These translations have been for me a labour of love. I have carefully studied the ancient verses in their original language, paying attention to each word and its subtle nuances. Although poetry can never be fully adapted into another language, I have done my best to capture its spirit and magic. I am grateful to all those who have offered suggestions for the improvement of the translations; I have taken their advice into account with special consideration. The texts I have selected share certain qualities: they are poetic in form and focus on the Femimine--on women and goddesses, or the archetypal Goddess of many faces, as I prefer to think of her. An attentive reading offers a different perspective on female roles in the Hellenic world, contradicting widely held stereotypes. These verses can speak deeply to us today, as they did to people thousands of years ago, because they touch upon fundamental human desires: the yearning for abundance and joy, for peace and freedom, for affection and love. The beauty and power of their symbols and images remains still alive, bringing us in touch with a vision of the Sacred...
- Orphic Hymn to Demeter
- The Sacred Marriage by Euripides and Aeschylus
- Empedocles on Aphrodite
- Invocation to Athena by Aristophanes
- Ode to Aphrodite by Sappho
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ORPHIC HYMN TO DEMETER
In the Greek tradition, the Earth was personified as Gaia, but also appeared as Demeter, the Olympian goddess of agriculture. Her name means “Earth Mother” and it became a synonym for “bread” or “wheat.” Her Latin name, Ceres, is the root of the word “cereals.”
Ceres, universal mother, goddess with many names, venerable Demeter, nurturer of children, source of happiness. Wealth-offering goddess, nourishing the corn, giver of all, joyful in peace and in laborious work, creating abundance in seeds and heaps of grain, mistress of the threshing floor, with fresh fruit filled. You dwell in Eleusinian holy vales, delightful, lovely, nurturing all people, you, the first who yoked the oxen to the plough and offered mortals pleasant, happy lives. Giver of growth, Bacchus’s companion in feasts, splendidly honored, bearer of the torch. Pure, delighted with the summer sickles, chthonic yet manifest, favorable to all; mother of good offspring, children-loving, venerable, maiden who nourishes boys. Yoking your chariot with serpent reins dancing around your throne in bacchic frenzy, mother of one, goddess with many children, reverenced by mortals, many are your forms, filled with flowers and sacred leaves. Come, oh blessed one, pure, pregnant with summer fruit, bringing desirable order and peace, joyful riches, too, along with our queen, Health.
 chthonic: of or relating to the underworld. The adjective derives from the word Chthon, "Earth." Demeter, as goddess of the land, is both visible ("manifest") and "chthonic," of the world below.
Aion/Uranus, Gaia and the Four Seasons
THE SACRED MARRIAGE
The mating of the Earth Goddess, Gaia, with the Sky God, Uranus, constitutes the most ancient form of the Sacred Marriage. He fertilizes her with his semen (the rain) and she gives birth to the life-giving vegetation, securing thus the survival of human beings who depended on crops and livestock. Euripides, the great tragic dramatist, describes this union in one of his lost plays:
Don't you see what kind of goddess Aphrodite is? You cannot tell nor figure how great she is, how far she can reach. She nourishes you, me, all people. (...) The Earth, deprived, longs for rain, when the ground is dry, barren by lack of water. And the venerable Sky, filled with rain, desires to fall upon her, thanks to Aphrodite. And when both are joined as one, they produce all, all they bear, whence the race of mortals lives and grows.
(Quoted in Athenaeus 13)
The above verses were probably influenced by a similar description given by Aeschylus in the Danaids, fragment 43:
The pure Uranus longs to mate with Chthon, and Gaia, in love, marriage seeks thus rain falling from the moist Sky impregnates her and she bears for humankind grass for sheep and the wealth of Demeter.
(Quoted in Athenaeus 13)
EMPEDOCLES ON APHRODITE
[The people of old] had no Ares for god nor the Sound of Battle no Zeus for king nor Cronus nor Poseidon, but Aphrodite was their only queen. Her they did propitiate with pious gifts, with painted animals and finely made scents with offerings of fragrant incense and pure myrrh, pouring libations of fair honey on the earth.
INVOCATION TO ATHENA
The female chorus in the comedy Thesmophoriazousai by Aristophanes invokes Athena in all her glory as protectress of Athens, as well as a goddess of democracy and peace:
Athena Pallas, the dance-loving goddess, it is custom to call to our dance, the virgin, unmarried maiden, holding our city, she alone having evident power, she, the keeper of its keys. Appear, you who properly despises tyrants. The womenfolk are calling you; come to us bringing Peace, who loves festivities!
Sappho is cosidered to be the best lyrical poet of ancient Greece, renowned for her erotic poetry. She lived on the Aegean island of Lesbosin the late 7thand early 6th century. The "Ode to Aphrodite" is the only poem of hers which has survived intact.
Ἔλθε μοι καὶ νῦν,χαλέπαν δὲ λῦσον ἐκ μερίμναν, ὄσσα δέ μοιτέλεσσαι θῦμος ἰμέρρει, τέλεσον,σὺ δ’ αὔτα σύμμαχοςἔσσο. Immortal Aphrodite in your flowered robe, crafty daughter of Zeus, I beg you, Lady, don't torment my soul with distress and sorrow.
Come here as in past times, hearing from afar my cry, you paid heed and left your father's palace, yoking your gold chariot
you arrived; lovely swift sparrows brought you on dark earth flapping hard their wings from sky through ether.
Instantly they came; and you, a smile on your immortal face, oh blessed goddess, you asked what I have suffered once more, why I called
you and what my frenzied heart most wants to happen. "Who again do you long for? Who should Persuasion bring to your love? Who wrongs you, Sappho?
Because if she avoids you, soon she'll pursue you, if she doesn't accept your gifts, she'll offer hers, if she doesn't love you, soon she will though she may not want to.
Come to me once more and free me from painful thoughts, what my soul desires, fulfill and become, yourself, my ally.
Copyright by Harita Meenee
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