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Sappho and Latin Literature: sources translated by Judith P. Hallett

Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BCE-18 AD)

Ars Amatoria 3. 329-348:
        [Song is a persuasive thing: let girls learn to sing...
Nor, in my judgment, should a learned woman be ignorant
of holding a plectrum in her right and a lyre in her left hand]
Let the Muse of Callimachus be known to you, and of Philetas the Coan bard,
and also the Teian Muse of the drunken old Anacreon,
and let Sappho be known to you (what is more sexually playful than she?)
or he whose father is deceived by the art of the trickster Geta.
And you should be able to have read a poem by youthful Propertius,
or something by Gallus, or of yours, Tibullus:
And the fleece described by Varro, notable for its golden tufts,
to be complained about, Phrixus, to your sister:
And Aeneas in flight, the beginnings of lofty Rome,
than which no work more illustrious abides in Latium
Perhaps also our name will be mixed in with those,
340 nor will my writings be given to the waters of Lethe:
And someone will say "read the sophisticated poems
of our master, in which he instructs men and women:
from three books, which the title of Amores indicates,
pick out, what you would read sweetly with gentle voice;
Or let a Letter of Heroines be sung by you in practiced voice:
He originated this work, unknown to others."
O may you so wish, Phoebus! and you, holy spirits of poets,
and Bacchus notable for horns, and Muses, the nine goddesses!

Remedia Amoris 757-770:
        [I speak against my will: do not touch the poets of love!
I myself move my own resources away from you]
Flee from Callimachus: he is not unfriendly to Love:
and with Callimachus you also, Coan bard, do harm.
Certainly Sappho made me a better lover to my mistress,
nor did the Teian Muse give me puritanical ways.
Who has been able to have read Tibullus' verses safely,
or yours, Propertius, in whose work Cynthia stood alone?
Who will be able to depart, hard-hearted, having read Gallus?
And my poems ring out with such a "je ne sais quoi".
Unless Apollo, leader of our work, makes the poet's life difficult:
A rival is the chief cause of our misfortune.
But don't you imagine any competitor to yourself,
believe she lies alone on her couch.

Tristia 2. 361-380
        Finally, I was not alone in writing poems of youthful loves:
but after love was written about, I alone paid a penalty.
What, other than to mix Venus and much wine,
did the Teian Muse of the old lyric poet teach?
What did Lesbian Sappho teach girls, if not to love [OR if not to love girls]
nevertheless Sappho was safe, and the Teian was safe as well
Nor did it harm you, Callimachus, because often to the reader
you yourself confessed your erotic joys in your verse.
No play of charming Menander is without love,
and he is accustomed to be read by boys and maidens.
What is the Iliad itself other than an adulterous woman,
over whom there was a battle between her lover and spouse?
What takes place in it before the passion for Briseis, as
the captive girl made the leaders angry?
Or what is the Odyssey except one woman, because of love,
while her husband is away, sought by many lovers?
Who except for Homer tells of Mars and Venus tied up
together, their bodies caught on an indecent bed?
From whom unless from the testimony of great Homer,
would we know that two goddess burned with passion for a guest?

427-442
        [So I may not be defended only with arms from abroad,
Roman literature even has many touches of erotic playfulness]
Thus by sexually sportive Catullus his woman was sung,
to whom Lesbia was the false name;
not content with her, he circulated many love poems,
in which he himself admitted to extra-marital activities.
The outspokeness of short-statured Calvus was equal and similar,
who covered up his secret affairs in different ways.
Why should I mention the verse of Ticidas, why that of Memmius, in which
the name is attached to events and shame attached to names.
Cinna also was in their circle, and Anser more abandoned than Cinna,
and the frivolous and comparable work of Cornificius and Cato.
And in whose books she, recently disguised by the name of Perilla,
now is read, called by her own name Metella.
He also, who led the Argo into the waters of Phasis,
was unable to keep his secret love affairs quiet.
No less improper are the verses of Hortensius, or of Servius.
Who would hesitate to follow such great names?

Tristia 3.7
         Hastily plowed-through letter, go to greet Perilla,
the faithful attendant of my speech.
Either you will find her sitting with her sweet mother,
or among her books and the Pierian Muses.
She will drop whatever she is doing when she knows that you have arrived.
nor will she delay to ask why you have come and what I am doing.
You will say that I am alive, but in a way I would not want to live,
nor have our misfortunes been lightened by so long a delay;
And nevertheless I have returned to the Muses, although they have harmed,
10 to force fitting words into alternating measures.
You also say, 'Do you still cling to our common pursuits,
do you sing learned poems, not in your father's fashion?
For nature has given you virtuous habits along with your beauty
and unusual endowments and mental talent.
I was the first to have led this to the waves of Pegasus,
so that a source of fertile water did not perish unhappily.
I was the first to see this in the delicate years of a maiden,
I was as a father to a daughter, and a leader and a comrade.
Thus if the same flames abide in your breast,
20 only the woman bard of Lesbos will surpass your work.
But I fear that now my fortune may slow you down,
and after my disasters you may have a heart without energy.
While it was permitted, I often read your poems to myself and mine to you:
often I was your critic, often I was your teacher:
Or I offered my ears to the verses you had just written,
or, when you were at leisure, I was the cause of blushing.
Perhaps by my example--since my books have harmed me--
you fear the fates conducive to my punishment.
Perilla, put away that fear: only let no woman
30 or man learn to love from your writings.
Thus, most learned girl, remove the reasons for laziness,
return to worthwhile arts and your sacred calling.
That handsome face will be marred by the lengthy years,
and the wrinkling of old age will be on your ancient forehead.
Ruin-bringing old age will take hold of your beauty,
which comes with its step not making a noise:
When someone will say "she was lovely once", you will grieve,
and complain that your mirror is telling you lies.
You possess reasonable--although you are most worthy of great--resources,
40 but imagine them equal to measureless riches,
Truly fortune bestows it on and seizes it from whomever she pleases,
he who was lately a Croesus is suddenly the beggar Irus.
So I may not go into details, we own nothing immortal
except for the good things in our heart and mind.
Look at me, since I lack my fatherland, you and my home,
what could be taken from me have been snatched away.
Nevertheless I am accompanied by and enjoy my mind:
Caesar was able to have no jurisdiction in this matter.
Let anyone end this life of mine with harsh sword,
50 although I have been snuffed out my fame will survive.
As long as Mars' Rome, victorious, will look from her seven hills,
at the word she has overcome, I will be read.
You also, as a happier use of your pursuit may await,
flee, as you are able, the funeral pyres to come.

Heroides 15, Sappho to Phaon
        Why, as the letter written by my zealous right hand was looked upon,
was it instantly recognized as ours by your own eyes--
Or, unless you had read the name of the author, Sappho,
would you not know from whom this short work was issued?
Perhaps you would ask why my verses are in alternating elegiacs,
when I am more suited to the meters of lyric poetry.
My love must be wept over--and elegy is the poetry of weeping:
there is no lyre which makes poems for my tears.
I am set ablaze, as, when the untamed East winds agitate the fire,
10 the fertile field grows hot with the harvests up in flame.
Phaon, you visit the varied fields of Typhoean Aetna,
and a heat no less than the fire of Aetna takes hold of me.
Nor do poems, which I would join for arranged lyre-strings,
come forth to me; poems are the work of a mind free from care.
Nor do the girls of Pyrrha or of Methymna delight me,
nor does the rest of the throng of maidens from Lesbos.
Anactorie is worthless to me, splendid Cydro is worthless to me;
Atthis is not pleasing to my eyes, as she was once,
And the other hundred, whom I have not loved without accusation;
20 Ill-behaved man, you alone hold what belonged to many women.
You possess beauty, your years are suited to sexual sport--
o beauty treacherous to my eyes!
Take up a lyre and quiver--you will become Apollo in person,
let horns attach to your head--you will be Bacchus;
And Phoebus loved Daphne, and Bacchus Ariadne,
and neither this woman or that knew lyric measures.
But the daughters of Pegasus speak the most charming poems to me;
now my name is sung about in the entire world.
Nor does Alcaeus, who shares my fatherland and lyre,
30 have more praise, although he may sound more nobly.
If difficult nature has denied me beauty,
compensate for my loss of beauty with my talent.
I am short, but a name--the sort which fills all lands--
belongs to me: I myself carry the measure of my name.
If I am not fair, Cepheian Andromeda was pleasing to Perseus,
dark in the color of her native land.
And often white doves are joined to those of various hues,
and the black turtle-dove is loved by the green parrot.
If, unless she will be able to seem worthy of you owing to her beauty,
40 no woman will be yours, no woman will be yours.
But when I was reading my verses, I seemed handsome enough;
you were swearing that it befitted one woman to speak continually.
I was singing, I remember--lovers remember all things--
you were giving me kisses, snatched from me as I sung.
You also praised these, and I was pleasing from every part--
but then especially, when the act of love was performed.
Then our erotic playfulness delighted you more than usual,
our bodies kept moving quickly, our words were suited to witticism.
And because, when the pleasure of us both had been mixed together,
50 there was most abundant stillness in our exhausted bodies.
Now the girls of Sicily come as new prey to you,
what have I to do with Lesbos? I want to be a Sicilian girl.
O send back the wanderer from your Sicilian land,
mothers of Nisaea and daughters-in-law of Nisaea,
Nor let the lies of a charming tongue deceive you!
What he says to you, he had said to me before.
You also, Venus of Eryx, who haunt the Sicanian mountains,
for I am yours, advise, goddess, your poet.
Or has my burdensome fortune persisted in the course it began,
60 and always remains bitter in its own path of travel?
Six birthdays had come to me, when the bones of my parents,
gathered before their time, drank my tears.
My lazy brother burned, seized by love for a harlot,
and bore losses combined with disgraceful shame;
Rendered needy, he traveled the deep blue waters with nimble oar,
and the riches which he lost wickedly now wickedly he seeks.
He also hates me, because I gave him many warnings, well and faithfully,
My freedom gave me this, my dutiful tongue gave me this.
And as if the sort of things which tire me without end would be lacking,
70 my little daughter piles up my worries into bigger heaps.
You approach as the last cause for my complainings.
Our boat is not set into motion by your wind.
Behold, my hair lies on my neck, tossed about, without arrangement,
nor does a gleaming jewel press on my fingers.
I am covered by a cheap garment, there is no gold in my hair,
nor does my coiffure have the gifts of Arabia.
Wretched me, for whom am I to be adorned, whom has my effort pleased?
He, the sole reason for my efforts at adornment, is not here.
My heart is sensitive, able to be attacked by gentle arrows,
80 and there is always a reason, why I always am in love.
Whether the Sisters thus stated a law when I was born
and harsh strands were not given to my life,
Or whether passions change into ways, and the mistress of my art,
Thalia, has made our mind sensitive.
Why wonder, if the age of first beard has carried me off,
and the years which a man is able to love?
Aurora, I did not fear that you would steal him in Cephalus' stead,
and you would do that, but the he you stole first holds you.
If Phoebe who looks at all things would look at him,
90 Phaon will have been ordered to keep on sleeping;
Venus would have caried him into the sky in her ivory chariot,
but she sees that he is even able to please her lover Mars.
O not yet a young man, no longer a boy, a useful age,
O adornment and great glory of your era,
Be present here and glide back, handsome one, into our embrace!
I beg not that you may love, but that you may allow yourself to be loved.
I write, and my eyes become dewy with welled-up tears;
look, how many a blot is in this place!
If you were so set on leaving here, you would have gone more attractively,
100 and you would just have said, "Farewell, girl of Lesbos!"
You did not take our tears, you did not take our kisses;
finally I did not fear what I was destined to grieve about.
There is nothing with me from you except your injustice: nor do you
have the pledge of a lover, which might remind you of me.
I did not give orders, nor indeed would I have given any orders
unless that you be unwilling to be forgetful of me.
By my love for you--which may never depart a long distance--
by the nine goddesses, our divinities, I swear,
Since someone said to me, "Your joys are fleeing,"
110 that I did not weep for long, nor was I able to speak.
Tears were lacking to my eyes and words to my tongue,
my breast was bound with ice-cold chill.
After grief found itself, it shamed me neither to beat my breast,
nor to howl with hair rent in mourning,
No differently than, when a devoted mother of a son she has lost
would carry his empty body to heaped up funeral pyres.
My brother Charaxus rejoices and grows from my grief,
and goes back and forth before my eyes,
so that the cause of my sorrow would seem to require shame,
120 "why does she sorrow? certainly her daughter lives!" he says.
Shame and love do not come into the same category. The entire throng
saw: I had exposed my breast with my torn garment.
You are my care, Phaon: my dreams bring you back--
dreams brighter than the handsome day.
I find you there, although you may be absent from these parts;
but sleep does not have sufficiently long joys
Often I seem to burden your arms with my neck,
often to have placed by arms beneath your neck.
I recognize the kisses, which you had habitually entrusted
130 to the tongue, fitting to receive, fitting to bestow.
Sometimes I speak soothingly and utter words most similar to
the truth, and my mouth stays awake for my senses.
It shames me to relate what happens next, but all things happen,
and I feel pleasure, and it is not possible for me to stay dry.
But when Titan shows himself and all things with him,
I lament that dreams have so quickly deserted me;
I seek the caves and forest, as if forest and caves might be of help--
they were aware of my erotic delights.
There, bereft of mind, just like a women frenzied Enyo
has touched, I am carried with hair streaming down my neck.
140My eyes see caves vaulted in rough-surfaced stone,
which were an image of Mygdonian marble to me;
I find the woods, which often provided places for us to lie down,
and with much leafiness gave us dark cover,
But I do not find the master of the woods and myself.
The place is worthless dirt; he was what dowered that place.
I recognize pressed grasses of turf known to me;
the vegetation is curved from our weight.
I lay down and touched the place, at which part I have been;
150 grass pleasing in the past drinks in my tears.
Why even the branches seem to mourn, their leaves cast aside,
and no birds warble sweetly in complaint;
Only the saddest mother, who did not avenged her husband worshipfully,
the Daulian bird, sings of Ismarian Itys.
The bird sings of Itys, Sappho the love which has departed--
enough: the other things are still as at midnight.
There is, gleaming and more glittering than all glass,
a sacred spring--many think it has a divine spirit.
Above which a watery lotus spreads its branches,
160 a grove by itself; the ground is green with young turf.
When I, weeping, had placed my tired limbs here,
a single Naiad stood before my eyes.
She stood and said: "Since you do not burn with required fires
the land of Ambracia must be sought by you.
Phoebus from the height, as far as it lies open, looks at the sea--
the people call it of Actium and Leucadian.
>From here Deucalion, inflamed with passion for Pyrrha,
betook himself, and pressed the waters with uninjured body.
Without delay, the passion for Pyrrha, turned around, fled
170 his most yielding breast, and Deucalion was freed from the flame.
This place possesses this law. Seek lofty Leucas at once
and do not fear to jump down from the rock!"
As she warned me, she departed with her voice; I, frightened, get up
nor did my eyes hold back their tears.
We will go, o nymph, we will seek the rocks shown to us;
thus may fear be far away, conquered by maniacal love.
Whatever will be, it will be better than what now is!
breeze, come here; my body does not have a great weight.
You also, sensitive Love, place feathers beneath me as I fall,
180 may I not have died as an accusation to the Leucadian water!
From there I will dedicate my shell to Phoebus, common gifts,
and below it will be one verse and a second:
I THE PLEASING FEMALE POET SAPPHO HAVE DEDICATED MY LYRE TO YOU, PHOEBUS
IT IS SUITABLE FOR ME, IT IS SUITABLE FOR YOU.
Why nevertheless do you send wretched me to the Actian shores,
when you yourself would be able to bring home your fleeing foot?
You are able to be more healthful to me than the Leucadian wave;
and you in both beauty and good services will be Phoebus to me.
Or are you able, O one more savage than rocks and every wave,
190 if I should die, to be given recognition for my death?
But how much better able my heart is to be joined with you
than to be cast, headlong, to the rocks!
My heart is that thing, Phaon, which you used to praise,
and so often seemed clever to you.
Now I wish I would be eloquent! Grief obstructs my talents,
all my talent is halted by my misfortunes.
My old strengths in poetry-writing do not reply to me;
the plectrum is quiet with grief, the lyre is mute with grief.
Lesbian women of the water, offspring wed and about to wed,
200 Lesbian women, names spoken to the Aeolian lyre,
Lesbian women, you who having been loved made me disgraced,
stop coming as a throng to my musical performances.
Phaon has taken all away, which earlier pleased you,
wretched me, how just now I almost said "My Phaon!"
Bring it about that he returns; your poet will also return.
He gives strengths to my talent; he takes them away.
What do I achieve with my prayers, or is his rustic heart moved?
or does he grow stiff, and do zephyrs carry away my falling words?
They who carry away my words, I wish would bring back your sails;
210 this effort, if you were wise, slow one, would befit you.
If you return, and the presents vowed are prepared for your boat,
why do you injure our heart with your delay?
Set sail! Venus, born from the sea, hands the sea over to a lover.
the breeze will provide a course; only you set sail!
Cupid himself sitting on the boat will steer;
he will spread and furl the sails with his youthful hand.
If it pleases you to have fled a long distance from Pelasgian Sappho--
nevertheless you will not find why I am worthy to be fled from--
At least let a cruel letter tell this to wretched me,
220 so that my fates may be sought in the Leucadian water.

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