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Table of Contents > 1.4 Alcman, First Maidens' Song

1.4: Alcman, First Maidens' Song 34-101
This song was probably performed in Sparta by a female chorus (or two semichoruses) led by Hagesichora and Agido. Some commentators consider it to be a female initiation rite, perhaps even a betrothal of the two girls. The poem is preserved on a papyrus which breaks off abruptly after v. 101. The first 33 lines are very fragmentary: they seem to narrate a story from Spartan mythology, the killing of the ten sons of King Hippocoon by their cousins Castor and Polydeuces, who were rival suitors for the same pair of maidens. V.34 begins by justifying the act.
. . . they suffered unforgettably
35 After contriving evil deeds --
There is a vengeance of the gods --
But he is blessed, who with wisdom
Weaves his day to the end
Without tears. And I sing
40 Of Agido's radiance: I see
Her as the sun, which Agido
Calls as witness to shine
For us. Yet for me either to praise
Or blame her, the glorious chorus leader3
45 In no way allows, but she herself
Stands out just as if someone
Should set among the herds a horse,
Sturdy, prize-winning, thunderhoofed,
From dreams beneath the rock.4
50 Don't you see? The racer
Is Enetic,5 but the hair
Of my cousin
Hagesichora blooms
Like pure gold,
55 And her silver face --
Why should I tell you clearly?
Here is Hagesichora,
But the second after Agido in beauty
Will run as a Kolaxian horse with an Ibenian:
60 For these Peleiades,6 rising through ambrosial
Night like the star Sirius,7
While we bring the robe8 to Orthria,9
Fight with us.
Neither could such an abundance
65 Of purple exist as to defend us,
Nor an intricate snake10
All gold, nor Lydian
Headband, the delight
Of dark-eyed girls,
70 Not Nanno's hair,11
Nor even divine Areta,
Not Sylacis and Clesisera;
Nor once at Aenesimbrota's will you say:
"Oh that Astaphis be mine,
75 May Philylla look over
And Damareta and desired Ianthemis" --
But Hagesichora overwhelms me.For isn't lovely-ankled
Hagesichora here?
80 She remains beside Agido
And praises our feasts.
O gods, receive their prayers:
From gods come success
And fulfillment. Chorus leader,
85 I would speak -- myself a girl
Screeching in vain, an owl
From a rafter -- still I want most
To please Aotis12, since she has been
The healer of our toils;
90 But through Hagesichora young women
Enter into desired peace.13
For . . . by the trace-horse14
. . .
And on a ship one must
95 Listen above all to the navigator.
Yet she is not more musical
Than the Sirens:15
They are goddesses, but instead of eleven
These ten girls sing;16
100 She sings like a swan on the streams
Of Xanthus.17 The one with alluring golden hair . . .
This website makes available to the public the first two chapters of Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents, edited by Thomas K. Hubbard and published by University of California Press in April 2003. The index also lists the rest of the sourcebook's contents; the book may be ordered at www.ucpress.edu, list price $34.95 paperback. In addition, a file of close to 200 pertinent artistic images is assembled, including those published in the sourcebook and many others. Acknowledgement is made to University of California Press for permission to reproduce this material, as well as to the various museums that have granted permission to use their photographic images. Comments may be directed to Prof. Hubbard at tkh@mail.utexas.edu.