Angelos Sikelianos

Anadyomenê (Aphrodite Rising) Calypso’s Song On Acrocorinth The Horses of Achilles Frieze


Anadyomenê (Aphrodite Rising)

In blessed rosy light of dawn I surge,
 My arms the first to rise.
Divinely calm the sea, whose waters urge
 Me to the azure skies.
But oh, the sudden breaths of earth! My breast
 Is charged, I’m overcome.
O Zeus, the sea’s dead weight! My hair unloosed,
 Like stones, so burdensome!
Come, breezes! Hold me fast on either side,
 Glaukê, Kymothoê!
I never thought to be alone, betrayed,
 Hêlios embracing me!

Transl. by Timothy Adès. Taken with his kind permission from his website:

Glaukê: the Nereid of the ‘blue-grey waters’; Kymothoê: the Nereid of the ‘running waves’; Hêlios: the god of the Sun.


Calypso’s Song

The cave was spacious, and the mighty cypresses
 Filled it with tranquil musk,
As breath of clacking seaweed from sea-boundaries
 Scented the holy dusk.

Plaiting her thick and golden tresses forward hanging,
 One woven over one,
Slow, as the sun went down, the nymph stood singing,
 And all the isle made moan;

And, as the sunbeams penetrate a dense, wild wood
 When the day dies, there stirred
A sudden secret dance in her, that flared and glowed
 Like flutterings of a bird;

Or as through shade to left and right, on velvet moss
 A pure stream bubbles by,
And there the light-aired glory of the springtime goes,
 Cavorting butterfly,

Carried away on surging wings that soar and dive
 Quick as a lightning-flash,
Golden, green-blue, and luminous, through fugitive
 Enchanted noiselessness;

As, should it turn itself to wide expanse to rove
 On open sea or plain,
The dry transparent thorns, illuminated, move,
 Glistening crystalline;

It tips the corn’s white waves, it tips the mountainsides,
 With a diamond tip-top;
Momently on the pine-needle the sunbeam glides,
 Now, now, like a raindrop;

The savage wave which, as a horse rears on its haunches,
 Hangs in air, from a height
Lets foam run down in countless rivulets, and launches
 A wellspring, fiery-bright; —

Just so, the course of her wild shining melody
 Runs where no shade can lie,
And, as the goddess sings immortal ecstasy,
 Into that sun climbs high;

And in the hollow caves, with deepest inner quaking,
 The deer stand round, stock-still,
That left the heights of Zeus, to seek for their thirst’s slaking;
 The fine-plumed birds, as well.

“Farewell, you shining mortal man! Like sheaves of corn
 Harvested by my prayer,
The distant waves hauled up your troubled shadow, thrown
 On the black rocky shore.

“Now you depart in freedom; I no longer yearn
 Those sturdy limbs to hold,
I who extinguished your desire like glowing iron
 In waters fresh and cold…

“If you and I have shared the earth’s thick-honey taste,
 Mortal, deep in the cave,
If you have learned, through limbs that leisurely embraced,
 How the Olympians love,

“Did you not take delight — free heart and serpent’s gaze! —
 In my immortal fire
That swept you like a wave, for humankind’s caress
 Rekindling your desire?

“Such is your fate. Your deeds are your strong liquor-brew:
 Your only joy is pitting
Your feeble strength, the puny portion given you:
 You break its wings with fretting.

“How much more glorious was your mighty battle-bow,
 On silver peg impaled,
That, far from struggle or from anger, yet could show
 An excellence concealed,

“Launching itself more high than flooding Eurytus,
 When an ungentle wind
Touched it, and from the bowstring came harmonious
 A slow substantial sound,

“Like all the murmur of the sea along the shore
 In the deserted morning;
Volition was a prayer, strife was sacred lore,
 And victory a yearning.

“That death it dealt, when arrows hurtled from your bow —
 The fight was life and death —
It harvested the tallest of the thronging foe,
 Scything their hectic breath —

“Was like a honey-bee who, driving deep her goad,
 Herself is doomed to die;
And you too for my bed have hurled away your sword,
 Stood stripped of weaponry;

“Then in oblivion’s primal force you took your bath,
 That surges secretly;
My flesh conferred on you the eternal fount of youth,
 From the warm touch of me…

“Such is your fate. Your deeds are your strong liquor-brew:
 Your only joy is pitting
Your feeble strength, the puny portion given you:
 You break its wings with fretting.

“Farewell, you shining mortal man! My bed is deep,
 On which henceforth are strewn
Linens that I, whose calm was like immortal sleep,
 Wove on my loom of stone,

“All to preserve my morning-freshness and renew,
 Ocean-foam salving me,
Girding my slumber with the gentle breath of dew,
 Or the waves of the sea.

“The passion of you lingers no more in my bed
 Than the white furrow left
Astern in the black waters where a ship has sped,
 By the helm’s rudder cleft…

“As the Olympians’ midnight calm is broken by
 The owl’s unhurried call,
To which a second owl sends echoing reply,
 Distant, emotional,

“So does eternal longing fix the shining breath
 In an immortal ring,
And the response enriches heaven’s boundless breadth
 By the prayer’s ripening…

“If like a poplar my desire is tremulous
 On a slack windless day,
That trembling soothes my heart the more with cool caress,
 Draws in the breezes’ play;

“Just as the ever-flowing springs, like thrones aligned,
 Evoke my thirsty craving,
So too infinity of bliss outruns my mind,
 Passes, without enslaving…”

In the Olympian twilight, so the goddess sang:
 Her voice was full and strong.
The stars above were vibrant, the horizon rang:
 She bathed her heart in song.

Transl. by Timothy Adès. Taken with his kind permission from his website:

The nymph Calypso rescued the shipwrecked Odysseus and then kept him on her island of Ogygia for seven years. She hosted him lavishly, offering him immortality, eternal youth and shared pleasures, but she could not overcome his longing for home and Penelope. At Athena’s insistence, Zeus, through Hermes, ordered Calypso to release Odysseus. Calypso obeyed, but angrily complained that the gods did not allow goddesses to live with mortals. (Homer, Odyssey, Book 5)


On Acrocorinth

The sun set over Acrocorinth
burning the rock red. From the sea
a fragrant smell of seaweed now began
to intoxicate my slender stallion.

Foam on the bit, the white of his eye
bared fully, he struggled to break
my grip, tight on his reins,
to leap free into open space.

Was it the hour? The rich odors?
Was it the sea’s deep saltiness?
The forest’s breathing far away?

O had the meltemi held strong
a little longer, I would have gripped
the reins and flanks of mythic Pegasus!

Angelos Sikelianos, Selected Poems. Transl. by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1979.

Acrocorinth: the steep and solitary mountain that served as the citadel of ancient Corinth (the hero Bellerophon caught and tamed Pegasus with a bridle given to him by Athena when Pegasus went to drink from the sacred spring; according to one version of this myth, it was the Upper Peirene spring on Acrocorinth);

meltemi: a local northwest wind common in the heat of summer throughout Greece.


The Horses of Achilles

Field of asphodels, beside you
two horses neighed
as they went by at a gallop.
Their backs gleamed like a wave;
they came up out of the sea,
tore over the deserted sand,
necks straining high, towering,
white foam at the mouth, stallion-strong.
In their eyes
lightning smoldered;
and, waves themselves, they plunged again
into the waves,
foam into the sea’s foam,
and vanished. I recognized
those stallions: one of them
took on a human voice to prophesy.
The hero held the reins;
he spurred, hurling
his godlike youth forward…

Sacred stallions, fate
has kept you indestructible,
fixing on your pure black foreheads,
charm against the profane eye,
a large and pure white talisman.

Angelos Sikelianos, Selected Poems. Transl. by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1979.

Achilles’ horses, named Balius and Xanthus, were immortal horses given to Achilles by his father Peleus, who received them from Poseidon. As a charioteer, Patroclus knew how best to handle these horses, and they were harnessed to the chariot he rode into battle to save the Greeks when Achilles did not want to fight because of his conflict with the commander-in-chief, King Agamemnon (Homer, Iliad, 16.149-154). When Patroclus was killed by the Trojan prince Hector, Balius and Xantus were beside themselves with grief (Homer, Iliad, 17.426-447).



With heels apple-red beating
the horses’ flanks where veins swollen
and forked ripple, and sweat on the belly
trickles down to the hooves;

with flat palm guiding the nape
where the mane is parted in two
like a swan’s wing, heads
shaded or crowned, they rush past.

Earth at red heat opens. Cicadas
in the olive trees announce an ethereal victory.
The procession now brings on the robe;

and with the light breeze astern
the great wave of horses dances forward
at a trot, canter, or gallop.

Angelos Sikelianos, Selected Poems. Transl. by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1979.

The poem describes the depiction of the Panathenaic equestrian procession on the Parthenon frieze. The Panathenaic Festival (Panathenaia) was held in the summer of each year and was celebrated on a larger scale every four years (Great Panathenaia). One of its central elements was the presentation of a specially woven robe (peplos) to Athena’s cult statue on the Acropolis.


24 February 2023 – 21 May 2023