Verse from a time of conquest

About this time last year, several media outlets reported on six lines of Greek poetic verse dating to around the 2nd century AD. These lines were inscribed on a gemstone that was found in the sarcophagus of a young girl who was wearing it at the time of her entombment:

Λεγουσιν | They say
α θελουσιν | What they like
λεγετωσαν | Let them say it
ου μέλι μοι | I don’t care
σύ φίλι με | Go on, love me
συνφέρι σοι | It does you good

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them. My first thought was how playful and melodious the lines are in Greek. They made me smile and marvel yet again at the beauty and magic of this language. Since then, I’ve been thinking about how we might be inclined to read the “I” in modern, individualistic terms. This contrasts with something I’ve noticed in the cultural products of Greek speakers, which is a tendency for subjectivity (in antiquity and beyond) to be more communal that individual. Read through this lens, could the words of this verse be read with a sly wink? The conquered Greek speakers comforting themselves by noting that, to paraphrase Horace, they conquered their conquerors with their culture.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts, on the poem and/or how it has been translated and interpreted, or anything else you would like to share with me on this topic. I’ve added excerpts from a couple of articles for reference:

3 thoughts on “Verse from a time of conquest

  1. I love the playfulness of this verse too! I also love the idea of poetry inscribed on objects such as gemstones. I am wondering where I could sneak in some of my favorite verses on my everyday objects 😀
    What a lovely thought as to how it relates to a more communal view, my friend.

  2. Your interpretation is fascinating but as a huge pop culture fan, I have to say I want it to just be a love poem that was the rough equivalent to one of those pop song earworms you hear today. It humanizes people who lived so long ago, so much more than something epic, in my humble opinion. But then again, both interpretations maybe were the intent – or maybe it’s just up to the individual, like how some songs take on a universal or epic meaning to us, depending on when we heard them or who or what we associate them with.

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