Sappho (Attic Greek Σαπφώ; Aeolic Greek Ψάπφα, Ψάπφω) (born c. 630 BC - 612 BC; died c. 570 BC - 581 BC) Greek poet; A prolific and much acclaimed writer, she is credited with either seven or nine long books of poetry, but over a thousand years of neglect and hostility destroyed most of her work. She is preserved in fragments, in citations in the works of classical authors, and on strips of papyrus found in Egypt. Many translators have attempted to fill in the gaps with their own interpretation of Sappho's style, thus a definitive collection is not possible.
The Willis Barnstone Translations
O dream on your black wings
you come when I am sleeping.
Sweet is the god but still I am
in agony and far from my strength.
for I had hope (none now) to share
something of the blessed gods,
nor was I so foolish
as to scorn pleasant toys.
Now may I have
all these things.
Exhortation to Learning
A handsome man guards his image a while;
a good man will one day take on beauty.
Of course I am downcast and tremble
with pity for my state
when old age and wrinkles cover me,
when Eros flies about
and I pursue the glorious young.
Pick up your lyre
and sing to us of her who wears
violets on her breasts. Sing especially
of her who is wandering.
Supreme Sight on the Black Earth
Some say cavalry and others claim
infantry or a fleet of long oars
is the supreme sight on the black earth.
I say it is
the one you love. And easily proved.
Didn't Helen, who far surpassed all
mortals in beauty, desert the best
of men, her king,
and sail off to Troy and forget
her daughter and her dear parents? Merely
Aphrodite's gaze made her readily bend
and led her far
from her path. These tales remind me now
of Anaktoria who isn't here,
would rather see her warm supple step
and the sparkle in her face than watch all
the chariots in Lydia and foot soldiers armored
in glittering bronze.
To a Handsome Man
If you are my friend, stand up before me
and scatter the grace that's in your eyes.
The Suzy Q. Groden Translations
From The Poems of Sappho (1966)
To have beauty is to have only that,
but to have goodness
is to be beautiful
When wrath runs rampage
in your heart
you must hold still
that rambunctious tongue!
Quotes about Sappho
- Sappho is a great poet because she is a lesbian, which gives her erotic access to the Muse. Sappho and the homosexual-tending Emily Dickinson stand alone above women poets, because poetry's mystical energies are ruled by a hierach requiring the sexual subordination of her petitioners. Women have achieved more as novelists than as poets because the social novel operates outside the ancient marriage of myth and eroticism.
- Camille Paglia, in Sexual Personae (1990), p. 672