Gillian Spraggs
←  return to index


[Telos, 4th century BC (?)]

This poem has only survived in a very fragmentary state. An ellipse indicates a missing word or series of words, while the words in square brackets are doubtful or conjectural.

The Spindle: Lament for Baucis

GIRLS: Torty-tortoise, what are you doing in the middle of the ring?
TORTOISE (scuttling from side to side): I am weaving wool  and Milesian weft.
GIRLS: And what was your son doing when he was lost?
TORTOISE: From the white horses into the sea he SPRANG!
(On the last word the Tortoise jumps up to chase the other girls; the first one 
to be caught becomes the new Tortoise.)

Girls’ game recorded by Julius Pollux of Naucratis, 2nd century AD

… into the wave
[you sprang] from the white horses with crazy bounds.
“Aiai!” I screamed. [Then it was my turn to be] tortoise,
and leaping up, [I raced] through the pen in the great courtyard.
Unlucky Baucis! this is why … I mourn for you,
and in my heart … these traces still lie warm.
Now, they are only embers, those things [we used to share]:

of dolls … in our chambers … brides … towards dawn 
[my/your] mother … woolworkers … about the cloth shot with purple

Ah! [in those days] the bogey-woman [so] frightened [us two] little ones:
… on her head she had [huge] ears,
and she roamed around on four feet;
she would change her appearance [from one thing to another].
But when the time came that [you went to your marriage] bed,
you forgot all the things which while you were still a child 
… you had heard from your mother, dear Baucis:
… Aphrodite [put] forgetfulness [in your heart].
So, crying out for you, … the rest I set aside.
For my feet [are] not [so] profane [as to leave] the house,
nor [is it fit that I should] set eyes on your [corpse],
nor lament with my flowing hair uncovered …
the regard I feel for you crimsons my [cheeks] and tears them.

… always in the past … nineteen … Erinna … dear [girls] … looking at a spindle … know that to you … spinning round … for this reason my regard … unmarried girls … perceiving … and flowing hair …

Gray-headed women, gentle in speech, 
who are the flower of old age among mortals.

… you dear … O Baucis! … weeping … a flame … hearing howling … O Hymen! … O Hymen! … Aiai! unlucky Baucis! …

From here to Hades an echo swims vainly across;
silence among the dead; the darkness flows over my eyes.
translated by Gillian Spraggs

Hymen was a god who was invoked at weddings.

Published in Man Does, Woman Is: An Anthology of Work and Gender, ed. Marion Shaw, London, Faber and Faber, 1995
return to top ↑
© Gillian Spraggs, 2006
page added to site on 3 October, 2006 | last modified 24 November, 2006