This collection of poetry supposedly discovered on the walls of a tomb,
written by a disciple of the 6th century B.C. poet, Sappho, caused quite a stir in its time of publication, that is, Paris, 1894. The lady's name was Bilitis,
and the poetry is the story of her life, her loves, and mostly sex. They are erotic and explicit, and the middle section describes lesbian love and sex.
This collection is not for everyone, but those with an open mind who enjoy exploring a variety of literature will find them fascinating. The thing that
caused the stir was the fact that, eventually, they were revealed to be fraudulent—Bilitis never existed, or if she did, she didn't write this poetry,
because it was written by Pierre Louÿs himself. This beautiful hard-bound Dover edition contains the famous illustrations by the Hungarian artist, Willy
Pogány, and they too are erotic, (the beds are all shaped like a phallus). Even though, despite the efforts of Louÿs himself to make them
appear authentic, the truth of their authorship was discovered. Nevertheless, they have remained an
important body of literature, fraud and all, because they are really quite good.
The poems are grouped in three sections corresponding to major phases in the life of Bilitis. We first find her as a young child/lady, where she muses with the naiads and satyrs in Bucolics in Pamphylia. She falls in love with a shepherd, but is raped by him while she sleeps in the woods. She marries him and has a child, but the relationship is abusive so she leaves.
She next moves to Mytilene, on the Island of Lesbos where she engages in lesbian relationships, falling passionately in love with Mnasidika. The tender and erotic poems from this period, called Elegies at Mytilene, express a fervent and obsessive relationship. Ultimately, her jealousy ends the affair after ten years, and in grief, she moves once again, this time to the Isle of Cyprus. Here she becomes a courtesan, and a quite successful one at that, with many girls working for her. But all too young, her body grows old and forgotten, and her life is filled with sadness and loneliness, never having gotten over her love for Mnasidika. This last section is called Epigrams in the Isle of Cyprus.
The books begins with a few pages describing the life of Bilitis, and it ends with three Epitaphs, a Bibliography, and Translator's Notes. (the translation from French to English). Here are three examples of the poetry, one from each of the three sections. All the poems are brief, each one consisting of four short paragraphs.
And now 'tis I who seek him. Each night I
softly steal from out the house, and travel by a
long and devious path unto his meadow, there to
watch him sleep.
Sometimes I stay a long time, never speaking,
happy just to see him; just to kiss his breath I
bend my lips down unto his own.
Then suddenly I stretch myself upon him. He
wakens in my arms and cannot rise, for I resist
him. He scolds and laughs and tightly squeezes
me. Thus do we play in the night.
. . .The blush of dawn, oh naughty glow on
the horizon, you already! Within what cave
forever night, upon what meadow underneath
the ground, shall we be able, wrapped in love,
to love so long that we should soon forget the
memory of you. . .
Carefully, with one hand, she opened her tunic
and tendered me her breasts, warm and sweet,
just as one offers the goddess a pair of loving
"Love them well," she said to me, "I love
them so! They are little darlings, little children.
I busy myself with them when I am alone. I
play with them; I pleasure them.
"I flush them with milk. I powder them with
flowers. I dry them with my fine-spun hair, soft
to their little nipples. I caress them and I
shiver. I couch them in soft wool.
"Since I shall never have a child, be their
nursling, oh! my love, and since they are so
distant from my mouth, kiss them, sweet, for me."
If you should like, oh! halting passer-by, slim
thighs and high-strung flanks, a hard,
strong throat and knees which clasp, go seek out
Plango, she who is my friend.
If you are looking for a laughing girl with
round luxurious breasts, a fragile build, plump
buttocks and lovely hollowed flanks, go to the
corner of this street where Spidhorodellis has her
But if long tranquil hours in a courtesan's
arms, her soft skin, the belly's warmth and odor
of her tresses pleases you, go look for Milto,
you will be satisfied.
But do not expect much love; profit by her
experience. One can ask everything of a woman,
when she is nude, when it is night and a hundred
drachmae lie upon the hearth.
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