Meleager of Gadara’s Great Hymn to Spring (Gr. Anth. 9.363)

Translated by Steven J. Willett

Minoan Spring Fresco from Akrotiri, Thera

Note: Meleager of Gadara (now Umm Dais in Jordan) flourished in the 1st century BC and died at an advanced age, perhaps around 70. He was educated in Tyre and spent most of life in Cos. As a poet he wrote sensuous amatory lyrics, satires (now lost) and epigrams. His great contribution to Greek poetry was a collection of epigrams by 46 Greek poets from the earliest lyric period to his age, including 134 of his own epigrams. This anthology is now called The Garland of Meleager and is a key component of the Greek Anthology. Kathryn Gutzwiller summarizes the influence of Meleager thus: “… the Garland produced Latin imitations shortly after its creation in the early first century BC, and allusions to Meleager’s own, mostly erotic poems are found in prominent programmatic passages of Latin poetry. Examples include the first three poems and the last poem of the Catullan liber, the opening of Propertius’s Monobiblos, the first speech in Vergil’s Eclogue 1, and the opening lines of Tibullus 1.2. I would assert that as a model for Latin erotic poetry Meleager rivals Callimachus in both direct allusions and as a source of topoi and imagery” (TAPA Issue 145.2)

As the windy weather has departed from the skies,

The purple season of flower-giving spring smiles.

The dark earth garlands herself in verdant herbage,

And flourishing plants groom their new-born tresses.

And as they drink the tender dew of nourishing dawn

The meadows laugh, while the roses open blossoms.

The shepherd in the hills joys to play sharply on pipes,

And the goatherd rejoices in the white kids of his goats.

Already the seamen launch ship over the broad billows,

Their sails bellied in the harmless wind of the Zephyr.

Already men cry Eu-oi! to Dionysus grape bunch bearer,

Crowning their heads with the bloom of three-leaf ivy.

The artful labor of the bees, born from the ox’s carcase,

Is care for beauty, and they build sitting in the hive

The pale loveliness of fresh, many-celled honeycomb.

All the races of birds are singing with their loud voices:

Kingfishers over waves, swallows about roof beams,

Swans on riverbanks, and nightingales under groves.

If the foliage of plants rejoices, and the land flourishes,

And the shepherd pipes, and the fleecy flock delights,

And the seamen sail off, and Dionysus dances,

And the birds trill, and the bees bring forth in labor,

How could a singer not chant beautifully in spring.

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1 Response to Meleager of Gadara’s Great Hymn to Spring (Gr. Anth. 9.363)

  1. José L. Campos says:

    The artful labor of the bees, born of ox carcass. This line brings back the tale by Virgil in one of the Georgics of the custom of killing a heifer by beating it in expectation that a swarm of bees would rise from it. It is a disgusting paragraph that commenters attempt to gloss over.

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