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TOM MANDEL       Some  Epigrams  of  Palladas

The Greek Anthology includes 151 epigrams by the 4th century Alexandrian poet Palladas. Sometimes called the last pagan poet, he was a resistant witness to the Christianizing of his city.

These are my versions of 17 epigrams in J.W. Mackail’s 1890 volume Select Epigrams from the Greek Anthology. (16 by Palladas plus a single anonymous epigram I liked too much to leave out). I have not translated from Greek. Rather I have written short poems that reflect the sensibility of Palladas insofar as I am able to grasp it from Mackail’s Victorian prose.


No worries any more

about fortune or fate

or all the ways you cheat.

Wherever I set out

to sail, my harbor’s here.

A poor port I know – yet

I moor among the free.

My eyes no longer see

those who scorn poverty.


You say you never do

what your wife tells you to?

That’s some idle talk; were you

carved out of oak or a rock?

She rules you too

as they all do.

“At least she doesn’t hit me

with her shoe or sleep around”

you reply? Yes my friend you

have pulled some light duty. You

serve a moderate mistress

not a tough old bird like mine.


Oh Memphis with your

turned up nose

you’re quite the dancer.

Your Daphnis moves

             like she’s wearing the stock.

Your Niobe leaps

              like she’s carrying a rock.


You who owe death a debt

be ready to pay

you might be dead tomorrow

you might die today

so keep a bottle at hand

& the subject at bay

that Paphian chick, you like her sway?

don’t turn her away

while you’re still breathing

fuck her twice today

the dice-thrower will tell you

when it’s time to pay.

You want me to think

about death – that sack of woe?

No need to cry – not for those who die

no more stubbed toes for them

no accidents at all!


A dangerous boat-trip

with Chance at the helm

He doesn’t know how to sail!

Some he glides across calm seas

then dashes others onto the rocks

for no reason like ship-wrecked men.

True though – he docks us all

at the same port (under the dirt).


We are born

over each day

as night ends

far from yesterday

we start life

again with nothing

so stop talking

old man about

your years – they’re

gone. Today won’t

keep long either.


Today we thrive

           – yesterday others did

Tomorrow more arrive

            – we’ll never see their kids

                                              (note: an anonymous epigram
for which
 I’ve given Palladas credit)


Alive, how easy to breathe

the air wafting & gaze upon

all the Sun sets ablaze.

But choke that tiny breath

inside us & we’re done

it’s Hades here we come!

What nothings we are

all puffed up on a breeze.


Did you know, rich man, each road must end?

You traded your time for cash to lend

but money won’t buy you past its last bend.

So tell me, rich man, how much will you pay

the Sun to shine on your face one more day?


Born unclothed

I’ll leave here naked too

Tell me why I work like a dog 

to reach that bare-assed day?


What a weepy race.

In tears when we arrive

we fill the world

with them before we die.

Even while the god

dissolving in laughter

drags us below

hear us go “Boo-hoo!”


Shepherded for death I move ahead

to slaughter with my well-fed herd.


Why so much fuss?

Why make such a ruckus?

The day you were born

the dice were thrown

that wrap you in chains.

Give up your strife with

stuff above you. Thumb

your nose at fate. Try

having some fun instead.


If what bears the weight of all

will take your weight too

let yourself be borne

(& let some burden come to you).

Even when you’re vexed

even as you fall

whatever bears your weight

will take the weight of all.


Life’s a game – learn to play

but don’t get too serious...

“Ouch! – That hurts!”


Hush I tell you

don’t talk so much

don’t act so young!

Like you-know-who

and others such

you’ll wind up hung!