The Poetry of Sappho
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Today, thousands of years after her birth, in lands remote from her native island of Lesbos and in languages that did not exist when she wrote her poetry in Aeolic Greek, Sappho remains an important name among lovers of poetry and poets alike,. Celebrated throughout antiquity as the supreme Greek poet of love and of the personal lyric, noted especially for her limpid fusion of formal poise, lucid insight, and incandescent passion, today her poetry is also prized for its uniquely vivid participation in a living paganism. Collected in an edition of nine scrolls by scholars in the second century BC, Sappho's poetry largely disappeared when the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople in 1204. All that remained was one poem and a handful of quoted passages . A century ago papyrus fragments recovered in Egypt added a half dozen important texts to Sappho's surviving works. In 2004 a new complete poem was deciphered and published. By far the most significant discovery in a hundred years, it offers a new and tellingly different example of Sappho's poetic art and reveals another side of the poet, thinking about aging and about the transmission of culture from one generation to the next. Jim Powell's translations represent a unique combination of poetic mastery in English verse and a deep schlolarly engagement with Sappho's ancient Greek. They are incomparably faithful to the literal sense of the Greek poems and, simultaneously, to their forms, preserving the original meters and stanzas while exactly replicating the dramatic action of their sequences of disclosure and the passionate momentum of their sentences. Powell's translations have often been anthologized and selected for use in textbooks, winning recognition among discerning readers as by far the best versions in English.
the ungarlanded. [LP 81.6–9] Never yet, O Írana, have I found anyone more vexing than you. [LP 91] 21 22 the poetry of sappho [ ] “Honestly, I would like to die.” She was leaving me, saying goodbye, her cheeks wet with tears, and she said to me: “What a cruel unhappiness, Sappho, I swear that I leave you against my will.” This is what I replied to her: “Go, fare well, and remember me, for you certainly know how we cared for you. If you don’t, why then, I would like to remind you [ ] and the
pointed out to tourists in antiquity. She probably died after 570 b.c. She is reputed to have been short, dark, and ugly. THE TEXT OF SAPPHO’S POEMS W e do not know how Sappho put her poems into circulation. Echoes of her phrases in Pindar, Aeschylus, and others show that her poetry was widely recognized and admired. Ten generations after her death two of the great scholars of Alexandria in the third and second centuries b.c., Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace, collected
Texts previously illegible can now sometimes be read and the puzzle pieces of the fragments are more easily and rapidly assembled. A fresh surge of progress in papyrology may be beginning. Already in 2004 there appeared a newly discovered complete text of LP 58, known previously only as a brief, badly tattered fragment. It is amazing and delightful, 2,600 years after her birth and at least 800 since it was last read, to witness another complete poem of Sappho emerging into the light of day anew.
Happily, there is a plausible prospect of more new recoveries. This page intentionally left blank ABBREVIATIONS AND BIBLIOGRAPHY Bowra, Cecil Maurice, Greek Lyric Poetry, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2nd rev. ed., 1961. Campbell = David A Campbell, ed. and trans., Greek Lyric, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press (Loeb Library Series), vol. 1, Sappho and Alcaeus, 1982. Edmonds = Edmonds, J. M., ed. and trans., Lyra Graeca, London, William Heinemann, 2nd pr. 1928, vol. 1 (superseded
principally LP (1955, still the “standard edition”), Page (1959), Campbell (1982), and Voigt (1971). The readings of the first three tend cumulatively to reinforce each other; Voigt offers an independent view of the text as well as a copious Apparatus Criticus. The basic text translated is indicated following each poem or fragment. Below I note only where the translated text differs from the standard edition (LP). Usually this is a matter of readings or supplements adopted by Page and/or