Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Philaenis, Adoption, and Motherhood

 According to Greek lore, Philaenis was a woman author who wrote a treatise on erotic arts. Because of this, the name Philaenis was used for a stock character of a woman who exceeded Greco-Roman gender roles. Whether she showed excessive lust, same-sex desire, or had children out of wedlock, the name Philaenis was used as an umbrella-term to cover these "unladylike" behaviors.  In these poems, the name Philaenis is used for a woman who adopts a child instead of birthing one. 

Non in ventre quae-conoeperat Philaenium Heliodoro

filiam peperit sponte fortuito.

Hoc autem de filia contristato, sex interponit

dies, et eniti se filium puerum dixit.

Sic Bubastis a-munere-solvitur: si enim quaeque

pariet ut illa, quid deae erit respectus?

οὐκ ἐν ῾γαστρὶ λαβοῦσα Φιλαίνιον Ἡλιοδώρῳ

θήλειαν τίκτει παῖδ᾽ ἀπὸ ταὐτομάτου.

τοῦ δ᾽ ἐπὶ θηλείῃ λυπουμένου, ἓξ διαλείπει

ἤματα, καὶ τίκτειν ἄρσενα παῖδ᾽ ἔφατο.

οὕτως Βούβαστις καταλύεται: εἰ γὰρ ἑκάστη

τέξεται ὡς αὐτή, τίς θεοῦ ἐστι λόγος;

Philaenis gave birth to a daughter by herself, 

without Heliodorus. When he was upset at the child’s sex,

Six days later, she is said to have given him a son.

I guess we don’t need to worship fertility goddesses:

If everyone gives birth like her, what purpose will they serve?

--Nicharchus, Greek Anthology XI.18; Translated into Latin by Hugo Grotius


Quae flammae cuncta peperi Philaenium, quae gravem

mater, quae puerorum ternum vidi sepulcrum, luctu

in-alienis partibus acquievi: sane enim speraveram

fore ut omnino mihi viveret hic quem non pepereram.

Ego tot-liberorum-mater subditum educabam. Sed me daemon

voluit ne alius quidem matris habere donum.

Vocatus enim noster periit. Nunc vero matribus

iam et reliquis luctus ego facta-sum.



ἡ πυρὶ πάντα τεκοῦσα Φιλαίνιον, ἡ βαρυπενθὴς

μήτηρ, ἡ τέκνων τρισσὸν ἰδοῦσα τάφον,

ἀλλοτρίαις ὠδῖσιν ἐφώρμισα: ἦ γὰρ ἐώλπειν

πάντως μοι ζήσειν τοῦτον ὃν οὐκ ἔτεκον.

ἡ δ᾽ εὔπαις θετὸν υἱὸν ἀνήγαγον ἀλλά με δαίμων

ἤθελε μηδ᾽ ἄλλης μητρὸς ἔχειν χάριτα.

κληθεὶς ἡμέτερος γὰρ ἀπέφθιτο: νῦν δὲ τεκούσαις

ἤδη καὶ λοιπαῖς πένθος ἐγὼ γέγονα.

Every child that I have birthed


I, Philaenis, a mother pregnant with grief

Who saw my third child buried,

Adopted another’s baby,

Hoping that a child I didn’t birth

Would live.

And so I adopted an unexpected child from a fertile mother.

But a demon wanted me

To not have the gift of another mother.

And now my adopted child has died:

And I have become a source of grief

To even another’s mother.

--Philippus of Thessalonica, Greek Anthology IX.254; Translated into Latin by Hugo Grotius



Name:  ????


Works:  Greek Anthology; Anthologia Graeca; Florilegii Graecii





 The Greek Anthology is a modern collection of Greek lyric poetry compiled from various sources over the course of Greco-Roman literature. The current collection was created from two major sources, one from the 10th century CE and one from the 14th century CE. The anthology contains authors spanning the entirety of Greek literature, from archaic poets to Byzantine Christian poets. 

 Byzantine Greek


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