wrote on November 22, 2015, 5:14 PM

Ancient Greek society was. However, respectable women were secluded. And the penalties for them straying were often severe. I thought the second poem was quite nice. I obviously can't read the original, but it would be nice to be able to.

MegL wrote on November 22, 2015, 5:21 PM

I rather thought Socrates was pretty much an equalitarian. I seem to remember hearing that he was an advocate of equality though I haven't read enough on it to be sure.

msiduri wrote on November 22, 2015, 6:45 PM

Um... I don't know. I know that he was for educating women more than they normally were, not a bad thing.