The gods


1 Do only mortals smile?





14 December 2007 1.5

Do only mortals smile?

In the Louvre

I looked for a smile

on the face of a classical sculpture,

but couldn’t find any,

except archaic attempts.

I spent a long time with Aphrodite of Rhodes,

walking around her,

looking suddenly over my shoulder

to see whether I could detect a smile;

she remained serene, lifting her hair.

Later, as I sloshed

through the placid Mediterranean surf,

she walked past me up to the beach

through the quietly popping foam,

her torso glinting in the sun,

born on gliding hips.

She looked around at me,

slightly smiling.


1. In the Archaic period of Greek culture (600 – 480 B.C) statues of young men (kouros) and young women (kore) were given stilted, unnatural  smiles. Later, as artists developed towards naturalism and gained better control over the medium, sculpture depicted human beings in superb natural poses.

2. Alicia Elsbeth Stallings (born 1968) is an American poet. She coordinates the poetry workshopfor the Athens Centre, which takes place on Spetses, one of the islands in the Saronic Gulf.

Stallings was raised in Decatur, Georgia, and studied classics at the University of Georgia (A.B., 1990) and University of Oxford. Her poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry anthologies of 1994 and 2000. She has been awarded a Pushcart Prize, the Eunice Tietjens Prize, the 2004 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award, and the James Dickey Prize. Her debut poetry collection, Archaic Smile, received the 1999 Richard Wilbur Award and was a finalist for both the Yale Younger Poets Series and the Walt Whitman Award. She is an editor with the Atlanta Review and is completing a verse translation of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura. She lives in Athens, Greece, with her husband, John Psaropoulos, editor of the Athens News.

Stallings’ poetry uses traditional forms, and she has been associated with the New Formalism, although her approach to formal verse is flexible, and she freely uses metrical substitution.[1]