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Adonis Dying

September 5, 2016

Adonis Dying

Loveliest of what I leave
is the sun himself

Next to that the bright stars
and the face of mother moon

Oh yes, and cucumbers in season,
and apples, and pears.


Praxilla, 450 B.C (Tr, John Dillon)

COMMENTARY: Writing one hundred years after Sappho, Praxilla of Sicyon was a Greek female poet who wrote in the Doric Greek dialect. Antipater of Thessolonica, a noted epigrammatist of the time, called her “one of the nine immortal tongued women poets.” The parchment, unfortunately, wasn’t as immortal as her tongue. None of her poems survive with the exception of a few brief fragments. This particular fragment is not from one of her manuscripts but rather a squib that has survived from a manuscript of a certain Zenobius (They all had names like that. Oxilphagorphagus. Vulponoxixameragumaos. It was the style of the time) who quotes it as an example of how not to write poetry. The phrase “sillier than Praxilla’s Adonis” was a byword, among poetry readers, for the quirky and incongruous. Zenobius’s objection seems to have been with the juxtaposition of the image of cucumbers with the image of the sun. It seemed off kilter to him, but to me—and to many subsequent readers who have not felt bound by such a (shall we say) “stoic” literary mentality—the inclusion of the cucumbers is not a goofy clash of high and low but rather a poignant of sentiment, made a by a dying man, of how rich and beautiful all the earth’s wonders were—from the loftiness of sun, moon, and stars down to the dailiness of fruits and vegetables.

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