Athenian Epitaphs

Athenian Epitaphs

A Poem by Michael R. Burch

These are epitaphs placed on gravestones and monuments by the ancient Greeks in remembrance of their dead. 

The Seikilos Epitaph
by Seikilos of Euterpes
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Shine, while you live; 
blaze beyond grief, 
for life is brief 
and time is a thief. 

NOTE: The famous Seikilos Epitaph is the oldest known surviving complete musical composition which includes musical notation. It is believed to date to the first or second century AD. The epitaph appears to be signed “Seikilos of Euterpes” or dedicated “Seikilos to Euterpe.” Euterpe was the Muse of music.


These epitaphs have been ascribed to Plato ...

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
But go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato


We left the thunderous Aegean
to sleep peacefully here on the plains of Ecbatan.
Farewell, renowned Eretria, our homeland!
Farewell, Athens, Euboea's neighbor!
Farewell, dear Sea!
Michael R. Burch, after Plato


We who navigated the Aegean’s thunderous storm-surge
now sleep peacefully here on the mid-plains of Ecbatan:
Farewell, renowned Eretria, our homeland!
Farewell, Athens, nigh to Euboea!
Farewell, dear Sea!
Michael R. Burch, after Plato


This poet was pleasing to foreigners
and even more delightful to his countrymen:
Pindar, beloved of the melodious Muses.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato


Some say the Muses are nine.
Foolish critics, count again!
Sappho of Lesbos makes ten.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato


Even as you once shone, the Star of Morning, above our heads,
even so you now shine, the Star of Evening, among the dead.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Does my soul abide in heaven, or hell? 
Only the sea gulls
in their high, lonely circuits may tell. 
Michael R. Burch, after Glaucus

Passerby, 
tell the Spartans we lie
lifeless at Thermopylae:
dead at their word, 
obedient to their command.
Have they heard? 
Do they understand? 
Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

Here I lie with sea-enclosed Cyzicus shrouding my bones.
Faretheewell, O my adoptive land that reared and suckled me; 
Once again I take rest at your breast.
Michael R. Burch, after Erycius

These men earned a crown of imperishable glory, 
nor did the maelstrom of death obscure their story.
Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

Here he lies in state tonight: great is his Monument! 
Yet Ares cares not, neither does War relent. 
Michael R. Burch, after Anacreon

They observed our fearful fetters,
marched to confront the surrounding darkness; 

now we extol their excellence.
Bravely, they died for us.

Michael R. Burch, after Mnasalcas

Be ashamed, O mountains and seas:
these were men who drew valorous breath.

Assume, like pale chattels, an ashen silence at death.
Michael R. Burch, after Parmenio 

Stripped of her stripling, if asked, she'd confess: 
"I am now less than nothingness."
Michael R. Burch, after Diotimus

Blame not the gale, nor the inhospitable sea-gulf, nor friends' tardiness, 
mariner! Just man's foolhardiness.
Michael R. Burch, after Leonidas of Tarentum

Stranger, flee! 
But may Fortune grant you all the prosperity
she denied me. 
Michael R. Burch, after Leonidas of Tarentum

I am loyal, master, even in the grave: 
just as you now are death's slave.
Michael R. Burch, after Dioscorides

Having never earned a penny
nor seen a bridal gown address the floor, 
still I lie here with the love of many, 
to be the love of yet one more.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Little I knew  a child of five 
of what it means to be alive
and all life's little thrills; 
but little also ― (I was glad not to know) 
of life's great ills.
Michael R. Burch, after Lucian

I lie by stark Icarian rocks
and only speak when the sea talks.
Please tell my dear father I gave up the ghost
on the Aegean coast.
Michael R. Burch, after Theatetus

Everywhere the sea is the sea, the dead are the dead. 
What difference to me  where I rest my head? 
The sea knows I'm buried.
Michael R. Burch, after Antipater of Sidon

Pity this boy who was beautiful, but died.
Pity his monument, overlooking this hillside.
Pity the world that bore him, then foolishly survived. 
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Insatiable Death! I was only a child! 
Why did you snatch me away, in my infancy, 
from those who would love me? 
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Tell Nicagoras that Strymonias
at the setting of the Kids
lost his.
Michael R. Burch, after Nicaenetus

Now his voice is prisoned in the silent pathways of the night: 
his owner's faithful Maltese... 
but will he still bark again, on sight? 
Michael R. Burch, after Tymnes

Poor partridge, poor partridge, lately migrated from the rocks; 
our cat bit off your unlucky head; my offended heart still balks! 
I put you back together again and buried you, so unsightly! 
May the dark earth cover you heavily: heavily, not lightly...
so she shan't get at you again! 
Michael R. Burch, after Agathias

Dead as you are, though you lie as
still as cold stone, huntress Lycas, 
my great Thessalonian hound, 
the wild beasts still fear your white bones; 
craggy Pelion remembers your valor, 
splendid Ossa, the way you would bound
and bay at the moon for its whiteness
as below we heard valleys resound.
And how brightly with joy you would leap and run
the strange lonely peaks of high Cithaeron! 
Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

Aeschylus, graybeard, son of Euphorion, 
died far away in wheat-bearing Gela; 
still, the groves of Marathon may murmur of his valor
and the black-haired Mede, with his mournful clarion.
Michael R. Burch, after Aeschylus

Not Rocky Trachis, 
nor the thirsty herbage of Dryophis, 
nor this albescent stone 
with its dark blue lettering shielding your white bones, 
nor the wild Icarian sea dashing against the steep shingles
of Doliche and Dracanon, 
nor the empty earth, 
nor anything essential of me since birth, 
nor anything now mingles 
here with the perplexing absence of you, 
with what death forces us to abandon...
Michael R. Burch, after Euphorion

Though they were steadfast among spears, dark Fate destroyed them
as they defended their native land, rich in sheep; 
now Ossa's dust seems all the more woeful, where they now sleep. 
Michael R. Burch, after Aeschylus

Sail on, mariner, 
for when we were perishing, 
greater ships sailed on.
Michael R. Burch, after Theodorides

We who left the thunderous surge of the Aegean
of old, now lie here on the mid-plain of Ecbatan: 
farewell, dear Athens, nigh to Euboea, 
farewell, dear sea! 
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

My friend found me here, 
a shipwrecked corpse on the beach. 
He heaped these strange boulders above me.
Oh, how he would wail
that he "loved" me, 
with many bright tears for his own calamitous life! 
Now he sleeps with my wife
and flits like a gull in a gale
-- beyond reach --
while my broken bones bleach.
Michael R. Burch, after Callimachus

All this vast sea is his Monument.
Where does he lie 
 whether heaven, or hell? 
Well friend, perhaps when the gulls repent 

they may tell. 
Michael R. Burch, after Glaucus

Cloud-capped Geraneia, cruel mountain! 
If only you had looked no further than Ister and Scythian
Tanais, had not aided the surge of the Scironian
sea's wild-spurting fountain
filling the dark ravines of snowy Meluriad! 
But now he is dead: 
a chill corpse in a chillier ocean 
 moon led 
and only an empty tomb now speaks of the long, windy voyage ahead. 
Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

His white bones lie shining on some inhospitable shore: 
a son lost to his father, his tomb empty; the poor-
est beggars have happier mothers! 
Michael R. Burch, after Damegtus

The light of a single morning
exterminated the sacred offspring of Lysidice.
Nor do the angels sing.
Nor do we seek the gods' advice.
This is the grave of Nicander's lost children.
We weep at its bitter price.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Pluto, delighting in tears, 
why did you bring our son, Ariston, 
to the laughterless abyss of death? 
Why -- why? -- did the gods grant him breath, 
if only for seven years?

Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Although I had to leave the sweet sun, 
only nineteen 
 Diogenes, hail! 
beneath the earth, let's have the more fun: 
till human desire seems weak and pale.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Once sweetest of the workfellows, 
shy teller of tall tales
 "fleet Crethis!  who excelled
at every childhood game...
now you sleep among long shadows 
where everyone's the same...
Michael R. Burch, after Callimachus

Passing by, passing by my oft-bewailed pillar, 
shudder, my new friend to hear my tragic story: 
of how my pyre was lit by the same fiery torch
meant to lead the procession to my nuptials in glory! 
O Hymenaeus, why did you did change
my bridal song to a dirge? Strange! 
Michael R. Burch, after Erinna

Suddenly this grave
holds our nightingale speechless; 
now she lies here like a stone, 
who once was so accomplished
while sunlight illumining dust 
proves the gods all reachless, 
as our prayers prove them also
unhearing or beseechless.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

I, Homenea, the chattering bright sparrow, 
lie here in the hollow of a great affliction, 
leaving tears to Atimetus 
and all scattered -- that great affection. 
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Wert thou, O Artemis, 
overbusy with thy beast-slaying hounds
when the Beast embraced me? 
Michael R. Burch, after Diodorus of Sardis

A mother only as far as the birth pangs, 
my life cut short at the height of life's play: 
only eighteen years old, so brief was my day. 
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

We mourn Polyanthus, whose wife
placed him newly-wedded in an unmarked grave, 
having received his luckless corpse
back from the green Aegean wave
that deposited his fleshless skeleton
gruesomely in the harbor of Torone. 
Michael R. Burch, after Phaedimus

Here Saon, son of Dicon, now rests in holy sleep: 
say not that the good die, friend, lest gods and mortals weep.
Michael R. Burch, after Callimachus

Anacreon Epigrams

Yes, bring me Homer's lyre, no doubt, 
but first yank the bloodstained strings out! 
�"Anacreon, translation by Michael R. Burch

Here we find Anacreon, 
an elderly lover of boys and wine.
His harp still sings in lonely Acheron
as he thinks of the lads he left behind...
�"Anacreon or the Anacreontea, translation by Michael R. Burch





Erinna Epigrams

This portrait is the work of sensitive, artistic hands.
See, noble Prometheus, you have human equals! 
For if whoever painted this girl had only added a voice, 
she would have been Agatharkhis entirely.
�"Erinna, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Erinna is generally considered to be second only to Sappho as an ancient Greek female poet. Little is known about her life; Erinna has been called a contemporary of Sappho and her most gifted student, but she may have lived up to a few hundred years later. This poem, about a portrait of a girl or young woman named Agatharkhis, has been called the earliest Greek ekphrastic epigram (an epigram describing a work of art) .

Passing by, passing by my oft-bewailed pillar, 
shudder, my new friend to hear my tragic story: 
of how my pyre was lit by the same fiery torch
meant to lead the procession to my nuptials in glory! 
O Hymenaeus, why did you did change
my bridal song to a dirge? Strange! 
�"Erinna, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You, my tall Columns, and you, my small Urn, 
the receptacle of Hades' tiny pittance of ash�"
remember me to those who pass by
my grave, as they dash.
Tell them my story, as sad as it is: 
that this grave sealed a young bride's womb; 
that my name was Baucis and Telos my land; 
and that Erinna, my friend, etched this poem on my Tomb.
�"Erinna, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Translator's note: Baucis is also spelled Baukis. Erinna has been attributed to different locations, including Lesbos, Rhodes, Teos, Telos and Tenos. Telos seems the most likely because of her Dorian dialect. Erinna wrote in a mixture of Aeolic and Doric Greek. In 1928, Italian archaeologists excavating at Oxyrhynchus discovered a tattered piece of papyrus which contained 54 lines Erinna's lost epic, the poem "Distaff." This work, like the epigram above, was also about her friend Baucis.

Excerpts from "Distaff"
by Erinna
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

… the moon rising …
… leaves falling …
… waves lapping a windswept shore …

… and our childish games, Baucis, do you remember? ...

... Leaping from white horses, 
running on reckless feet through the great courtyard.
"You're it! ' I cried, ‘You're the Tortoise now! "
But when your turn came to pursue your pursuers, 
you darted beyond the courtyard, 
dashed out deep into the waves, 
splashing far beyond us …

… My poor Baucis, these tears I now weep are your warm memorial, 
these traces of embers still smoldering in my heart
for our silly amusements, now that you lie ash …

… Do you remember how, as girls, 
we played at weddings with our dolls, 
pretending to be brides in our innocent beds? ...

... How sometimes I was your mother, 
allotting wool to the weaver-women, 
calling for you to unreel the thread? ...

… Do you remember our terror of the monster Mormo
with her huge ears, her forever-flapping tongue, 
her four slithering feet, her shape-shifting face? ...

... Until you mother called for us to help with the salted meat...

... But when you mounted your husband's bed, 
dearest Baucis, you forgot your mothers' warnings! 
Aphrodite made your heart forgetful...

... Desire becomes oblivion...

... Now I lament your loss, my dearest friend.
I can't bear to think of that dark crypt.
I can't bring myself to leave the house.
I refuse to profane your corpse with my tearless eyes.
I refuse to cut my hair, but how can I mourn with my hair unbound? 
I blush with shame at the thought of you! …

... But in this dark house, O my dearest Baucis, 
My deep grief is ripping me apart.
Wretched Erinna! Only nineteen, 
I moan like an ancient crone, eying this strange distaff...

O Hymen! ... O Hymenaeus! ...
Alas, my poor Baucis! 

On a Betrothed Girl
by Erinna
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I sing of Baucis the bride.
Observing her tear-stained crypt
say this to Death who dwells underground: 
"Thou art envious, O Death! "

Her vivid monument tells passers-by
of the bitter misfortune of Baucis �"
how her father-in-law burned the poor girl on a pyre
lit by bright torches meant to light her marriage train home.
While thou, O Hymenaeus, transformed her harmonious bridal song into a chorus of wailing dirges.

Hymen! O Hymenaeus! 



Ibykos Fragment 286, Circa 564 B.C.
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Come spring, the grand
apple trees stand
watered by a gushing river
where the maidens' uncut flowers shiver
and the blossoming grape vine swells
in the gathering shadows.

Unfortunately
for me
Eros never rests
but like a Thracian tempest
ablaze with lightning
emanates from Aphrodite; 
the results are frightening�"
black, 
bleak, 
astonishing, 
violently jolting me from my soles
to my soul.

Originally published by The Chained Muse

Published as the collection "Athenian Epitaphs"

© 2020 Michael R. Burch


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Added on September 26, 2019
Last Updated on October 31, 2020
Tags: Epitaph, Epigram, Greek, Translation, Death, Grave, Headstone, Memorial, Ancient Greek