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Sweet is the god but still I am in agony and far from my strength.

Sappho (Attic Greek: Σαπφώ; Aeolic Greek: Ψάπφα, Ψάπφω) (born c. 630/612 BC; died c. 570 BC - 581 BC) Greek poet; A prolific and much acclaimed writer, she is credited with either eight or nine long books of poetry. Her extant works are 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.
  • Fragment 63 Voigt

Exhortation to Learning

  • A handsome man guards his image a while;
a good man will one day take on beauty.
  • Fragment 50 Voigt


  • Virginity, virginity, when you leave me, where do you go?
I am gone and never come back to you.
I never return.[1]
  • Fragment 114 Voigt

Old Age

  • 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.
  • Fragment 58 Voigt

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.
  • 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,
yet I
for one

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.
  • Fragment 16 Voigt

To a Handsome Man

  • If you are my friend, stand up before me
and scatter the grace that's in your eyes.
  • Fragment 138 Voigt

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

Controlling Wrath

  • When wrath runs rampage
in your heart
you must hold still
that rambunctious tongue![3]

Stanley Lombardo translations

Sappho, Poems and Fragments, trans. Stanley Lombardo (Hackett Publishing, 2002), ISBN 978-0872205918

Frag. 1

  • Shimmering,
    deathless Aphrodite,
    child of Zeus, weaver of wiles,
    I beg you,
    do not crush my spirit with anguish, Lady,
    but come to me now...

Fr.1 Voigt

Frag. 11

  • Truly, I wish I were dead.
    She was weeping when she left me,
    and said many things to me, and said this:
    "How much we have suffered, Sappho.
    Truly, I don't want to leave you."

Fr.94 Voigt

Frag. 20

  • Look at him, just like a god,
    that man sitting across from you,
    whoever he is,
    listening to your
    close, sweet voice,
    your irresistible laughter
    And O yes,
    it sets my heart racing—
    one glance at you
    and I can't get any words out,
    my voice cracks,
    a thin flame runs under my skin,
    my eyes go blind,
    my ears ring,
    a cold sweat pours down my body,
    I tremble all over,
    turn paler than grass.

Fr.31 Voigt

Frag. 26

  • Eros has shaken my mind,
    wind sweeping down the mountain on oaks

Fr.47 Voigt

Frag. 69

  • Like the sweet apple reddening on the topmost branch,
    the topmost apple on the tip of the branch,
    and the pickers forgot it,
    well, no, they didn't forget, they just couldn't reach it.

Fr.105a Voigt

Frag. 72

  • The moon has set,
    And the Pleiades.
    The hour has gone by.
    I sleep alone.

Fr.168B Voigt

Quotes about Sappho

Sappho speaks words mingled truly with fire; through her song she communicates the heat of her heart. ~ Plutarch
The flowers of Sappho few, but roses ~ Meleager
  • Among the mutilated poets of antiquity, there is none whose fragments are so beautiful as those of Sappho. They give us a taste of her way of writing, which is perfectly conformable with that extraordinary character we find of her in the remarks of those great critics who were conversant with her works when they were entire. One may see, by what is left of them, that she followed nature in all her thoughts, without descending to those little points, conceits, and turns of wit, with which many of our modem lyrics are so miserably infected. Her soul seems to have been made up of love and poetry: she felt the passion in all its warmth, and described it in all its symptoms. She is called by ancient authors the tenth muse; and by Plutarch is compared to Cacus, the son of Vulcan, who breathed out nothing but flame. I do not know, by the character that is given of her works, whether it is not for the benefit of mankind that they are lost. They were filled with such bewitching tenderness and rapture, that it might have been dangerous to have given them a reading.
  • Sappho thou coverest, Æolian land!
      The Muse who died,
    Who with the deathless Muses, hand in hand,
      Sang, side by side!
    Sappho, at once of Cypris and of Love
      The child and care;
    Sappho, that those immortal garlands wove
      For the Muses’ hair!
    Sappho, the joy of Hellas, and thy crown,—
      Ye Sisters dread,
    Who spin for mortals from the distaff down
      The threefold thread,
    Why span ye not for her unending days,
     Unsetting sun,
    For her who wrought the imperishable lays
     Of Helicon?
  • When everybody says "lesbian," a word connected with Sappho and the island of Lesbos, that automatically means that your forefathers and foremothers are European, that George Washington is the father of our country and Columbus discovered America-all false assumptions.
  • When Judy Grahn wrote of the Greek poet Sappho she suggested that she was not the first woman poet in Western civilization, not a solitary female voice rising out of an otherwise barren plain. On the contrary, Grahn said, hers was the surviving voice, the last voice in a long line of women poets and artists-Sappho's works so badly fragmented because they were systematically destroyed. Grahn wrote: “And what was the nature of Sappho's wealth? She praised it often enough: love, beauty, grace, flowers, appropriate behavior to the gods, lovely clothing, intelligence, tenderness. Her poems are filled with the color purple, the color gold, the sun, flowers, especially the violet and the rose, and altars, deer, groves of trees, and the stories of the gods. Love, she said, is a tale-weaver. Wealthy? We own no kind of money that would buy us Sappho's wealth. In her world, women were central to themselves; they had to have been to write as she did. She lived on an island of women, in a company of women, from which she addressed all creation. And oh, how they listened.”
    • Bettina Aptheker Tapestries of Life: Women's Work, Women's Consciousness, and the Meaning of Daily Experience (1989)
  • (What author living or dead would you most like to meet, and what would you like to know?) Sappho, what else did you write?
  • We knew...that Sappho had written love poems to women in 600 B.C.
    • Judy Grahn Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds (1985)
  • Mascula Sappho.
    • Masculine Sappho.
    • Horace, Epistle I, xix, 28
  • and of the flowers of Sappho few, but roses ...
    • Meleager's Garland, in Lyra Graeca (tr. J. M. Edmonds), p. 165
  • of Sappho few flowers, but they are roses;
    • Meleager, Anth. Pal. IV, 1, in Greek Anthology (tr. W. R. Paton), p. 111
  • 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.
  • Poetry changes with every generation, but it does not improve or progress. It just changes its styles, trappings and some of its obsessions, but we can still enjoy Sappho and Homer; they are today's news as much as when they were written or recited.
    • Marge Piercy "Why Speculate on the Future?" in My Life, My Body (2015)
  • Sappho speaks words mingled truly with fire; through her song she communicates the heat of her heart.
    • Plutarch, Moralia, Vol. IX, Dialogue on Love (Loeb translation)
  • One of the earliest- and perhaps the first-rivals of the hymnology of war, hatred, and revenge made immortal by Homer was the poetry of an Aeolian woman called Sappha by her people but uniformly known to later times as Sappho...Much of Sappho's poetry was of a plaintive tenderness but she had a fervid feeling for love as a saving grace. Several of her feminine disciples also sang of the beauty and healing force of love. Solon the law-giver and Plato the philosopher were deeply affected by her hymns to the great idea of a social power unrecognized by "the Bible of the Greeks": Homer. Though Attic poets and playwrights tried to destroy her by attacking her as a courtesan or "Lesbian" pervert, the German classical scholar, Welcker, in his Kleine Schriften, declares that such attacks were sheer calumny. Nor did they succeed in their aim. More than twenty centuries have honored the "sweet singer" of Aeolia.
  • Living unloved, to die unknown,
    Unwept, untended and alone.