POLYPHEMUS AND GALATEA
trans. Pierre A. MacKay
There is no drug in nature, Nicias, no salve, I think, and no
poultice for love, except poetry, a gentle and sweet antidote,
but one not easy to discover. As a doctor, I think you know this
well, and as one especially loved by the Muses.
This is how our own Cyclops found it best to pass his hours---our
ancient Polyphemus---when he fell in love with Galatea. He was just
past boyhood then, with the first bloom about his mouth and temples,
but he did not love lightly with apples, roses and quinces. No, he
loved with a towering passion and everything fell to pieces about
him. Often his sheep came home from the meadows unguided to the fold
while he wasted away, singing from the break of dawn on the
weed-covered shore, nursing a terrible wound in his breast where the
bolt from Aphrodite had pierced his heart. Sitting on a steep rock
and gazing down into the sea, he sang this song:
O lovely Galatea, why do you spurn your lover? Whiter than new
cheese, softer than a lamb, sprightlier than a bull-calf, fuller than a
ripening grape. You come out only when sweet sleep imprisons me and
when it releases me, you rush home. You flee me like a sheep
terrified by a gray wolf.
I have loved you, sweet girl, since first you wanted to gather
hyacinths on the mountain and came here with my mother, and I showed
you the way. Since I saw you then I have loved you and I cannot
stop. But you care nothing for that, nothing at all.
I know, my dearest, why you run from me. It's my great wide hairy
brow across my entire forehead in a single line from ear to ear, with
only one eye below it. And there is my wide flat nose above my lip.
That's the way I look, but even so, I have a thousand head of sheep,
and I get the finest milk from them and I never lack for cheese in
summer or fall. Even in the depth of winter my larder is full of
cheese. I play the pipes better than any other Cyclops when I sing of
you and me together from dusk to dawn. I am raising eleven fawns for
you, all with crescent blazes, and four bear cubs.
So do come to me. You will be so content. Let the gray sea crash
against the land. You'll spend much sweeter nights with me in the
cave. There is laurel there and cypress boughs, dark ivy and a vine
thick with fruit. There is cool water sent down to me by woody Aetna,
a heavenly drink. Who could choose the sea and the waves over these.
If I seem too coarse and hairy for you, there is a piece of oak and
coals heaped up under the ash. I endure you burning out my soul, so
burn out my one eye too, which is dearer to me than anything.
Why did my mother not bear me with fins so that I could swim down to
you and kiss your hand? And if my mouth does not please you, I could
bring you white snowdrops and poppies with bright red petals---but I
couldn't really bring you both together, of course---one is a summer
flower and the other blooms only in winter. Oh, my sweet, I might yet
learn to swim if some stranger comes sailing here in a ship, and then
I'll know why you find the sea a good place to live.
Come out, dear Galatea, and forget to go back home again, just as I
sit here and keep forgetting to go home. Come out to tend the sheep
with me and milk them, and add the rennet to firm the milk up to
It is mother I blame, and her alone. She never puts in a good word
for me even though she sees me waste away day after day. I'll tell
her my head is throbbing, and my feet too. Then she'll be unhappy
just like me.
Oh, Cyclops, Cyclops, what have you done with your mind? Why not
weave some baskets and gather shoots to take to your sheep. That
would make more sense? Milk the sheep you have to hand. Why chase
the one that runs away? You'll find another Galatea, perhaps even
prettier. Many girls call me to play at night and giggle when I answer
them. It's clear that at least on land I really am somebody.
That was how Polyphemus shepherded his love, by making music, and it
worked a lot better than paying a fee.