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Kisses for Semele





Caravaggio, Dionysos, in Bacchus (1596), Uffizi Gallery, Florence



Though slain by the thunderbolt's roar,

long-locked Semele lives on Olympus;

Athena loves her to bits, Father Zeus

even

more, and her ivy-crowned kid sends kisses.

--Pindar, Olympian 2: For Theron of Acragas on His Victory in the Chariot Race in the Seventy-Seventh Olympiad (476 BCE), 27–30*


Thebes is a dull town, dree

days there are, even for the

daughter of the king, Kadmos,

who taught you the ABC.

 

Oh, Dia! In the dark He treated me

                                                      okay!

 

Don’t expect too much of men,

you say?

He loved his Semele!

 

But on that dreary plain

I asked to know his name,

that it was no monster,

who’d knocked up Semele.

 

In thunder then,

                              sharp lightning,

rain in the dismal ditch

below the cold Kadmea,

swift fire swept me away

that droumy day.

 

Three months more were wanting,

three more months went by.

The infant from the ashes

He drew like a sword from his thigh.

 

And while my grave still smoldered

my boy came down to Hell

to fetch me to Olympus

where we and Pallas dwell.

 

Though Zeus did me wrong,

the ending’s happy: I’m Dionysos’ mom!



*Epigraph trans. Peter Dreyer.


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