(Alexandria, First Century)

Heartiest greetings to my wife, Echo,
and to Apollonius and Philip also.
We are all still here in Alexandria,
although at my urging, we changed our rooms,
and moved nearer to the port,
which seemed more convenient to me.
I sold the oil of jasmine for perfumes
and expect to trade the cinnamon and rosemary
for the shipment of Persian roses due in any day.
Don’t fret if the others return before me,
therefore; there is more I can accomplish in the city.
When I write next, I will send money.
I beg and beseech you tenderly
to guard your health during your pregnancy.
If—and good luck, Echo—you bear a child, sound, fit,
and male, let it live—if it is female, expose it.
Aphrodisias told me of your foolish fear
that I would forget or abandon you.
You are my wife by law, and on my honor,
I will return before the month is over,
with wages and kisses for your bright, smooth hair.
How could I forget you, how could I disappear?

Note: The poem is based on a first-century papyrus text, published in Women’s Life in Greece and Rome, edited by Mary Lefkowitz and Maureen B. Fant.

This Issue

June 22, 1995