We currently have ten poems by Alcaeus. You can listen to them all one after the other using the playlist below or if you prefer you can click the links further down to read a specific poem whilst listening to it.
Translated by R J Dent
Translation Copyright © R J Dent (2012)
Read and listen to Alcaeus No. 3
This wave in turn comes after the previous one
and it will cause us much trouble to bale out
when it floods the ship.
Let us reinforce the ship as quickly as possible
and let us race into a safe harbour
and let no fear grip any of us,
For a great challenge stands clear before us.
Remember the previous wave,
now let every man show himself resolute,
And let us not disgrace our noble fathers
those who named our city
and are now lying beneath the earth.
Remember, we came from those fathers,
our spirit is like theirs
and we have their swift hearts.
Like them, let us confront tyranny
and let us not accept defeat.
Read and listen to Alcaeus No. 6
Uncover that which you
have kept covered till now.
Come to me, come hither,
unless, of course, you do
not derive benefit
from your fragrant youth.
Do this before you grow old
inside your loose robe,
a dried up version
of your former self.
At the moment, your limbs
still carry you everywhere;
a boat ready to sail,
your passion the sail.
Read and listen to Alcaeus No. 13
Persuasions will not work.
This is the time of life
when old age causes me
to forget all that I once knew,
all that is delightful and tender.
This is a hymn to you,
Dionysus, god of wine,
from a slight citizen
who knows no longer
what he’s fated for.
Men are born – a man is wise
and has shrewd wits
but against the will of Zeus –
no, not even hairs may move
without divine will.
Long life brings distress
that must be carried deep
if it is to be forgotten.
Read and listen to Alcaeus No. 22
Pronounced a state criminal,
the shame of my dear parents,
exiled from the home of my youth
with chilling care, my hardships
have managed to implant a spirit
of recklessness within me,
one that impels me to point out
injustice and wrongdoing.
So, while many strive to have a toil free life,
I spend my time criticising tyrants,
and so the spirit of subversion
was quickly established within me.
Now all I can do is calmly wait
for cold death to seize me.
Read and listen to Alcaeus No. 32
Such a family
would not have been
in wicked men
would not have been
Very often we are
and then we are
set on our feet.
or some such thing
has been mixed
Read and listen to Alcaeus No. 37
May they give garlands
of woven flowers
to your horse
to the birds from the lake
to this city
to vine-clad stones
taken from peaks
grey-green cold water
and green reeds
are always rustling
from peaks where
the far-seen assembly
makes its way down
the rocky hillside
on which goats graze
and roses grow
Read and listen to Alcaeus No. 38
Once so lovely and desirable
you slacken from your nimble
course as your resolve decays.
I now handle gourds more tender
from which good wine is poured
and what I lost is what I now gain
for I do not have you.
You gave many favours to me
and also to those coming after.
What one gives to a prostitute
might as well be thrown
into the waves of the grey sea.
I now need to persuade anyone
that does not know this: if a man
keeps company with prostitutes
these things will happen to him:
after the business, inevitably he
will suffer disgrace and misery,
accursed misery, misery’s extreme.
Also he deceives his soul, which
weeps many tears.
But she will, of course,
only have tears for another man,
whoever he may be.
Read and listen to Alcaeus No. 44
I, poor wretch, live my life as a rustic,
despite longing to hear the assembly
being summoned by Agesilaidas
and the council.
I have been driven from the property
possessed by my father and my father’s father,
both who have grown old among
these mutually destructive citizens.
I am now an exile at the back of beyond
and, like Onomacles,
I have settled here,
alone in the wolf thickets,
far away from the war,
for to get rid of strife against one’s home
is not at all detrimental
to the precepts of the blessed gods.
Treading on the black earth
and keeping my feet out of trouble,
avoiding any meetings themselves,
I dwell where Lesbian women
with trailing robes go to and fro
being judged for beauty; and all around
echoes the marvellous sound
of the sacred yearly shout of women:
“When will the Olympian gods free me
from my many troubles?”
Read and listen to Alcaeus No. 51
but now wretched,
I wander the world.
I am very lonely,
far from my friends
and always alone;
but since my exile
in this wretched land,
I have lived by my wits.
Immortal gods, please
end this exile.
Read and listen to Alcaeus No. 69
The blood of women has been shed,
disgracing those who performed unjust deeds,
and we must put a rope on their necks
and kill them by stoning.
Truly, it would have been far better
for the Achaeans
if they had killed the man
who did the violence to the gods,
then as they sailed past Aegea
they would have found the sea calmer:
but in the temple the daughter of Priam
was embracing the statue of Athena,
that generous giver of treasures,
she was clasping its chin,
while the enemy attacked the city.
They killed Deiphobus too,
and lamentations went up from the wall
and the shouts of children filled the plain
and Ajax came in dangerous madness
to the temple of holy Pallas,
who of all the blessed gods
is the most terrible to sacrilegious mortals,
and seizing the maiden with both hands
as she stood by the holy statue,
the Locrian ravished her,
showing no fear for the daughter of Zeus,
giver of victory in war, grim-eyed;
but she, eyes blazing terribly beneath her brows,
livid with anger, darted over the wine-dark sea
and suddenly stirred up hidden stormwinds…
Alcaeus - c. 625/620 – c. 580 BC
was a lyric poet from the Greek island of Lesbos who is credited with inventing the Alcaic stanza. He was included in the canonical list of nine lyric poets by the scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria. He was a contemporary and an alleged lover of Sappho, with whom he may have exchanged poems. He was born into the aristocratic governing class of Mytilene, the main city of Lesbos, where he was involved in political disputes and feuds.
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