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Women's Voices


Sappho


1. To Aphrodite (Fr. 1. G)

Aphrodite on your intricate throne, immortal, daughter of Zeus, weaver of plots, I beg you, do not tame me with pain or my heart with anguish

but come here, as once before when I asked you, you heard my words from afar and listened, and left your father's golden house and came

you yoked your chariot, and lovely swift sparrows brought you, fast whirling over the dark earth from heaven through the midst of the bright air

and soon they arrived. And you, O blessed goddess, smiled with your immortal face and asked what was wrong with me, and why did I call now,

and what did I most want in my maddened heart to have for myself. `Who now am I to persuade to your love, who, Sappho, has done you wrong? For if she flees, soon she'll pursue you, and if she won't take gifts, soon she'll give them, and if she won't love, soon she will love you, even if she doesn't want to.'[1]

Come to me now again, release me from my cruel anxiety, accomplish all that my heart wants accomplished. You yourself join my battle.


2 .When I look at you (Fr. 31. G)

The man seems to me strong as a god, the man who sits across from you and listens to your sweet talk nearby

and your lovely laughter--which, when I hear it, strikes fear in the heart in my breast. For whenever I glance at you, it seems that I can say nothing at all

but my tongue is broken in silence, and that instant a light fire rushes beneath my skin, I can no longer see anything in my eyes and my ears are thundering,

and cold sweat pours down me, and shuddering grasps me all over, and I am greener than grass, and I seem to myself to be little short of death

But all is endurable, since even a poor man ... [2]


3. Anactoria (Fr. 16. G)

Some would say an army of cavalry, others of infantry, others of ships, is the fairest thing on the dark earth, but I say it's whatever you're in love with

It's completely easy to make this clear to everyone, for Helen, who far surpassed other people in beauty, left behind the most aristocratic

of husbands and went to Troy. She sailed away, and did not remember at all her daughter or her beloved parents, but [Aphrodite] took her aside

(3 lines missing) which makes me remember Anactoria[3] who is no longer near,

her lovely step and the brilliant glancing of her face I would rather see than the Lydians' chariots or their infantry fighting in all their armour.


4. Parting (Fr. 94. G)

'The truth is, I wish I were dead.'[4] She left me, weeping often, and she said this, `Oh what a cruel fate is ours, Sappho, yes, I leave you against my will.'

And I answered her: `Farewell, go and remember me, for you know how we cared for you.

`If you do remember, I want to remind you ... and were happy ... of violets ... you set beside me and with woven garlands made of flowers around your soft neck

`and with perfume, royal, rich ... you anointed yourself and on soft beds you would drive out your passion

`and then ... sanctuary ... was ... from which we were away ... '


5. Remembering the girl Atthis (Fr. 96. G)

... you, like a goddess renowned, in your song she took most joy. Now she is unique among Lydian women, as the moon once the sun sets

stands out among all the stars, and her light grasps both the salt sea and the flowering meadows

and fair dew flows forth, and soft roses and chervil and fragrant melilot bloom.

Often as she goes out, she remembers gentle Atthis, and her tender heart is eaten by grief ...


6. The wedding of Hector and Andromache (Fr. 44. G)

` ... Hector and his comrades are bringing a girl with dark eyes from holy Thebes and ... Plakia, soft Andromache in their ships across the salt sea; many curved bands of gold and purple robes and intricate playthings, countless silver cups and ivory.' So he spoke. And [Hector's] beloved father quickly got up, and the story went out to his friends throughout the city [of Troy] with its wide dancing places. Then the Trojan women led mules to wheeled carts and a crowd of women came out, and also of ... -ankled maidens, and separately the daughters of Priam and men brought horses with chariots (unknown number of lines missing) ... and the sweet-sounding aulos[5] was mixed with the noise of castanets, and the maidens sang a sacred song and the holy sound reached heaven ... bowls and goblets ... perfume and cassia and incense were mixed and all the older women shouted out, and all the men cried out a fair loud song, calling on Paean, the far-shooter, the lyre player, to sing of Hector and Andromache, who were like gods ...


Notes

1 Aphrodite's promise resembles the type of binding formula used in magical incantations. See Preisendanz I, pp. 112-4. Back

2 In the Greek there is more emphasis on imagination--the `I' of the poem (a female, but not necessarily Sappho herself) says `he seems to me to be like one of the gods'. See Lefkowitz 1981a, 66-7. Back

3 Sappho's simile describes not just the moon's beauty but its sustaining effect on whatever its light touches. The implication is that her absent friend will similarly beautify and nourish everyone in her new environment. Cf. Alcman, Fr. 1.39-43, where the sun is used simply as a metaphor of pre-eminence, stressing physical appearance. Back

4 On the dramatic situation of this ode, see especially Burnett 1979. Back

5 An aulos was a pipe, although it is sometimes translated as `flute', but in sound it more closely resembled an oboe. Back