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Alcman (Greek: Ἀλκμάν, Alkmán; fl.  7th century BC) was an Ancient Greek choral lyric poet from Sparta. He is the earliest representative of the Alexandrian canon of the Nine Lyric Poets. He wrote six books of choral poetry, most of which is now lost; his poetry survives in quotation from other ancient authors and on fragmentary papyri discovered in Egypt. His poetry was composed in the local Doric dialect with Homeric influences. Based on his surviving fragments, his poetry was mostly hymns, and seems to have been composed in long stanzas made up of lines in several different meters.


Text and translation: J. M. Edmonds, Lyra Graeca, Vol. 1, LCL 142 (2nd ed., 1928)
  • ???
    • Verily there is a vengeance from on high, and happy he that weaveth merrily one day’s weft without a tear. And so, as for me, I sing now of the light that is Agido’s. Bright I see it as the very sun’s which the same Agido now invoketh to shine upon us. And yet neither praise nor blame can I give at all to such as she without offence to our splendid leader, who herself appeareth as pre-eminent as would a well-knit steed of ringing hoof that overcometh in the race, if he were set among the offspring of the wild-ass of the rocks.
      See you not first that the courser is of Enetic blood, and secondly that the tresses that bloom upon my cousin Hagesichora are like the purest gold? and as for her silvern face, how shall I put it you in express words? Such is Hagesichora; and yet she whose beauty shall run second not unto hers but unto Agido’s, shall run as courser Colaxaean to pure Ibenian-bred; for as we bear along her robe to Orthia, these our Doves rise to fight for us amid the ambrosial night not as those heavenly Doves but brighter, aye even as Sirius himself.
      For neither is abundance of purple defence enough, nor speckled snake of pure gold, nor the Lydian wimple that adorns the sweet and soft-eyed maid, nor yet the tresses of our Nanno, nay nor Areta the goddess-like, nor Thylacis and Cleësithera, nor again shalt thou go to Aenesimbrota’s and say ‘Give me Astaphis and let me see Philylla, and Damareta and the lovely Ianthemis;’ there is no need of that, for I am safe with Hagesichora.
      For is not the fair-ankled Hagesichora here present and abideth hard by Agido to commend our Thosteria? Then O receive their prayers, ye Gods; for to the Gods belongeth the accomplishment. And for the end of my song I will tell you a passing strange thing. My own singing hath been nought; I that am a girl have yet shrieked like a very owl from the housetop—albeit ’tis the same girl’s desire to please Aotis so far as in her lies, seeing the Goddess is the healer of our woe; ’tis Hagesichora’s doing, hers alone, that the maidens have attained the longed-for peace.
      For ‘tis true the others have run well beside her even as horses beside the trace-horse; but here as on shipboard the steersman must needs have a good loud voice, and Hagesichora—she may not outsing the Sirens, for they are Gods, but I would set her higher than any child of human breed. Aye, she sings like a very swan beside the yellow streams of Xanthus, and she that cometh next to that knot of yellow hair ...
    • From a First-Century Papyrus (Mariette Papyrus)
    • Other translations: Gilbert Highet, "Hâgêsichora" in The Oxford Book of Greek Verse in Translation (1938), no. 114
  • Οὔ μ᾿ ἔτι, παρσενικαὶ μελιγάρυες ἱαρόφωνοι,
      γυῖα φέρην δύναται· βάλε δὴ βάλε κηρύλος εἴην,
    ὅς τ᾿ ἐπὶ κύματος ἄνθος ἅμ᾿ ἀλκυόνεσσι ποτήται
      νηλεὲς ἦτορ ἔχων, ἁλιπόρφυρος ἱαρὸς ὄρνις.
    • O maidens of honey voice so loud and clear, my limbs can carry me no more. Would O would God I were but a ceryl, such as flies fearless of heart with the halcyons over the bloom of the wave, the Spring’s own bird that is purple as the sea!
    • Quoted by Antigonus of Carystus, Historiae Mirabiles, 27
    • Other translations: Walter Headlam, "The Ceryl" in A Book of Greek Verse (1907); H. T. Wade-Gery, "The Halcyons" in Terpsichore, &c. (1922); F. L. Lucas, "The Old Poet to his Maiden Choir" in Greek Poetry for Everyman (1951)
  • Εὕδουσι δ’ ὀρέων κορυφαί τε καὶ φάραγγες
    πρώονές τε καὶ χαράδραι
    φῦλά τ’ ἑρπέτ’ ὅσα τρέφει μέλαινα γαῖα
    θῆρές τ’ ὀρεσκώιοι καὶ γένος μελισσᾶν
    καὶ κνώδαλ’ ἐν βένθεσσι πορφυρέας ἁλός·
    εὕδουσι δ’ οἰωνῶν φῦλα τανυπτερύγων.
    • Alseep lie mountain-top and mountain-gully, shoulder also and ravine; the creeping-things that come from the dark earth, the beasts whose lying is upon the hillside, the generation of the bees, the monsters in the depths of the purple brine, all lie asleep, and with them the tribes of the winging birds.
    • Quoted by Apollonius the Sophist, Lexicon Homericum [κνώδαλον]
    • Other translations: Thomas Campbell, "Fragment" in The New Monthly Magazine (1821); Herbert Kynaston in E. D. Stone, ed., A Short Memoir, &c. (1912); Walter Headlam, "Sleep" in A Book of Greek Verse (1907); H. T. Wade-Gery, "Night" in Terpsichore, &c. (1922)
  • ???
    • Time and again ’mid the mountain-tops, when the Gods take their pleasure in the torch-lit festival, you have carried a great can of the sort that shepherds carry, but all of gold and filled by your fair hand with the milk of a lioness, and thereof have made a great cheese, whole and unbroken and shining white.
    • Quoted by Athenaeus, XI, 498f [on the scyphus]
    • Other translations: Maurice Bowra, "On the Mountains" in The Oxford Book of Greek Verse in Translation (1938), no. 116
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