George Gordon Byron: Maid of Athens, ere we part

Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Irène Cahen d’Anvers (ca 1880) - from Wikisource

Pierre-Auguste Renoir – Irène Cahen d’Anvers (ca 1880) – from Wikimedia Commons

In 1809–10, the poet George Gordon Byron briefly resided in Athens. He fell in love with the 12 years old Teresa Makri (Τερέζα Μακρή), in whose mother’s house he lodged. In a letter to Henry Drury he said to be “dying for love of three Greek Girls at Athens”: “Teresa, Mariana, and Kattinka”. Before departing for Istanbul, he wrote for Teresa the poem Maid of Athens, ere we part. The poem was first published in Childe Harold in 1812.

Each stanza of the poem ends with the same Greek refrain “Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ”, which Byron translated as “My life, I love you!” Note that ancient Greeks had four words for “I love” (philo, ero, stergo and agapo), and Byron used agapo, the 4th one, which denotes a more spiritual form of love (as in agapeta).

MAID OF ATHENS, ERE WE PART.
Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ.

Maid of Athens, ere we part,
Give, oh give me back my heart!
Or, since that has left my breast,
Keep it now, and take the rest!
Hear my vow before I go,
Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ.

By those tresses unconfined,
Wooed by each Ægean wind;
By those lids whose jetty fringe
Kiss thy soft cheeks’ blooming tinge
By those wild eyes like the roe,
Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ.

By that lip I long to taste;
By that zone-encircled waist;
By all the token-flowers that tell
What words can never speak so well;
By love’s alternate joy and woe,
Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ.

Maid of Athens! I am gone:
Think of me, sweet! when alone.
Though I fly to Istambol,
Athens holds my heart and soul:
Can I cease to love thee? No!
Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ.

Source of the poem: Wikisource.

For more information on Byron’s love for younger girls, see Minor-attracted figures in history, Paraphilia Research.

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