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greek cave pool santorini

The first two parts may be read here and here.

Book Three

To be as rich as Croesus, or to live without
a care? These matching oars, once mastered
by our helmsmen, twin plowshares that rode easy
in a tiller’s hands, the world has split to either/or.
Your name, dear king—a mockery by tyrants
and vintners of the sour grape—I call
in secret, and you never fail to come. I do not ask
permission of the domed or steepled lot. I let them
plot and scratch. Your pillow talk I still recall:
break loose your trim ship’s hawsers, haul

the baggage of your past and toss it to the dolphins!
History is not, you loved to say, the purview of
the winners but the ones afraid of what comes next.
Your counsel to Great Cyrus could not penetrate
the circles of disdain and scorn that mottled
his fine spirit, though a few did understand.
Freed men and widows, wealthy now beyond imagining,
you’ll find them on no Senate floor or king’s list,
but they’re teaching younger generations well to hand
the anchor from its harbor nest, and stand

among the growing mass who knows there is no
victimhood, only the choice of each to limit or allow.
Your tolerance of wealth, my beloved Croesus,
knows no boundaries. Your opting to ascend
to legend frees us both. Today, I am no concubine.
Nameless as I ever was, you’ll find no grand
or mawkish monuments to one of thousands who
adored you, but I know what we achieved, and why
you set me on that boat, with Apollo’s helping hand,
up into the trade winds off the headland.

So, now I turn to you, dear reader, impatient
in your search for all that’s new. I see the scimitars
of doubt you try to hide; I hid them too, until I met
the richest king who’d ever lived and walked
broad streets absent of poverty, no crime,
and all deaths natural, in their time. The trails
we left are narrow, yes, but clean as an arrow’s arc.
If you would just give up concern; the king was never
burned! Your golden talent’s limitless. Forget travails,
your woven, patched, and thrice stitched sails.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014

If you’ve been reading Oceantics for awhile, glosas will be nothing new to you. One of my goals is to restore this glorious Spanish medieval form to appreciative modern audiences. My novella of horror and good medicine, Dead Edit Redo, creeps into the darkest mysteries of the glosa. My compatriot of sorts, Alain C. Dexter, published a whole book of them called Dead to Rights. And while we’re on the topic of self promotion, please take a peek at my newest novel of mystery and magical realism, Daughters of Babylon.

Now I should like to give credit to two other poets, without whom this glosa could not have been written. Antipater of Sidon lived in Greece in the 2nd century. His poem, “The Bidding of the Harbor God”, forms the tenth line of every stanza and drives the glosa’s rhyme scheme. The masterful translation is by Sherod Santos, an American poet and author of Greek Lyric Poetry: A New Translation. I’ve included Antipater’s full poem here, Santos’s translation, so you, too, can appreciate the talent of both poets.

The Bidding of the Harbor God

Take your thwarts, oarsmen, it’s time to carve
new sea-lanes through the breasting swells.
Wild gales no longer avalanche the shoals
or harrow the rigging of a sail’s nerve,

and already out of mud and clay, swallows
build their jug-nests underneath your eaves.
So quickly now, before the gulled moon leaves
its slumberous lightweight in the meadows,

break loose your trim ship’s hawsers, haul
the anchor from its harbor nest, and stand
up into the trade winds off the headland
your woven, patched, and thrice stitched sails.

—Antipater of Sidon, circa 150 BCE
Translation by Sherod Santos, © 2005