Dioscorides Elegy A.P. 5.55 (G-P 5)
Translated by Steven J. Willett
Eros, Aphrodite and Two Lovers. This red figure skyphos came from the workshop of the Iliouperis Painter c 357~350 and is in the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, New York.
Note: Our knowledge about Dioscorides is quite limited. Meleager refers to him (A.P. 4.1.24), and a scholiast to Apollonius of Rhodes cites him concerning Amphion’s lyre (Gow-Page, 2 p. 235). Dioscorides’ own poetry contains virtually no biographical evidence about his life. He wrote an epitaph on death of the poet Machon (A.P. 7.708), which would place his floruit in the late third century B.C. We don’t know where he was born, though he appears to have spent his life in Egypt and Alexandria. We have a total of 40 epigrams from him divided into amatory, dedicatory, sepulchral and satirical categories.
As a poet Dioscorides had a keen eye for color, complex allusions, humor and occasionally a touch of irreverence. His imagery often suggests a variety of emotional responses that cannot be given any single interpretation. His amatory elegies are equally divided between heterosexual and homosexual relations, both of which he handles with even skill. Two of his epigrams, A.P. 55 (the current translation) and A.P. 54, are unique in their skillful depiction of sexual intercourse. Nothing like them appears until centuries later in the poetry of Martial and Rufinus.
A highly subjective-sexual epigram in which the poet speaks with his own sensuous experience has so much to engage, or enrage, popular ‘woke’ culture that I can easily imagine the ensuing racket. But not here.
A.P. 5.55 (G-P 5)
Having stretched out Doris the rosy-rumped across the bed
in verdant flowers I’ve now become immortal.
For she bestriding me midmost with her exquisite legs
achieved unswerving Cypris’ lengthy race.
Her eyes are gazing languidly: like leaves in the wind,
while tossing all about, she trembled sanguine,
until sacred wine poured out white strength from us both,
and Doris languidly lay with relaxed limbs.