Balaustion’s Adventure is a long poem (2705 lines) written by Robert Browning in 1871.
It set just after the defeat of the Athenian expedition against Sicily in 413 BC.
A group of people from Rhodes flee on a ship bound for Athens, but are intercepted by pirates and forced to seek shelter in the harbour of Syracuse, ally of Sparta.
The Syracusans, to grant the Rhodians entry into the port, ask them if they know the verses of Euripides: therefore a girl called Balaustion recites Euripides’ Alcestis, mingling with the text her own comments and descriptions.
When a malevolent critic challenges her performance, Balaustion speaks about poetry that is able to feed all the senses and have therapeutic properties similar to music.
What’s poetry except a power that makes?
And, speaking to one sense, inspires the rest,
Pressing them all into its service; so
That who sees painting, seems to hear as well
The speech that ‘s proper for the painted mouth;
And who hears music, feels his solitude
Peopled at once — for how count heart-beats plain
Unless a company, with hearts which beat,
Come close to the musician, seen or no?
The name of the Rhodian girl derives from the Latin word balaustium and the Greek balaustion meaning “flower of the wild pomegranate”
Pomegranates have many symbolic implications, not only as symbols of life and fertility owing to their many seeds, but also as symbols of power, beauty and eternal life.
Balaustion blends within herself these metaphorical dimensions; through her identiﬁcation with poetry she is able to grant both salvation and immortality.
Che cos’è la poesia se non un potere che crea?
E, rivolgendosi a uno dei sensi, ispira tutti gli altri,
spronandoli al suo servizio; così,
a chi vede un dipinto, sembra anche di sentire
il discorso che si addice a quella bocca dipinta;
e chi sente la musica, sente la sua solitudine
popolarsi improvvisamente – perché come è possibile contare i battiti del cuore,
se un insieme di cuori che battono
non si avvicina al musicista, visibile o no?