Appendix Vergiliana, "Copa Syrisca"

The Syrian hostess

by Virgil

This stunning “carpe diem” poem was traditionally ascribed to Virgil: the majority view these days is that he probably didn’t write it -it is not much like his usual poetry – but who knows? It describes a Syrian hostess and her tavern with its varied attractions. I would like to book a table.

See the illustrated blog post here.

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Copa Syrisca, caput Graeca redimita mitella,
crispum sub crotalo docta movere latus,
ebria famosa saltat lasciva taberna
ad cubitum raucos excutiens calamos.
quid iuvat aestivo defessum pulvere abisse
quam potius bibulo decubuisse toro?
sunt topia et calybae, cyathi, rosa, tibia, chordae,
et triclia umbrosis frigida harundinibus;
en et Maenalio quae garrit dulce sub antro
rustica pastoris fistula more sonat.
est et vappa cado nuper defusa picato,
est crepitans rauco murmure rivus aquae.
sunt etiam croceo violae de flore corollae
sertaque purpurea lutea mixta rosa,
et quae virgineo libata Achelois ab amne
lilia vimineis attulit in calathis.
sunt et caseoli, quos iuncea fiscina siccat,
sunt autumnali cerea pruna die
castaneaeque nuces et suave rubentia mala,
est hic munda Ceres, est Amor, est Bromius;
sunt et mora cruenta et lentis uva racemis,
et pendet iunco caeruleus cucumis.
est tuguri custos armatus falce saligna,
sed non et vasto est inguine terribilis;
huic calybita veni: lassus iam sudat asellus;
parce illi, Vestae delicium est asinus.
nunc cantu crebro rumpunt arbusta cicadae,
nunc varia in gelida sede lacerta latet:
si sapis, aestivo recubans nunc prolue vitro,
seu vis crystalli ferre novos calices.
hic age pampinea fessus requiesce sub umbra
et gravidum roseo necte caput strophio,
formosum tenerae decerpens ora puellae;
a pereat cui sunt prisca supercilia!
quid cineri ingrato servas bene olentia serta?
anne coronato vis lapide ossa tegi?
pone merum et talos; pereat qui crastina curat:
Mors aurem uellens ‘vivite’ ait, ‘venio’.

The Syrian hostess, tipsy, head bound in a Grecian band,
does her provoking dance in her famous inn,
deftly sways her lithe hips to the castanet
and shakes the rattles on her elbows.
Why would a tired man prefer being off in the summer
dust to lying on a couch to drink? There are gardens,
corners, cups, roses, music from pipes and strings
and cool tables screened with reed;
a girl chatting sweetly in the Arcadian nook,
and a country pipe playing pastoral.
there is wine breathing, just poured from the resined jar,
a brook sounding with its pattering flow.
There are violets and garlands of golden flowers,
and ones of yellow mixed with purple blooms,
and lilies which a siren brought from
her pristine river in wicker baskets. There are
cheeses in rush trays to dry. There are
plums, waxy with the autumn season,
hazel and chestnuts and sweetly blushing
apples: here Ceres, Love and Bacchus are
dainty; there are blood-coloured brambles and
grapes on pliant stems, and the green cucumber
on the vine: the garden has a guard with a willow
hook: he is not frightening, though huge in the groin.
Come, pilgrim: your donkey is tired and sweating;
Spare him, donkeys are Vesta’s pets. Now the
cicadas split the grove with unremitting song,
the mottled lizard hides in its cool spot: if you
want, now recline and drink from a summer glass,
or if you prefer, raise cup on cup of crystal. Come,
you’re tired, rest here in the shade of the vine,
tie your heavy head with a rosy band,
and reap a pretty girl’s lips with kisses;
old-fashioned prudes, be damned! Dead, you
won’t appreciate these fragrant garlands: why save them?
Or should they go on a gravestone for your bones?
Bring wine and dice: care for tomorrow, be damned!
Death tweaks your ear: “Live,” he says, “I’m on my way!”