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Private Life

230. The go-between. Egypt, 3rd cent. B.C.? (Herodas, Mime 1. G)

A conversation between a hetaera, Metriche, whose man has been away in Egypt, and her old 'nurse' Gyllis (cf. Neaera's household arrangements in Megara, no. 90).

Metriche (to her slave Threissa): Someone is making a noise at the door. See which of the farm workers has come in from the fields.

Threissa: Who's at the door?

Gyllis: It's me.

Threissa: Who are you? Are you afraid to come closer?

Gyllis: Look, here I am. I've come closer.

Threissa: Who are you?

Gyllis: Gyllis, Philaenis' mother.[1] Go inside and tell Metriche I'm here.

Threissa (to Metriche): You're being called by ...

Metriche: Who?

Threissa: Gyllis.

Metriche: Old ma Gyllis. Go away for a bit, slave. What Fate sent you to come to us, Gyllis? (With ironic exaggeration) Why have you come like a god to mortals, for it's already five months, I think, since anyone has seen you-I swear by the Fates, coming to the door of this house.

Gyllis: I live far off,[2] child, and the mud in the back alleys comes up to my knees. I have only the strength of a fly. My old age drags me down. It stands like a shadow beside me.

Metriche: Quiet! Don't bring false charges against your age. You're still able, Gyllis, to use your arms to throttle your adversaries.

Gyllis: Yes, joke away. Just like women your age. But joking won't keep you warm. Why, dear child, how long have you been a widow, tossing alone on your lonely bed? It has been ten months since Mandris went off to Egypt. He hasn't even sent you a letter. He has forgotten you, and drunk from a new cup. Egypt is the House of Aphrodite. Everything that exists anywhere in the world is in Egypt, money, gymnasia, power, tranquillity, fame, sights, philosophers, gold, young men, the shrine of the Sibling Gods Ptolemy and Arsinoë, a good king, the Museum, wine, all the good things Mandris could want, and women, more of them, I swear by the Maiden who is Hades' wife, than the stars which the heaven boasts that it holds, and their looks-like the goddesses who once set out to be judged for their beauty by Paris (may they not hear what I am saying). Well, poor thing, what are you thinking of, as you warm your chair? You'll find out you have grown old and the ashes will gulp down your life's prime. Look elsewhere and for two or three days, change your mind and be happy and find a new man. A ship isn't safe in port with only one anchor. If Death comes, there will be no one to resurrect us. A cruel winter ... no one knows ... Mortals' life is uncertain. But now no one is standing near us?

Metriche: Not a soul.

Gyllis: Then listen. This is what I wanted to come here to tell you. There is Gryllus,[3] son of Matacine, Pataicius' wife; he has won five prizes in Games: as a boy in Delphi, and twice in Corinth when he was first getting a beard, and then he beat his opponents in boxing twice at Olympia. He's nicely rich; he doesn't stir a straw on the ground; he's an untouched sea as far as sex is concerned. When he saw you at the festival of the Descent of Mise,[4] his passions were inflamed, his heart was stung by desire, and, my child, he won't leave my house by night or by day, but weeps over me and wheedles me and says he is dying of passion. So my dear child Metriche, grant the Goddess this one misdemeanour. Dedicate yourself, before you find that age has looked upon you. You will profit in two ways ... and you will be given more than you imagine. Think it over. Do what I say. I am your friend. I swear by the Fates.

Metriche: Gyllis, your white hair has made your wits dull. I swear by Mandris' safe return home and beloved Demeter I wouldn't have listened calmly to any other woman. I would have taught her to limp to her lame song and to have considered my door's threshold an enemy. My friend, don't you come ever again to my house with one more message like this, but bring me the kind of message that ought to be brought to young girls by old women. You let Pytheas' daughter Metriche warm her chair. No one laughs at Mandris. But those aren't the words Gyllis needs to hear, as the saying goes. Threissa, wipe out the cup and pour her three sixth-parts of straight wine, drop some water into it and give it to her to drink.

Gyllis: No, thank you.

Metriche: Here, Gyllis, drink it.

Gyllis: No thank you. I didn't come here to lead you astray, but because of the Holy Rites.

Metriche: On account of them, Gyllis.

Gyllis (she takes the wine): ... Well, my child, it is sweet. I swear by Demeter, Gyllis has never drunk sweeter wine than this. Good luck to you, child, take care of yourself. May my Myrtale and Sime stay young,[5] while Gyllis is still alive and breathing.


Notes:

1. A clear indication of her profession - Philaenis was a noted courtesan, who is said to have written pornographic books.

2. Testimony to the problems of getting round growing suburbs. Cf. Theocritus, Idyll 15.

3. Also the name of Xenophon's son, who was a war hero.

4. In the Eleusinian myth of Hellenistic period, the name of the hostess, otherwise called Iambe or Baubo, who persuaded Demeter to break her fast of mourning for Persephone (Cf. Homeric Hymn to Demeter).

5. Other hetaerae, for whom she will now try to get offers.