c. 200 | Athens

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I immediately read the king’s letter you sent me. And by our goddess Calligeneia, in whose temple I now am, I was delighted, Menander.

I was beside myself with pleasure, and the women present did not fail to notice it. My mother was there, and one of my two sisters, Euphronium, and one of my friends, a girl you know. She has often had dinner at your house, and you used to praise her for speaking like a true native of Attica, though you did it as if you were afraid to praise her—the time when I smiled and gave you an especially fervent kiss—don’t you remember, Menander?

When they saw that both my face and my eyes betrayed unusual happiness, they said, “Dear Glycera, what great good fortune has come to you that you now appear to us so changed in soul and in body and in every way? You are radiant all over, and your glowing beauty bespeaks happiness and answered prayer.” “Ptolemy, king of Egypt,” I replied, “is sending for my Menander, promising him half of his kingdom, so to speak,” raising my voice and speaking with greater emphasis in order that all the women there might hear. As I spoke I flaunted and flourished in my hands the letter with its royal seal. “Are you glad, then, to be left behind?” said they. But it wasn’t that, Menander. No, by the goddesses, I could never be made to believe this—not even if the proverbial ox were to speak and tell me so—that my Menander would ever be willing or able to leave me, his Glycera, behind in Athens and, without me, to be monarch of Egypt in the midst of all its wealth. On the contrary, this at any rate was plain from the king’s letter, which I read; he had apparently heard about my relations with you and wanted, by sly innuendo, with an Egyptian version of Attic wit, to tease you good-naturedly. I am glad of this, that the story of our love has crossed the sea even to Egypt and has reached the king. He certainly is convinced, by what he has heard, that he strives for the impossible when he wants Athens to cross the sea to him. What indeed is Athens without Menander? And what is Menander without Glycera? For it is I who sorts out the masks and dresses the actors, and I stand in the wings, gripping my fingers, until the theater breaks into applause—meanwhile trembling with excitement. Then by Artemis, I recover my breath, and embracing you, the sacred author of those famous plays, I take you into my arms. No, what made me happy then, as I told my friends, Menander, was this—that it was not Glycera alone that loves you but kings beyond the sea as well, and that fame has sung your virtues oversea. Egypt and the Nile and the promontory of Proteus and the watchtower of Pharos are now all in suspense in their desire to see Menander and to hear his characters speak—the covetous, the enamored, the superstitious, the faithless, fathers, sons, servants, and every character that appears on his stage. These indeed they will hear, but they will not see Menander unless they come to Glycera’s house in the city and there witness my felicity.



From Letters of Courtesans. Almost nothing is known about the life of the second-century Greek rhetorician, who wrote around 120 fictional letters set in Athens in the fourth century bc. Alciphron drew heavily from the genre of New Comedy, which was flourishing largely due to the popularity of the playwright Menander, represented semifictionally in this text. Before becoming involved with Menander, the historical Glycera, a hetaera (educated courtesan), had lived in Tarsus as the lover of Harpalus, the treasurer of Alexander the Great.