The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 3/Maid of Athens, ere we part
MAID OF ATHENS, ERE WE PART.
Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ.
By those tresses unconfined,
By that lip I long to taste;
Maid of Athens! I am gone:
- [The Maid of Athens was, it is supposed, the eldest of three sisters, daughters of Theodora Macri, the widow of a former English vice-consul. Byron and Hobhouse lodged at her house. The sisters were sought out and described by the artist, Hugh W. Williams, who visited Athens in May, 1817: "Theresa, the Maid of Athens, Catinco, and Mariana, are of middle stature.... The two eldest have black, or dark hair and eyes; their visage oval, and complexion somewhat pale, with teeth of pearly whiteness. Their cheeks are rounded, their noses straight, rather inclined to aquiline. The youngest, Mariana, is very fair, her face not so finely rounded, but has a gayer expression than her sisters', whose countenances, except when the conversation has something of mirth in it, may be said to be rather pensive. Their persons are elegant, and their manners pleasing and lady-like, such as would be fascinating in any country. They possess very considerable powers of conversation, and their minds seem to be more instructed than those of the Greek women in general."—Travels in Italy, Greece, etc., ii. 291, 292. Other travellers, Hughes, who visited Athens in 1813, and Walsh (Narrative of a Resident in Constantinople, i. 122), who saw Theresa in 1821, found her charming and interesting, but speak of her beauty as a thing of the past. "She married an Englishman named Black, employed in H.M. Consular Service at Mesolonghi. She survived her husband and fell into great poverty.... Theresa Black died October 15, 1875, aged 80 years." (See Letters, 1898, i. 269, 270, note 1; and Life, p. 105, note.) "Maid of Athens" is possibly the best-known of Byron's short poems, all over the English-speaking world. This is no doubt due in part to its having been set to music by about half a dozen composers—the latest of whom was Gounod.]
- Romaic expression of tenderness. If I translate it, I shall affront the gentlemen, as it may seem that I supposed they could not; and if I do not, I may affront the ladies. For fear of any misconstruction on the part of the latter, I shall do so, begging pardon of the learned. It means, "My life, I love you!" which sounds very prettily in all languages, and is as much in fashion in Greece at this day as, Juvenal tells us, the two first words were amongst the Roman ladies, whose erotic expressions were all Hellenised. [The reference is to the Ζωὴ καὶ Ψυχὴ of Roman courtesans. Vide Juvenal, lib. ii., Sat. vi. line 195; Martial, Epig. x. 68. 5.]
- In the East (where ladies are not taught to write, lest they should scribble assignations), flowers, cinders, pebbles, etc., convey the sentiments of the parties, by that universal deputy of Mercury—an old woman. A cinder says, "I burn for thee;" a bunch of flowers tied with hair, "Take me and fly;" but a pebble declares—what nothing else can. [Compare The Bride of Abydos, line 295—
"What! not receive my foolish flower?"
See, too, Medwin's story of "one of the principal incidents in The Giaour." "I was in despair, and could hardly contrive to get a cinder, or a token-flower sent to express it."—Conversations of Lord Byron, 1824, p. 122.]
- Constantinople. [Compare—
"Tho' I am parted, yet my mind
That's more than self still stays behind."
Poems, by Thomas Carew, ed. 1640, p. 36.]