The Rules of the Kitchen

Vol XLVIII, For Anacreon

Translations and Divagations from the Poet Anacreon

Ανακρείοντα, τό μὲν γλυκὺ κεîνο μέλισμα νέκταρος, ...

― The Palatine Anthology


Anacreon the poet was born in Teos, in Ionia, about 570 BCE. Later he moved to Samos and then to Athens, where he spent most of his long life. He was well known in antiquity, and was men­tioned by Cicero, Horace, Plato (‘the wise Anacreon’ – Phaedrus), Diogenes, and others. A statue of Anacreon, portraying him old, drunk, bald, and singing to the accompaniment of his lyre, was raised on the Athenian Acropolis. No trace of it remains.

There is a long tradition, known as the ‘Anacreontea,’ of poem-making in imitation of Anacreon, or expanding on some frag­ments of his life and work. Among other curiosities, the U.S. national anthem is sung to the tune of the English drinking-song “To Anacreon in Heav’n.” For Anacreon is the latest essay in this tradition.



Today my song is
all about the Trojan War,
bustling and clanging
and vaunting and blood. But
my poor song wept in despair,
and said it knew nothing but



Here’s a song for you,
I made it up myself;
and another gift I made,




There he is, old Anacreon,
butt of jokes and pranksters,
one shoe gone, song off-key,
his lover somewhere
else with someone else.

Father Dion keep him safe;
protect his soul from —




I’ve looked into his poems
(nothing rhymes,
raucous numbers,
wandering lines);
nothing worth reciting there
— but after a drink or two
they don’t sound half bad.


There I was
minding my own business
just lying there
on the anvil
speaking of nothing in particular
when Eros
slammed me with his hammer,




Here comes the ship of fifty oars
to take me home that rich
Hipparchus sent. So why am I so sad?
“Fifty whores” was what I thought he said.




Why do all the women
think they need perfume?
Give me your own hot scent
and let it flow with mine.



Well here I am again
life of the party
trying to keep all twenty strings
in tune. Next time

the uke!




Many men love you
but only I know you

Many men want you
but only I have you

Stay, this moment.




“You call these hymns?
They’re all about sex!
Where are the gods?”

Here, right here . . .



I took the garland from
his withered head
and placed it on my own.
Fool I was! Now Eros has me
captive in his hand.




Love? Those chafing bonds
and all the unsought bondage that implies?
Thanks be to thee
Great Dion,
for freeing me from these.




Why am I praying up to bright
Apollo, sun-blind in the light?
Because the lusty gods
I prayed to
didn’t turn that young man’s
love to me;
and so at last I’m trying



Your wife thinks
you’re at the office;
demonstrate for her delight,
when you get home,
what I do to you tonight.



When he sings
(no matter if he hits three strings instead of two)
(no matter if he leans against the door
because he’s drunk
as a skunk) —
my breath stops,
an excess of



can you color
the ways of our love?
Can your oils portray
our movements,
the shifting glance
of skin on skin,
how our cries
together shape
our mouths? No, you
show one moment only,
a time so
it never was.


We speak so calmly
you not knowing that
beneath my blushing skin
is a pounding heart
that wants to be much nearer




No one has sung
to Eros
(Plato said so himself)
till I did. Why
should the sober gods
have all the hymns?




Count all my loves?
Can you number
the leaves on the trees
or waves of the sea?

But I, in Eros’ laughing
grasp, I count each lover


Why does he write
that jangling meter?
Responsible Comment
has no place in that!




I thought
we reached agreement.
I thought after all our talk
that you agreed to fuck
just me and keep away
from him;

but now I see you dreamy-faced
and moony, fingering the parts
he fondled last.




She has the scent of a god
upon her, and now
she has mine, too!


Your love stunts
cannot sway me,
Knight, I’m immune
to Jedi tricks; no,
love has no hold on me,
just sex!




He alone
moved the music
instead of its moving




He was really sober
all the time. That
falling down? Just
show and farce.
On the floor,
he had a better view.


Let me go, Trouble,
have nothing to do with me now.

Grant me peace if you can see me,

Let me know
you no more.




Mother, you should have
carried me to the sea;
you should have cast me
in among its curling waves
at birth; and let some other man
be known as me.




Let me die of bitches
or drink, or too many men
had too many ways,

But not like this.



Not least among the noble hearts
for whom we heap up wreaths,
Anacreon, we honor you:
may you learn at last to smite the lyre
better than you did in life;
may you sing in tune at last;
may the flowered garland in your hair
be ever-fresh, and come to that,
may your hair — not leave next time
before the rest of you!




Too bad about the
world; it wasn’t much but
now it’s gone.


miss it.