Since previous editions of the Songs of Bilitis have been complacently unconcerned with the desirability of sympathetic treatment, accurate translation or rhythmic presentation, I offer this version of an extremely lovely book, in all humility, as leaven to their dough, although acutely conscious that the whole is bread, where cake is (this time) sadly in demand.
A. C. B.
title"Translated from the Greek": It was M. Louÿs' little mot to ascribe these "songs" to a courtesan who, he declares, was a contemporary of Sappho. To heighten this false appearance of translation he has written his clever "Life" of Bilitis, as well as included several songs in the table of contents which he labels "not translated." There is, however, a strangely haunting ring, muffled, though not too carefully disguised ... a curiously Gallic undertone, which echoes incongruous down the centuries from Bilitis to us, and makes her the great creation that she is. M. Louÿs took Voltaire's sage advice. Since he has thus committed himself, the following brief notes will be concerned only with the elucidation of the ancient words employed, and occasional references to legends and institutions which may be unfamiliar to the present reader. A mock-philological study of the sources from which Louÿs drew material for this book would be amusing, but would have little sound scholastic value. He will be found to have dipped delicately into such writers of the Palatine Anthology as Philodemus, Hedylus, Meleager, Denys, Paulus Silentiarius and Asclepiades. In most cases he has been content merely to elaborate a phrase or idea; in a very few others he has charmingly appropriated a complete epigram, changing it
but slightly to suit his occult purposes. Sappho herself has been "pilfered" for the chanson he calls "Love"! Louÿs' culpability in this respect is distinctly limited, however, for by far the greatest part of the Chansons de Bilitis is his original creation, and must accordingly be judged as such.
15a--cyclas: a rich robe of circular cut, worn by women; 15bbassaras: a mantle or cloak; 15cperiscelis: anklets.
17--she had committed murder: This is not strictly accurate. Phryne was accused of profaning the Eleusinian mysteries, at that time a crime infinitely greater than any possible assassination. It is likely that Louÿs took the liberty of changing this detail in order to bring the "enormity" of the crime into a modem focus.
20--No one will ever: The French has it, "Rien ne dira jamais ce qu'étaient ces lèvres. . . ." This is one of those phrases which, although pregnant with subtle implications in the original, successfully defies all attempts at accurate translation.
21 I--BUCOLICS IN PAMPHYLIA: the Greek, as translated by R. C. Trevelyan in his edition of the Idylls of Theocritus published by the Casanova Society, 1925, reads (XX-28-2-9):
"Sweet is my music too, whether I warble on the pipe,
Or discourse on the flute, or on the reed or flageolet."
27--From his white horses' backs: There are so many variations of the classic myths that this might well apply to Phaeton, although it does not matter either way.
29--Amalthea: a mythical figure, varying according to the legend, from a goat to a nymph to the daughter of a Cretan king, all attributed with having nursed or tended the infant Zeus in Crete.
33--Sparrow: I have not hesitated to change the French "Bergeronette" into a sparrow, the usual translation of the birds which drew Aphrodite's car. Although the actual bird was probably some species of finch, a qualifying adjective is needed, for the Greek "sparrow" was not the pestiferous British bird with which we are acquainted.
Kypris ... or Cypris (Aphrodite) also known as Paphia (vide p. 69). Aphrodite's innumerable epithets and appellations, excluding her purely national names, such as Venus, Aphrodite, Astarte, Tanit, etc., were largely derived from the
names of the various towns at which she had her shrines Paphos, Cyprus, etc. In the text itself I have adhered to Louÿs' Greek spelling, with the exception of those words whose appearance might be confusing to readers unacquainted with classical terminology.
39--little Helle met her death: by falling off the back of the ram which bore the Golden Fleece. This much sought-after beast had been loaned to the mother of Helle (Nephele) by Mercury, to facilitate the escape of Helle and her brother Phryxus from the influence of their father, who was a King in Thessaly. The Hellespont took its name from the spot "Where beauteous Helle found a watery grave. " (Meleager).
52--Tresses: Here an apology is due, for the necessity of translating Chevelure as tresses. I can find no other word, hair, locks, or ringlets, which will express the word better than the hackneyed tresses.
61--strophion: a sort of ancient brassière, or sash about the breast.
67 II--ELEGIES AT MYTILENE: the Greek quotation, as translated by Wharton in his Sappho, memoir, text, selected renderings, Brentano, 1920, reads (p. 94): "Mnasidica is more shapely than the tender Gyrinno." Cf. the Life of Bilitis, p. 17.
68--Notos: the south-west wind, bringing fog and rain. Boreas: the north wind.
69--Paphia: see above, 33. Charites: the Graces, "goddesses of everything that lends charm and beauty to human life." (Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquity).
73--forty stadia: about four and a half miles.
76--nymphagogue: the matron who accompanied the bride to her husband's home.
80--Ares: the Greek Mars. Hecate: a Titan, variously and loosely identified with Selene (the Moon), Artemis (Diana) and Persephone, but generally accepted as one of the underworld deities.
81--Thetis: a fabulously beautiful nymph, originally sought after by the perennially potent Zeus, but destined to be the mother of Achilles, by a mortal, in order (rather equivocally) to fulfil the prophecy that he would be a greater man than his father.
117 III--EPIGRAMS IN THE ISLE OF CYPRUS: the Greek quotation as translated by Paton in the Palatine Anthology (XI-34), reads: "Bind my head with narcissus, and let me taste the crooked flute. Anoint my limbs with saffron ointment, wet my gullet with wine of Mytilene, and mate me with a virgin who will love her nest."
124--The Mysteries: Since there is so little known about the Eleusinian mysteries--in fact, there is nothing here to indicate that these were the Mysteries of Eleusis, to which both men and women were admitted (perhaps in separate groups)--it is obvious that M. Louÿs had a rather wide latitude within which to make use of his romantic vein. Needless to say, no initiate would ever have committed the inestimable indiscretion of mentioning the slightest portion of the rite. Berbeia: There seems to be no definite information as to who Berbeia may have been, Louÿs having found the name in Athenæus, and carelessly employed it as he chose. Athenæus, quoting from an earlier poet, says it might possibly be the name of some deity or other (3-84-C).
126--Pasiphaë: see below, 149. Syrinx: another of the ever-lovely nymphs, who, when pursued by Pan, was sympathetically turned (by the water-nymphs) into a tuft of reeds, thereby furnishing the rustic deity with another deathless instrument. This is the story which should have kept Argus awake, but, when related by Mercury, had uncomfortable results, both for Argus and another of Zeus's mistresses (Io). Byblis: daughter of Miletus, who incestuously pursued her brother until discouraged, when she was turned into a fountain.
127--James Huneker's "Eighth Deadly Sin . . Perfume" was so flourishing an art in the ancient world, that it merits more than the passing lamentation which my space permits. Its modern votaries are so dreadfully deficient in olfactory sense that those who are attributed with occult powers in its use, that is to say, women, are most strangely ignorant of its fundamental edicts. In fact, the great decadence into which the use of scents has sadly slipped is responsible for its very occasional use as a substitute rather
than as an adjunct to cleanliness. (In deference to the modern world, I may be permitted to qualify this last statement by a wholesome doubt as to whether this usage is wholly restricted to the small horizon of the present). Discovered most likely by accident, its first use was probably as incense, a pleasure-offering to an anthropomorphic god. You could only hope, naïvely, that the god approved your taste. This usage finally became incidental, however, and ancient literature is redolent with passages relating the universal delight in which the scents were held. The Paradise of the Houris was paved with musk. Solomon's Beloved was a bundle of myrrh and frankincense. The Cæsars spent fortunes on perfumes while the populace was starving. Petronius has hinted at this fine abuse in his caricature of Trimalchio. Suetonius has been more explicit in his Nero. Athens was flooded with strange oriental scents and sins. The love books of the east will tell you just what tincture should be used to interest, capture, vanquish and seduce. Ovid will instruct the Roman maid. All good Athenians floated in billows of perfume. Cosmetic was no minor art itself. Marjoram, apple, ivy, mint and saffron; spikenard and frankincense and myrrh, all vied with the paint-pot and the tinting-brush. If corruption was not cured, then it was covered. (Thus they explain the origin of beauty patches!). Apollonius hints that the power of Circe was no paltry necromancy; she used a different perfume for each portion of her body (ô douceur, ô poison!). Small wonder that her victims were real, or even merely sad symbolic swine! Odysseus only knew the anti-aphrodisiac. No matter. All the great magicians and enchantresses knew and understood the science of the nose. That the ability to concoct and blend, apply and harmonize these precious essences has perished almost wholly from the earth can be no better typified than in the woman who buys and uses a scent because she "likes it," with no regard as to its fitness for her. I feel that there is reason for regret.
130--Iris: the female Mercury, Goddess of the Rainbow, which was her steed, and who was furnished appropriately with vari-colored wings.
132--Tethys.--the wife of Oceanus, and mother of the
river-gods and Oceanides. Amphitrite: the wife of Neptune, who succeeded with her husband to the dominion of the waters in the place of Tethys and Oceanus, when the Titans were overthrown by Zeus, Poseidon (Neptune) and Dis (Pluto).
135--krater and kylix.--otherwise a crater and a calix: wine-vessels.
141--lovers who resemble you: As is so often the case in the Chansons, Louÿs has amused himself by attaching a typically Gallic innuendo. The statues of Priapus were little more than a stone or wooden shaft surmounted by the god's head, and embellished in front by a formidable phallus.
149--Pasiphaë--whose husband Minos was punished properly through her passion for a bull he chose rather to keep than sacrifice to Poseidon. Representations of this sort must have been very common. Suetonius (The Twelve Cæsars, Nero XII) mentions that Nero also illustrated this myth in an amphitheatre constructed in the region of the Campus Martius, through the medium of a hollow wooden cow.
157--auletrides: flute-blowers, who combined their musical entertainment with "d'autres jeux si on les leur demande."
160--petasos: "a flat felt hat, with a broad round rim ... said to have been introduced into Greece . . . as a distinguishing mark of the ephebi (youths)." (Harper's Dictionary, supra).
i--BIBLIOGRAPHY: Added by Louÿs as further "evidence" for the authenticity of the Bilitis legend. The songs which Claude Debussy set to bewitching music are "La Chevelure," "La Flûte de Pan" (La Flûte), and "Le Tombeau des Naïades."
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