Lamia’s Tale


Herbert James Draper, \"Lamia\", 1909

Courtesan’s Confession

You brought me here a slave, though I was

a noblewoman in my own land, a fairer land

crowned with mountains and without that stench,

constant reek of fish and brine. Whore for a king—

but far too wise, thus sold as courtesan, no common

whore, but whore nonetheless. And you wonder

at my audacity to despise both king and man? Fools

have no use for a woman of intelligence, a learnéd

whore who can carry conversation as well as water

and the faint heart of a political pedant.

Your physician with his golden needle

pierced the soft mechanism of my fertile

womb, and made me a eunuch whore . . . What then

did you think I would do? Robbed of my self,

robbed of immortality, I cried out

to my goddess, supplicating for life

and vengeance. She heard, oh yes, and cried loud

and long within me even as my own

tears stained the satin settee you thought might

please me. I was never pleased! Your wine-stench

and olive-slick skin repulsed me always!

I learned of your wife, mother of your child,

and listened at Symposium for fear

in your strange tales; naming myself Lamia,

I took the serpent’s way into your wife’s

rooms with poisons of my own. She suffered

little for your transgression—I took mercy

on other victims—but your infant son

shed his flesh for the dish I serve you this

night to celebrate your final birthday!

David M Pitchford
9 June 2008

Picture: “The Lamia” by Herbert James Draper, 1909

This is sort of a mishmash of Greek mythology. It is based on the tales of Lamia, and mixed with similar tales of vengeance and such. Apparently, there were multiple archetypes of prostitutes in ancient Greece—one for pleasure only (pornae) both freelance and pimped, and one for pleasure and companionship (hetaera) more comparable to courtesans and often educated. Hope you enjoy the poem.

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