Poetry on Friday: Praxilla’s Cucumbers and Dido & Aeneas Get Close in a Cave

It was such a beautiful day that I got out my Greek Lyric Poetry. And so I sat outside in fifty-degree weather at what we call our “cafe table,” mittens and wool coat temporarily abandoned. Armed with a Greek dictionary and grammar, I read Praxilla, a little-known Greek woman poet of the fifth century B.C. “To know Greek is to know yourself,” a professor once said to us. Greek and Latin are cognate languages, but the emotional issues are very different for me. I channel the Latin like a Roman matron—I am very practical, and was a Roman matron in an earlier life!—but the Greek of fifth century B.C. is very strange and remote to me. I had barely heard of Praxilla, and no wonder: her work has survived only in a couple of fragments. In the three lines we have of Praxilla’s poem, “Adonis,” the shades of the Underworld have asked Adonis after his death to name most beautiful thing he left behind in life. Here is my literal prose translation: “The most beautiful thing I have left is the light of the sun,/ next the shining stars and the face of the moon,/ and also summer cucumbers, […]

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