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This poem is an epithalamium for the marriage of Menelaus and Helen, sung before the bride-chamber by twelve Spartan maidens. Theocritus is said by the Scholiast to have imitated Stesichorus' epithalamium in this idyll. This cannot be proved or disproved, but it is certain that the poem shows marked traces of Sappho's influence (vid. notes on ll. 16, 49, 29). From l. 43 sqq. G. Kaibel (Hermes, xxvii. 249) argues that the object of the poem is aetiological--to explain the origin of a Spartan cult; cf. Helen of the Plane Tree. If there was such a cult it is only known from the poem, but there was a worship of Helen Δενδρῖτις in Rhodes (Pausan. iii. 19. 10). In the same way Kaibel would explain the ἄρα of line 1; 'I have taken on me to explain this cult; know then that it was in Sparta that ...' But the manner in which the reference to this cult is introduced makes it impossible to recognize aetiology as the motif of the poem; 'the lines 43 sqq. appear as a simple episode, not as the kernel of the piece' (Legrand, p. 83 sqq.).

The ἄρα must be differently explained. If there is no context unknown to us of the poem it must be taken as marking a very sudden break, 'in medias res' (cf. xxii. 27). This is not probable, and the beginning would not be justified by such a sudden opening as that of xxv or Bret Harte's 'Which I wish to remark ...' It is more likely that the poem was written under some special conditions which we do not know, to which this ἄρα refers--either as an answer to some friend's work (cf. Nicias' answer to xi), or in answer to some request for a poem on the subject of Helen--or, it might be, merely after reading some Helen legend or poem which impressed Theocritus by its beauty or its strangeness. There is a striking resemblance between the opening lines and the fragment that is left of Bacchylides' Ode xx “ Σπάρτᾳ ποτ᾽ ἐν [
ξανθᾷ Λακεδα[ίμον
τοιόνδε μέλος κ [
ὅτ᾽ ἄγετο καλλιπάρῃον
κόραν θρασυκάρ[διος ῎Ιδας
Μαρπήσσαν ἰο[στέφανον,

” and it is not unlikely that had we all the poem we should have the key to this idyll. Date and place of composition are wholly unknown.

ἄρα, 'so it was in Sparta in golden-haired Menelaus' halls.'

ξανθότριχι Odyss. i. 285 παρὰ ξανθὸν Μενέλαον.

ἐνΣπάρτᾳ. For separation of prep. from case cf. Pind. Ol. i. 17 ἀμφὶ θαμὰ τράπεζαν: Plato, Laws 797 d ἐν ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν οὐ τοῖς μὲν τοῖς δ᾽ οὐ: Callim. i. 10 ἐν δέ δε Παρρασίῃ ῾Ρείη τέκε.

[2] παρθενικαί substantival, cf. xii. 5: often in Alexandrine poetry.

[3] νεογράπτω θαλάμω. A new θάλαμος was built for each marriage; see Xen. Ephes. A. viii. 2 ἦν δ᾽ αὐτοῖς θάλαμος οὕτως πεποιημένος: κλίνη χρυσῆ στρώμασιν ἔστρωτο πορφυροῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς κλίνης βαβυλωνία ἐπεποίκιλκο σκηνή: παίζοντες ἔρωτες οἱ μὲν ᾿Αφροδίτην θεραπεύοντεςἦν δὲ καὶ ᾿Αφροδίτης εἰκὼνοἱ δὲ ἱππεύοντες ἀναβάται στρουθοῖς, κ.τ.λ. Buecheler quotes from the Rhetor. Graec. ix. 271 θάλαμος δὲ πεποίκιλται ἄνθεσι καὶ γραφαῖς παντοίαις.

[4] μέγα χρῆμα Λακαινᾶν, 'all the flower of Lacedaemon's beauty'; Xen. Ephes. A. i. 1 παῖς ᾿Αβροκόμας μέγα τι χρῆμα κάλλους: Plut. Anton. 31 τὴν ἀδελφὴν χρῆμα θαυμαστὸν ὡς λέγεται γυναικός.

[5] Τυνδαριδᾶν κατεδέξατο, 'when he woo'd and received to his home (κατα-) from the Tyndaridae that lovely bride, Helen.'

Τυνδαριδᾶν = the Dioscuri, brothers of Helen. I have ventured to adopt a new reading for this line--vid. Note Crit. Assuming κατεδέξατο as the original the variants can be satisfactorily explained: κατελέξατο (D) by Λ for Δ: κατεκλίνετο (s) as an attempt to explain κατελέξατο (the writer understood it as = κατάλεκτο): κατεγλέγετο (h 11) show γ and λ confused (easy in uncial or minuscule), etc. Juntine has κατεκλάξατο, whence Meineke and recent editors κατεκλᾴξατο: cf. xv. 77, not a very happy expression here. This makes it necessary to take Τυνδαριδᾶν τὰν ἀγαπητάν as 'caram Tyndaridarum,' i.e. 'eam quae erat de Tyndarei liberis carissima' (Hiller). But Τυνδαριδᾶν always = the Dioscuri without Helen (vid. xxii. 216; Pind. Ol. iii. 1); and τὰν ἀγαπητὰν Τυνδαριδᾶν is doubtful Greek. We can say δαιμόνιε ἀνδρῶν, but not δαιμόνιος ἀνδρῶν: and ἀγαπητάν is not a superlative in sense.

[7] δ᾽ ἄρα resuming after the digression.

εἰς ἓν μέλος; cf. Catull. lxi. 38: “      'Agite in modum
Dicite, O Hymenaee Hymen,
Hymen O Hymenaee.'

ἐγκροτέοισαι of the beat of the foot in the dance.

[8] ποσσὶ περιπλέκτοις the 'woven paces' of the dancers; cf. Odyss. viii. 264: “ πέπληγον δὲ χορὸν θεῖον ποσίν: αὐτὰρ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς
μαρμαρυγὰς θηεῖτο ποδῶν, θαύμαζε δὲ θυμῷ.

ὑπὸὑμεναίῳ (not ὑπίαχε); cf. Callim. ii. 49 ὑπ᾽ ἔρωτι κεκαυμένος: Bacchyl. iii. 17 λάμπει δ᾽ ὑπὸ μαρμαρυγαῖς χρυσὸς ὑψιδαιδάλτων τριπόδων. The use of ὑπό with dative differs little from the simple dative of cause; cf. Soph. Trach. 205.

[9] sqq. From here follows the song of the maidens sung in unison by the whole band. It is useless to attempt to cut the song into equal strophes.

πρωιζέ vocative by attraction; cf xvii. 16. The adjective is used for the adverb as in xiv. 2; xvi. 95, etc.

[11] ῥα πολύν τιν᾽ ἔπινες, κ.τ.λ. 'hast thou drunk somewhat heavily that thou hast thrown thyself a-bed?'

πολύν τινα, sc. οἶνον: Herond. vi. 77 γλυκὺν πιεῖν ἐγχεῦσα. The addition of τις to this elliptical use of πολύς gives great offence to Cobet, but cf. Lucian, i. 474 τῷ Μίνωι μία τις (sc. δίκη) καὶ πρὸς χάριν ἐδικάσθη.

ὅτ᾽ cf. xii. 16; xvi. 11; xi. 54, notes.

[12] εὕδειν μὰν σπεύδοντα, 'if thou didst wish to sleep betimes thou shouldst have slept alone.'

For αὐτόν cf. x. 19; v. 85. καθ᾽ ὥραν cf. xxi. 40.

[14] ἔνας καὶ ἐς ἀῶ, 'since to-morrow and to-morrow, and from year to year'; cf. Hesiod, ῎Εργ. 408 εἴς τ᾽ αὔριον εἰς τ᾽ ἔννηφιν: Lucian, i. 229 ῞Ηλιε μὴ ἐλάσῃς τήμερον μηδ᾽ αὔριον μηδ᾽ ἐς τρίτην ἡμέραν. Observe that ἐς is to be used thus only when the date is still prospective; εἰς τὴν ἐπιοῦσαν ἱκέται ἥκοντες, Lucian, Tox. 55, is incorrect for τῇ ἐπιούσῃ.

[15] Μενέλαε τεὰ νυὸς ἅδε for νυός see xv. 77. The trochaic caesura in the fourth foot of a hexameter is exceedingly rare in Greek, and may generally be excused by the close conjunction of the words forming it or by elision, Monro, Hom. Gram. § 367, but cf. Odyss. xvii. 399 μὴ τοῦτο θεὸς τελέσειεν. There is however no true example in the Alexandrian poets. Hence Meineke here Μενέλα τεὰ νυὸς ἅδε.

[16] ὄλβιε γάμβρε cf. Sappho, 99: “ ὄλβιε γάμβρε σοὶ μὲν δὴ γάμος, ὠς ἄραο,
ἐκτετέλεστ᾽, ἔχῃς δὲ πάρθενον, ἃν ἄραο.

ἀγαθός τις ἐπέπταρεν, κ.τ.λ. (sc. ἄνθρωπος). Some man of good omen sneezed upon thee as thou didst go, as went the other heroes unto Sparta, that thou might'st win thy quest.

ὡς ἀνύσαιο depends on ἐπέπταρεν not on ἐρχομένῳ. For the good omen cf. vii. 96; Xen. Anab. iii. 2. 9, where a sneeze is called οἰωνὸς τοῦ Διὸς τοῦ Σωτῆρος: Arist. Aves 720 πταρμόν τ᾽ ὄρνιθα καλεῖτε.

ἀγαθός, 'lucky'; cf. Callim. v. 124: “ γνωσεῖται δ᾽ ὄρνιχας ὃς αἴσιος οἵ τε πέτονται
     ἤλιθα καὶ ποίων οὐκ ἀγαθαὶ πτέρυγες.

” Cf. Schol. vii. 96 τῶν πταρμῶν οἱ μὲν ὠφελοῦσι οἱ δὲ εἰσὶ βλαβεροί. (Fritzsche-Hiller explain ἀγαθός = a good man, and assume that the sneeze of a saint was more effective than a rogue's.)

[17] ἅπερ sc. ποιοῦσι.

ἐς Σπάρταν. In the usual form of the story Helen was woo'd at Amyclae, not Sparta; but Theocritus here follows another legend, which appears also in Isocr. 215 e μετὰ γὰρ τὴν Θησέως εἰς ῞Αιδου κατάβασιν ἐπανελθούσηςτῆς ῾Ελένηςαὖθις εἰς Λακεδαίμονα καὶ πρὸς τὸ μνηστεύεσθαι λαβούσης ἡλικίαν ἅπαντες οἱ τότε βασιλεύοντες καὶ δυναστεύοντες (these are Theocritus' ἄλλοι ἀριστέες) τὴν αὐτὴν γνώμην ἔσχον περὶ αὐτῆςὑπεριδόντες γὰρ τοὺς οἴκοι γάμους ἦλθον ἐκείνην μνηστεύσοντες.

[18] Κρονίδαν πενθερόν cf. Odyss. iv. 569 οὕνεκ᾽ ἔχεις ῾Ελένην καί σφιν γαμβρὸς Διός ἐσσι.

ἡμιθέοις cf. Isocr. x. 43. Not to be altered to ἠιθέοις.

πενθερόν both Greek and Latin affect this roundabout way of stating connexion by marriage, cf. Pind. Isth. vi. 37 Πηλεὺςγαμβρὸς θεῶν: Verg. Georg. i. 31'teque sibi generum Tethys emat omnibus undis.'

[19] τὰν μίαν, 'the same'; Callim. iv. 75 φεῦγε καὶ ᾿Αννίη τὸν ἕνα δρόμον.

[20] οἵα ᾿Αχαιιάδων γαῖαν πατεῖ, 'whose peer treads not the earth among the maids of Greece'; cf. Odyss. xxi. 107 οἵη νῦν οὐκ ἔστι γυνὴ κατ᾽ ᾿Αχαιίδα γαῖαν: Sappho, 106 οὐ γὰρ ἦν ἐτέρα πάϊς γάμβρε τοιαύτα.

πατεῖ cf. Soph. Philoc. 1060 χαῖρε γὰρ Λῆμνον πατῶν: Lycoph. 200 χὡ μὲν πατήσει χῶρον αἰάζων Σκύθην. αἶαν here is 'the earth' not 'a land' as usually; cf. Quint Smyrn. ix. 416 ὧν ἑκὰς οὔτις ἀνὴρ ἐπινίσσεται αἶαν.

[22] αἶς δρόμος ωὑτός, κ.τ.λ. : see Eurip. Androm. 597 sqq.; Propert. iii. 14: “ 'Multa tuae Sparte miramur iura palaestrae,
     Sed mage virginei tot bona gymnasii.
Quod non infames exercet corpore ludos
     Inter luctantes nuda puella viros.'

[24] θῆλυς fem. as in Homeric θῆλυς ἐέρση.

[25] τᾶν οὐδ᾽ ἕν τις ἄμωμος, 'of whom no one is faultless when compared with Helen.' The MSS. reading οὐδ᾽ ἄν presents an impossible ellipse.

[26] 26, 27 ᾿Αὼς ἀντέλλοισα, κ.τ.λ. In this couplet and in 29, 30 we have similes expressive of Helen's beauty. The restoration of the text in the latter place may be considered certain. As there the comparison is threefold and gives an image of Helen's gracefulness, so here we have an expression of her bright beauty, and for the sake of uniformity of style expect three similes and an absence of any introductory particle. I have therefore ejected ἅτε in 28, and introduced what is suggested by the ductus litterarum and the form of the verse τό τε. Tr. 'lovely shines forth the face of rising dawn, lovely the face of holy night, and lovely the clear spring when winter ceases from the land. So shines forth golden Helen among us; a glory to the rich field springs up the great harvest, a glory to the garden is the cypress, a glory to the chariot the horse of Thessaly. So is blushing Helen a glory to Lacedaemon.'

πότνια νύξ has been strangely objected to and more strangely altered. It is not the moon but the clear night of stars, for Helen 'walks in beauty like the night.' πότνια personifies νύξ into a living goddess; cf. ii. 69 and 167; cf. Grenfell's 'Erotic fragment,' col. ii. ἄστρα φίλα καὶ συνερῶσα πότνια νύξ μοι. τό τε also Kaibel, but with πότν᾽ ἀώς for πότνια νύξ: for ἅτε, Steig. Other 'emendations' proceed chiefly on the assumption that a contrast between the dark night and bright day is intended; πότνια disproves this, and the threefold comparison must be kept.

λευκόν cf. Callim. vi. 122 λευκὸν ἔαρ λευκὸν δὲ θέρος, καὶ χεῖμα φέροισα.

διέφανε gnomic aorist. For sense of shines out cf. Pind. Pyth. iii. 79 καιομένα δ᾽ αὐτῷ διέφανε πυρά.

[30] κυπάρισσος. For the comparison cf. Omar Khayyám's 'the cypress--slender minister of wine'; Catull. lxi. 21 'floridis velut enitens Myrtus Asia ramulis'; Sappho, 104: “ τίῳ σ᾽, φίλε γάμβρε, κάλως ἐϊκάσδω;
ὄρπακι βραδίνῳ σε κάλιστ᾽ ἐϊκάσδω.

[33] ἄτριον ἤτριον), 'warp.'

[36] εὐρύστερνον denotes Athene as the goddess of battle, not here the goddess of cunning work. Helen is not imagined as singing at her loom as Ahrens supposes, when he conjectures κρόκαν and εὑρεσίεργον for λύραν and εὐρύστερνον.

[37] ἐπ ὄμμασιν ἵμεροι cf. Eurip. Bacch. 456 πόθου πλέως: Pind. N. viii. 1 ὥρα πότνια,…παρθενηίοις παίδων ἐφίζοισα γλεφάροις: hom. h. Demet. 214 ἐπί τοι πρέπει ὄμμασιν αἰδῲς καὶ χάρις.

[38] οἰκέτις, 'housewife.'

[39] ἄμμες δ᾽ ἐς δρόμον, 'we will hie us in the morning to our course, and to the flowers of the field.' φύλλα, as in xi 26, of flowers. The passage seems to be imitated by Coluthus, who says of Helen (340) οἶδε κελεύθους ἐς ῥόδον ἐς λειμῶνα.

[43] sqq. Vid. Introductory note, πρᾶται, referring to the establishment of this cult of Helen--if such existed. The plane tree was a marked feature of Sparta (Pausan. iii. 14. 8).

[46] σταξεῦμες = στάξομενστάζω).

[48] γράμματα δ᾽ ἐν φλοιῷ, 'and letters shall be written on the bark, for the passer-by to read, in Dorian wise: honour me: I am Helen's tree.'

ἀννείμῃ ἀνανέμω in rarer sense of 'reading' = ἀναγιγνώσκω.

Δωριστί cf. xiii. 56; xiv. 46. The argument for regarding ll. 44 sqq. as referring to the establishment of a cult is considerably strengthened by this line. Δωριστί cannot be taken here as = in Doric. It was by no means a peculiar Dorian custom to cut a name on a tree trunk; but these tree worships seem to have been especially Dorian. γράμματα then = not only the name 'Helen,' but the dedication of the tree, and injunction to worship. Hiller takes Δωριστί = in Doric brevity! This is surely absurd, and should at least be Σπαρτιατί. Ameis 'Doriensium more,' i. q. pie, sancte. Why?

[49] χαίροις cf. Sappho, 103 χαίροισα νύμφα, χαίρετω δ᾽ γάμβρος: ib. 105 χαῖρε νύμφα χαῖρε τίμιε γάμβρε πόλλα.

[50] -52. ΛατὼΛατὼ κουροτρόφος. The repetition of the name in each case in these three lines, adds a solemnity and dignity to the prayer. In l. 51, θεά, 'that great goddess'; cf. Aesch. Eumenid. 224 δικὰς δὲ Παλλὰς τῶνδ᾽ ἐποπτεύσει θεά. The repetition can easily be paralleled, e. g. Verg. Aen. viii. 71: Macaulay's 'O Tiber, Father Tiber.'

[53] ὡςἔνθῃ the subject is ὄλβον. 'φρομ πρινξελψ σιρε το πρινξελψ σον
     φορ εϝερ το δεσξενδ.'--ξαλϝερλεψ.

[56] ἐς ὄρθρον see on l. 14.

πρᾶτος ὰοιδός, 'the first cockcrow.'

[57] εὔτριχα of a bird; is now paralleled by Bacchyl. v. 28: “ λεπτότριχα σὺν Ζεφύρου πνοαῖσιν
ἔθειραν ἀρίγνωτος μετ᾽ ἀνθρώποις ἰδεῖν:

” of an eagle.

[58] Catull. lxii. 5 'Hymen O Hymenaee, Hymen ades O Hymenaee.'

hide References (3 total)
  • Commentary references from this page (3):
    • Xenophon, Anabasis, 3.2.9
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 8.71
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.31
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