Marpessa's Choice


It wasn't by chance that Marpessa preferred Idas over Apollo,
despite her passion for the god, despite his incomparable beauty–
the kind that made myrtle tremble into blossom as he went by. She
never dared raise her eyes above his knees.
Between his toenails and his knees, what an inexhaustible world,
what exquisite journeys and discoveries between his toenails and his knees. Still,
at the ultimate moment of choice, Marpessa lost her nerve: What would she do
with a bequest as grand as that? A mortal, she would grow old one day.
She suddenly imagined her comb with a tuft of white hair in it
left on a chair beside the bed where the immortal one would rest shimmering,
she thought also of time's fingerprint on her thighs, her fallen breasts
in front of the black metal mirror. Oh no–and she sank as though dead
against Idas' mortal shoulder. And he lifted her up in his arms like a flag
and turned his back on Apollo. But as he left, almost arrogantly,
one could hear something like the sound of cloth ripping (a strange sound):
a corner of the flag was held back, trapped by the god's foot.


                                                           Greek; trans. Edmund Keeley


Yannis Ritsos, Greek, trans. Edmund Keeley, Yannis Ritsos: Repetitions, Testimonies, Parentheses, Princeton University Press, 1991.