‘…[our] gilded horse-cockerel [mastheads], crafted by careful labour, are dripping [like wax?]…’-Aeschylus, "The Myrmidons" (Fragment 61)
- Alexandria, (c.230 BC)
The lads tease me, call me Charon. I row
out to anchored ships at night, take my tax
as ferryman, not of pennies but texts,
as our Law decrees, seizing plays, poems
for transcribing in our new Musaeum,
swearing to return all works I ‘borrow’.
Last week I took some rolls of Aeschylus
to Callimachus, our famed Librarian:
gilded horse-cockerels, we read, perplexed,
crafted mastheads, now melting, drip by drip,
in the corrosive fires of burning ships…
We joked how they must drink, these Athenians.
Callimachus did not laugh. It was fate
he said: here were the Greek prows at Troy, torched
as Achilles sulked. Myrmidons. Lines thought
so prized now that he would not give them back.
We all groaned, aghast. Yet more horse-cocks.
And then I glanced at Callimachus’s face
caught in a shifting taper as he talked -
like a city put to flame, molten wax
about to twist the world into new shapes.