Salvatore La Rosa



[...] and having therewith woven
the fresh and sweet-scented iris of Nossis,
the wax for whose writing-tablets
Eros himself spread...

(Meleager of Gadara)

Regarding Nossis, as well as for Zaleukos or for the other famous historical figures of the ancient Locri Epizephyrii, unfortunately, we don't know much.

She was probably contemporary of Anyte of Tegea (end of the IV century b.C.) and her work has to be counted amongst the Doric-Peloponnesian school of epigrammatical poetry.

Most likely her compositions continued to be known, appreciated and handed down during the whole antiquity, so much so that during the late I century b.C. Antipater of Thessalonica (an epigrammatist poet) puts her amongst the nine earthly Muses (as opposed to the nine celestial Muses), in other words amongst the most famous and respected poetess of the Greek antiquity:

Τάσδε θεογλώσσους Ἑλικὼν ἔθρεψε γυναῖκας
ὕμνοις, καὶ Μακεδὼν Πιερίας σκόπελος,
Πρήξιλλαν, Μοιρώ, Ἀνύτης στόμα, θῆλυν Ὅμηρον,
Λεσβιάδων Σαπφὼ κόσμον ἐυπλοκάμων,
Ἤρινναν, Τελέσιλλαν ἀγακλέα, καὶ σέ, Κόριννα,
θοῦριν Ἀθηναίης ἀσπίδα μελψαμέναν,
Νοσσίδα θηλύγλωσσον, ἰδὲ γλυκυαχέα Μύρτιν,
πάσας ἀενάων ἐργάτιδας σελίδων.
Ἐννέα μὲν Μούσας μέγας Οὐρανός, ἐννέα δ᾽ αὐτὰς
γαῖα τέκεν, θνατοῖς ἄφθιτον εὐφροσύναν.

Such women with divine tongue raised with hymns the Helicon
and (so did) the peak of the Macedonian Pieria,
Praxilla, Moero, the mouth of Anyte, the female Homer,
Sappho jewel of Lesbos' women by the beautiful hair,
Erinna, the famous Telesilla and you, Corinna,
who sang the fearsome shield of Athena,
Nossis by the soothing female voice and the sweet song of Myrtis,
all authors of immortal texts.
Nine Muses (generated) the great Uranus, and also nine
by Gaia generated, everlasting joy of mortals.

(Antipater of Thessalonica, Palatine Anthology IX, 26)

Nossis probably descended from a family belonging to the Locrian nobility and in one of her epigrams (Palat. Ant. VI - 265) she handed down her mother's name, Teofilis, and the name of her maternal grandmother, Kleochas; particularly, in such epigram, the matrilineal identification of the lineage relationships has led some scholars to consider this description a further element tending to confirm the possible existence of the matriarchy in the ancient Locrian polis or, at least, a further confirmation of the importance of the role of the women in Locri Epizephyrii. Other scholars, however, while sharing the assumptions about the primacy of the female role in the Locrian world, tend to consider such a description only within the subject of the same epigram where it is mentioned the work, mainly female, of weaving a gift for the deities, homemade by the women belonging to the family of the poetess.

In her work can be found affinities (probably desired) with Sappho's work, which the poetess mention in one of her epigrams, and the female element is (at least in the epigrams that have reached our age) clearly predominant.

That, added to the fact that Aphrodite's worship was very widespread in Locri, led the experts to suppose the existence in the Greek colony of a thyasus, similar to the Sapphic one, led by the poetess Nossis.

Moreover Nossis' ideal of life seems to appear openly in her epigram "Nothing is sweeter than love..." where the similar views with the Sapphic thought is more than clear.

Of all her work only twelve epigrams, with various subjects, have been preserved; and they have reached the present day thanks to their inclusion in the so-called Garland of Meleager, a collection of epigrams of various authors nowadays lost in its original form but that, in its surviving part, was used during the Middle Ages to form the core block of the Palatine Anthology.

Meleager of Gadara, that composed such work, imagined it exactly like a garland in which to insert (weaving) the most beautiful flowers that the meadow of Greek poetry had generated, and in the proem of his work he chose for each poet, whose work he drew on in the realization of the collection, a flower identifying him interwoven with the ones chosen for all the other poets; and these are the words he devoted to Nossis of Locri:

[...] σὺν δ᾽ ἀναμὶξ πλέξας μυρόπνουν εὐάνθεμον ἶριν
Νοσσίδος, ἧς δέλτοις κηρὸν ἔτηξεν Ἔρως·

[...] and having therewith woven the fresh and sweet-scented iris of Nossis,
the wax for whose writing-tablets Eros himself spread...

(Meleager of Gadara, Palatine Anthology IV, 1 9-10)

Words that, doubtless, suggest a much larger realization, compared to what reached our age, of poems dedicated to love by Nossis.

The twelve surviving epigrams are included in book V (the book dedicated to the love epigrams - one Nossis' epigram), in book VI (dedicated to the votive epigrams - six Nossis' epigrams), in book VII (dedicated to the funerary epigrams - two Nossis' epigrams) and in book IX (descriptive epigrams - three Nossis' epigrams) of the Palatine Anthology.

Particularly two of the twelve epigrams need to be pointed out: the one already mentioned "Nothing is sweeter than love..." (Palat. Ant. V - 170) which could be interpreted as a proem to her work, and the one which starts with "Stranger, if you sail..." (Palat. Ant. VII - 718) which probably had to be the conclusive poem of her work or, perhaps, the text written by Nossis herself for her own epitaph.


(Nossis' surviving work)

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(PALAT. ANT. BOOK V - 170)

῞Αδιον οὐδὲν ἔρωτος· ἃ δ' ὄλβια, δεύτερα πάντα
ἐστίν· ὰπὸ στόματος δ' ἔπτυσα καὶ τὸ μέλι.
Τοῦτο λέγει Νοσσίς· τίνα δ' ἁ Κύπρις οὐκ ἐφίλασεν,
οὐκ οἶδεν κήνα γ' ἅνθεα ποῖα ῥόδα.

Nothing is sweeter than Love; and every other joy
is second to it: even the honey I spit out of my mouth.
Thus Nossis says: and who didn't love Kypris,
doesn't know what sort of roses her flowers are.


Ἔντεα Βρέττιοι ἄνδρες ἀ π' αἰνομόρων βάλον ὤμων
θεινόμενοι Λοκρῶν χερσὶν ὑπ' ὠκυμάχων,
ὧν ἀρετὰν ὑμνεῦωτα θεῶν ὑπ' ἀνάκτορα κεῖνται,
οὐδὲ ποθεῦντι κακῶν πάχεας, οὓς ἔλιπον.

Away from the wretched shoulders threw these shields the Bruttii,
beaten in the fray by the Locrians fast in the fight,
now, laid down in the temple, they devote hymns to their bravery,
neither regret the arms of the cowards left without them.


῞Ηρα τιμήεσσα, Λακίνιον ἃ τὸ θυῶδες
πολλάκις οὐρανόθεν νεισομένα κατορῇς,
δέξαι βύσσινον εἷμα, τό τοι μετὰ παιδὸς ἀγαυὰ
Νοσσίδος ὕφανεν Θευφιλὶς ἁ Κλεόχας.

Holy Hera you who often descend from the heavens
visit your Lacinian sanctuary sweet-scented of incense,
accept the byssus cloak which Teofilis, daughter of Kleochas,
wove for you with Nossis, her noble daughter.


῎Αρτεμι, Δᾶλον ἔχουσα καὶ ᾽Ορτυγίαν ἐρόεσσαν,
τόξα μὲν εἰς κόλπους ἅγυ᾽ ἀπόθου Χαρίτων,
λοῦσαι δ᾽ ᾽Ινωπῷ καθαρὸν χρόα, βᾶθι δ᾽ ἐς οἴκους
λύσουσ᾽ ὠδίνων ᾽Αλκέτιν ἐκ χαλεπῶν.

Artemis, which reign over Delos and the lovable Ortygia,
put back in the Charites' lap the bow and the arrows intact,
purify your body in the waters of the Inopus and come
to the house of Alketis, to free her from the difficult labour pains.


Καίροισάν τοι ἔοικε κομᾶν ἄπο τὰν ᾽Αφροδίταν
ἄνθεμα κεκρύφαλον τόνδε λαβεῖν Σαμύτας·
δαιδαλέος τε γάρ ἐστι, καὶ ἁδύ τι νέκταρος ὄσδει,
τοῦ, τῷ καὶ τήνα καλὸν ῎Αδωνα χρίει.

With pleasure Aphrodite received the lovable offering
of the small bonnet which enshrouded the head of Samyta:
It's really of exquisite workmanship and it gently smells of the nectar
with which the goddess sprinkles the handsome Adonis.


Αὐτομέλιννα τέτυκται· ἴδ', ὡς ἀγανὸν τὸ πρόσωπον
ἁμὲ ποτοπτάζειν μειλιχίως δοκέει·
ὡς ἐτύμως θυγάτηρ τᾷ ματέρι πάντα ποτῴκει.
ἦ καλόν, ὅκκα πέλῃ τέκνα γονεῦσιν ἴσα.

There she is, Melinna in person! Look, her lovely countenance
seems to turn on us the gently sweet glance;
really the daughter looks exactly like the mother.
It's wonderful that the children look like their parents.


Γνωτὰ καὶ τηνῶθε Σαβαιθίδος εἴδεται ἔμμεν
ἅδ' εἰκὼν μορφᾷ καὶ μεγαλοφροσύνᾳ.
θάεο· τὰν πινυτὰν τό τε μείλιχον αὐτόθι τήνας
ἔλπομ' ὁρῆν· χαίροις πολλά, μάκαιρα γύναι.

Even from afar the effigy of Sabetides
appears recognizable, full of style and majesty.
Give up yourself to gaze at her: you seem to see
her sweetness and her wisdom. Praise to you, wonderful woman!


Καὶ καπυρὸν γελάσας παραμείβεο καὶ φίλον εἰπὼν
ῥῆμ' ἐπ' ἐμοί. ῾Ρίνθων εἴμ' ὁ Συρακόσιος,
Μουσάων ὁλίγη τις ἀηδονίς· ἀλλὰ φλυάκων
ἐκ τραγικῶν ἴδιον κισσὸν ἐδρεψάμεθα.

Pass beside me with a ringing laugh, and then tell me
a friend word: I am Rinthon, the one of Syracuse.
A small nightingale of the Muses; from the tragic phliaxes
I was able to pick an ivy, different and mine.


Ὦ Ξεῖν', εἰ τύ γε πλεῖς ποτὶ καλλίχορον Μιτυλάναν
τᾶν Σαπφοῦς χαρίτων ἄνθος ἐωαυσόμενος,
εἰπειν, ὡς Μούσαισι φίλαν τήνα τε Λοκρὶς γᾶ
τίκτε μ' ἴσαν χὤς μοι τοὔνομα Νοσσίς, ἴθι.

Stranger, if you sail to Mitylene, land of beautiful dances,
to catch there the most out of Sappho's graces,
tell that I was loved by the Muses, and that the Locrian land bore me
My name, remember, is Nossis. Now go!


'Ελτοῖσαι ποτὶ ναὸν ἰδώμεθα τᾶς Ἀφροδίτας
τὸ βρέτας, ὡς χρυσῷ δαιδαλόεν τελέθει.
εἵσατό μιν Πολυαρχὶς ἐπαυρομένα μάλα πολλὰν
κτῆσιν ἀπ' οἰκείου σώματος ἀγλαίας.

Arrived in front of the temple we gaze at this statue of Aphrodite
embellished by a dress embroidered with gold.
Polyarchis offered it, having made out a large fortune
from the beauty of her own body.


Θαυμαρέτας μορφὰν ὁ πίναξ ἔχει· εὖ γε τὸ γαῦρον
τεῦξε τό θ' ὡραῖον τᾶς ἀγανοβλεφάρου.
σαίνοι κέν σ' ἐσιδοῖσα καὶ οἰκοφυλαξ σκυλάκαινα
δέσποιναν μελάθρων οἰομένα ποθορῆν.

The little picture shows the beautiful figure of Taumareta:
represented with skill the proud grace of the girl with the delicate eyelash
The dog watching the house could wag her tail
looking at you, believing you her own mistress.


Τὸν πίνακα ξανθᾶς Καλλὼ δόμον εἰς Ἀφροδίτας
εἰκονα γραψαμένα πάντ' ἀνέθηκεν ἴσαν.
ὡσ ἀγανῶς ἕστακεν· ἴδ', ἁ χάρις ίκον ἀντεῖ.
χαιρέτω· οὔ τινα γὰρ μέμψιν ἔχει βιοτᾶς.

In the temple of the blonde Aphrodite Kallò dedicated this picture
painted with a portrait exactly alike her.
What a tidy attitude! And which grace pervades her!
Hail! Of all your life nothing could be blamed.


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