Wednesday, June 06, 2012


An Offering to Priapus

A poem by Hilda Doolittle, or H.D. (1886-1961), is variously titled Priapus Keeper-of-Orchards or Orchard. I'm interested in the offering to Priapus in the last two stanzas (lines 17-31):
O rough-hewn
god of the orchard,
I bring you an offering—
do you, alone unbeautiful,        20
son of the god,
spare us from loveliness:

these fallen hazel-nuts,
stripped late of their green sheaths,
grapes, red-purple,                  25
their berries
dripping with wine,
pomegranates already broken,
and shrunken figs
and quinces untouched,           30
I bring you as offering.
I don't know if anyone has ever pointed it out, but the gifts in lines 23-30 closely recall those in an anonymous poem from the Greek Anthology (6.22; tr. W.R. Paton):
The fruit-watcher dedicated to rustic Priapus, carved out of a trunk, this sacrifice from the trees, a newly split pomegranate, this quince covered with fresh down, a navelled fig with wrinkled skin, a purple cluster of thick-set grapes, fountain of wine, and a walnut just out of its green rind.

Ἀρτιχανῆ ῥοιάν τε, καὶ ἀρτίχνουν τόδε μῆλον,
  καὶ ῥυτιδόφλοιον σῦκον ἐπομφάλιον,
πορφύρεόν τε βότρυν μεθυπίδακα, πυκνορρᾶγα,
  καὶ κάρυον χλωρῆς ἀρτίδορον λεπίδος,
ἀγροιώτῃ τῷδε μονοστόρθυγγι Πριήπῳ
  θῆκεν ὁ καρποφύλαξ, δενδριακὴν θυσίην.
Cf. also Greek Anthology 6.102 (by Philippus; tr. W.R. Paton):
To thee, Priapus, who lovest the Wayfarer, did the gardener Lamon, praying that his trees and his own limbs may flourish, dedicate a yellow-coated pomegranate, figs wrinkled like old men, half-ripe reddening grapes plucked from a cluster, a sweet-scented quince with a fleece of fine down, a walnut peeping from its green outer skin, a cucumber wont to lie embedded in its leaves with the bloom on it, and a golden-smocked olive already ripe.

Ῥοιὴν ξανθοχίτωνα, γεραιόφλοιά τε σῦκα,
  καὶ ῥοδέας σταφυλῆς ὠμὸν ἀποσπάδιον,
μῆλὸν θ᾽ ἡδύπνουν λεπτῇ πεποκωμένον ἄχνῃ,
  καὶ κάρυον χλωρῶν ἐκφανὲς ἐκ λεπίδων,
καὶ σίκυον χνοάοντα, τὸν ἐν φύλλοις πεδοκοίτην,
  καὶ πέρκην ἤδη χρυσοχίτων᾽ ἐλάην,
σοί, φιλοδῖτα Πρίηπε, φυτοσκάφος ἄνθετο Λάμων,
  δένδρεσι καὶ γυίοις εὐξάμενος θαλέθειν.

7 Δάμων Brunck
A κάρυον is any kind of nut. Paton chose to translate it by walnut, H.D. by hazel-nut.

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