Swallow song

Well a Spring will be with us soon even though it still looks a long way away. I have taken the following from the Penguin book of Greek verse edited by Constantine A Trypanis who dates it to the 7th century BC and is quoted by Athenaeus. Apparently the tradition of children going from door to door asking for “treats” has lasted up to the current day in Rhodes and seems similar to modern trick or treating.

ἦλθ᾽ ἦλθε χελιδών
καλὰς ὥρας ἄγουσα,
καλοὺς ἐνιαυτούς,
ἐπὶ γαστέρα λευκά,
5 ἐπὶ νῶτα μέλαινα.
παλάθαν σὺ προκύκλει
ἐκ πίονος οἴκου
οἴνου τε δέπαστρον
τυροῦ τε κάνυστρον·
10 καὶ πύρνα χελιδών
καὶ λεκιθίταν
οὐκ ἀπωθεῖται· πότερ᾽ ἀπίωμες ἢ λαβώμεθα;
εἰ μέν τι δώσεις· εἰ δὲ μή, οὐκ ἐάσομες·
ἢ τὰν θύραν φέρωμες ἢ τὸ ὑπέρθυρον
15 ἢ τὰν γυναῖκα τὰν ἔσω καθημέναν·
μικρὰ μέν ἐστι, ῥᾳδίως νιν οἴσομες.
ἂν δὴ τι φέρῃς, μέγα δή τι φέροις·
ἄνοιγ᾽ ἄνοιγε τὰν θύραν χελιδόνι·
οὐ γὰρ γέροντές ἐσμεν, ἀλλὰ παιδία.

This is Trypanis’ translation literal but prosaic.

She has come, she has come, the swallow has come bringing the hours of beauty, years of beauty, on her white belly, on her black back. Bring fruit and cakes from your rich house and offer it to us, and a cup of wine and a basket of cheese. The swallow does not disdain even wheaten bread or pulse bread. Shall we go are we to get something [to eat]? If you give us something [good], but if you don’t we shall not let you be; we shall carry away the door of the lintel, or your wife sitting inside; she is small; we shall carry her easily. But if you give us something, let it be something big. Open, open the door to the swallow; for we are not old men but children.

Athenaeus 8.359d

For a more poetic version Isaac D’Israeli, the father of the prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, quotes this and attributes it to a friend of his.

The Swallow, the Swallow is here,
With his back so black, and his belly so white,
He brings on the pride of the year,
With the gay months of love, and the days of delight.
Come bring out your good humming stuff,
Of the nice tit-bits let the Swallow partake;
And a slice of the right Boedromion cake.
So give, and give quickly,–
Or we’ll pull down the door from its hinges:
Or we’ll steal young madam away!
But see! we’re a merry boy’s party,
And the Swallow, the Swallow is here!

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2 Responses to Swallow song

  1. Barbara Goodbun says:

    Interesting that this ‘tradition’ no longer includes ‘stealing the wife’! The modern American Hallow’een ‘Trick or Treat’ could take on a completely new aspect.


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