Sacred-Texts  Classical Paganism  Index  Index of First Lines  Greek Transliteration

The Poems of Sappho Part I


Hymn to Aphrodite

Poikilo'ðron? a`ða'nat? ?Afrodita,
pai^ Di'os, dolo'ploke, li'ssomai' se
mh' m? a?'saisi mh't? o?ni'aisi da'mna,
     po'tnia, ðu^mon.

a?lla' tui'd? e?'lð?, ai?'pota ka?te'rwta
ta^s e?'mas au'dws ai?'oisa ph'lgi
e?'klues pa'tros de` do'mon li'poisa
     xru'sion h?^lðes

a?'rm? u?pozeu'ksaia, ka'loi de' s? a?^gon
w?'kees strou^ðoi peri` ga^s melai'nas
pu'kna dineu^ntes pte'r? a?p? w?ra'nw 
     ai?'ðeros dia` me'ssw.

ai^psa d? e?xi'konto, su` d?, w?^ ma'saira
meidia'sais? a?ða'natwj prosw'pwj,
h?'re? o?'tti dhg?^te pe'ponða kw?'tti
     dh?^gte ka'lhmi

kw?'tti moi ma'lista ðe'lw ge'nesðai
maino'laj ðu'mwj, ti'na dhu?^te pei'ðw
mai^s a?'ghn e?s sa`n filo'tata ti's t, w?^
     Psa'pf?, a?di'khei;

kai` ga'r ai? feu'gei, taxe'ws diw'ksei,
ai? de` dw^ra mh` de'ket a?lla' dw'sei,
ai? de` mh` fi'lei taxe'ws filh'sei,
     kwu?k e?ðe'loisa.

e?'lðe moi kai` nu^n, xalepa^n de` lu^son
e?k meri'mnan o?'ssa de' moi te'lessai
ðu^mos i?mme'rrei te'leson, su? d? au?'ta 
     su'mmaxos e?'sso.

Immortal Aphrodite of the shimmering thone, daughter of Zeus, weaver of wiles, I pray thee crush not my spirit with anguish and distress, O Queen. But come hither if ever before thou didst hear my voice afar, and hearken, and leaving the golden house of thy father, camest with chariot yoked, and swift birds drew thee, their swift pinions fluttering over the dark earth, from heaven through mid-space. Quickly they arrived; and thou blessed one with immortal countenance smiling didst ask: What now is befallen me and why now I call and what I in my heart's madness, most desire. What fair one now wouldst thou draw to love thee? Who wrongs thee Sappho? For even if she flies she shall soon follow and if she rejects gifts, shall soon offer them and if she loves not shall soon love, however reluctant. Come I pray thee now and release me from cruel cares, and let my heart accomplish all that it desires, and be thou my ally.

Shimmering-throned immortal Aphrodite,
Daughter of Zeus, Enchantress, I implore thee,
Spare me, O queen, this agony and anguish,
     Crush not my spirit

Whenever before thou has hearkened to me--
To my voice calling to thee in the distance,
And heeding, thou hast come, leaving thy father's
     Golden dominions,

With chariot yoked to thy fleet-winged coursers,
Fluttering swift pinions over earth's darkness,
And bringing thee through the infinite, gliding
     Downwards from heaven,

Then, soon they arrived and thou, blessed goddess,
With divine contenance smiling, didst ask me
What new woe had befallen me now and why,
     Thus I had called the.

What in my mad heart was my greatest desire,
Who was it now that must feel my allurements,
Who was the fair one that must be persuaded,
     Who wronged thee Sappho?

For if now she flees, quickly she shall follow
And if she spurns gifts, soon shall she offer them
Yea, if she knows not love, soon shall she feel it
     Even reluctant.

Come then, I pray, grant me surcease from sorrow,
Drive away care, I beseech thee, O goddess
Fulfil for me what I yearn to accomplish,
     Be thou my ally.


fa'inetai' moi kh^nos i?'sos the'oisin
e?'mmen w?'ner o?'stis e?nanti'os toi
i?za'nei kai` plasi'on a?du
     fwneu'sas u?pakou'ei

kai` galai'sas i?mmero'en to` dh` ?ma'n
kardi'an e?n sth'ðesin e?pto'asen,
w?s ga`r eu?'idon broxe'ws se, fw'nas
     ou?de`n e?'t? e?'ikei,

a?lla` ka'm me`n glwjssa ve'age, le'pton
d' au?'tika xrw^j pu^r u?padedro'maken,
o?ppa'tessi d? ou?de`n orhm?,
     e?pirro'mbeisi d? a?'kouai.

a? de' m? i'?drws kakxe'etai, tro'mos de`
pai^san a?'grei xlwrote'ra de` poi'as
e?'mmi, teðna'khn d? o?ligw ?pideu'vhn
     fai'nomai [a?'lla].

pa^n to'lmaton [......]

That one seems to me the equal of the gods, who sits in thy presence and hears near him thy sweet voice and lovely laughter; that indeed makes my heart beat fast in my bosom. For when I see thee even a little I am bereft of utterance, my tongue is useless and at once a subtle fire races under my skin, my eyes see nothing, my ears ring, sweat pours forth and all my body is seized with trembling. I am paler than [dried] grass and seem in my madness little better than dead, but I must dare all ...


Peer of the gods, the happiest man I seem
Sitting before thee, rapt at thy sight, hearing
Thy soft laughter and they voice most gentle,
     Speaking so sweetly.


Then in my bosom my heart wildly flutters,
And, when on thee I gaze never so little,
Bereft am I of all power of utterance,
     My tongue is useless.


There rushes at once through my flesh tingling fire,
My eyes are deprived of all power of vision,
My ears hear nothing by sounds of winds roaring,
    And all is blackness.


Down courses in streams the sweat of emotion,
A dread trembling o'erwhelms me, paler than I
Than dried grass in autumn, and in my madness
    Dead I seem almost.



O]i? me`n i?pph'wn stro'ton oi? de` pe'sdwn
oi? de` na'wn fai^s? e?pi` ga^n me'lainan
e?']mmenai ka'lliston e?'gw de` kh^n?
     o?'ttw ti`s e?'patai.


pa']gxu d? eu?'mares su'neton po'hsai
pa']nti t[ou^]t?. a? ga`r po'lu persko'peisa
ka']llos a?nðrw'pwn E?le'na [to`]n a?'ndra
     [kri'nnen a?'r]iston,


o?`s to` pa`n] se'bas troï'a[s o?']less[e,
kwu?de` pa]i^dos oy?'de [fi'l]wn to[k]h'wn
ma^llon] e?mna'sðh, a?[lla`] para'gag` au?'tan
     ph^le fi'lei]san,


W?ros. eu?'k]ampton gar [a?ei` to` ðh^lu]
ai?' ke'] tis kou'fws t[o` pa'ron n]oh'shj.
ou?]de` nu^n, A?naktori'[a, t]u` me'mnai
     dh`] pareio^isas,


ta^]s ke bolloi'man e?'rato'n te ba^ma
k]ama'rugma la'mpron i?'dhn prosw'pw
h ta` lu'dwn a?'rmata ka?n o?'ploisi


ei` men i?'d]men ou?' du'naton ge'nesðai
lw^jst?] o?n` a?n&the;rwp'ois, pede'xhn d? a?'rasthai,
[tw^n pe'deixo'n e?sti bro'toisi lw^jon]
    [h?` lela'ðesðai.]

With the emendations by Mr. J.M. Edmonds, the reprinting of which he has been kind enough to permit, a nearly literal rendering would be as follows:

Some say that the fairest thing upon the dark earth is a host of horsemen, and some say a host of foot soldiers, and others again a fleet of ships, but for me it is my beloved. And it is easy to make anyone understand this. When Helen saw the most beautiful of mortals, she chose for best that one, the destroyer of all the honour of Troy and though not much of child or dear parent, but was led astray by Love, to bestow her heart far off, for woman is ever easy to lead astray when she thinks of no account what is near and dear. Even so, Anactoria, you do not remember, it seems, when she is with you, one the gentle sound of whose footfall I would rather see than all the chariots and mail-clad footmen of Lydia. I know that in this world man cannot have the best; yet to pray for a part of what was once shared is better than to forget it...


A troop of horse, the serried ranks of marchers,
A noble fleet, some think these of all on earth
Most beautiful. For me naught else regarding
    Is my beloved.


To understand this is for all most simple,
For thus gazing much on mortal perfectino
And knowing already what life could give her,
     Him chose fair Helen,


Him the betrayer of Ilium's honour.
The recked she not of adored child or parent,
But yielded to love, and forced by her passion,
     Dared Fate in exile.


Thus quickly is bent the will of that woman
To whom things near and dear seem to be nothing.
So mightest thou fail, My Anactoria,
    If she were with you.


She whose gentle footfall and radiant face
Hold the power to charm more than a vision
Of chariots and the mail-clad battalions
    Of Lydia's army.


So must we learn in world made as this one
Man can never attain his greatest desire,
[But must pray for what good fortune Fate holdeth,
     Never unmindful.]


Asteres me'n a?mfi ka'lan sela'nnan
a?^ips a?pykru'ptoisi fa'ennon ei?^dos,
o?'ppota plh'ðoisa ma'lista la'mphs
     a?rguria ga^n.

The stars about the full moon lose their bright beauty when she, almost full, illumines all earth with silver.

The gleaming stars all about the shining moon
Hide their bright faces, when full-orbed and splendid
In the sky she floats, flooding the shadowed earth
     with clear silver light.

Quoted by Eustathius of Thessalonica in the twelfth century.


     amfi` d? u?'dwr
psy^xron w?'nemos kela'di di? y?'sdwn
mali'nwn, ai?ðussome'nwn de` fu'llwn
     kw^ma kata'rrei.

And by the cool stream the breeze murmurs through apple branches and slumber pours down from quivering leaves.

By the cool water the breeze murmurs, rustling
Through apple branches, while from quivering leaves
    Streams down deep slumber.

This beautiful fragment is quoted by Hermogenes about A.D. 170. Demetrius, about A.D. 150, says that it is part of Sappho's description of the garden of the nymphs.


     ... E?'lðe, Ku'pri,
Xprusi'asin e?n kuli'kessin a?'brais
summemigme'non ðali'aisi ne'ktar

Come, goddess of Cyprus, and in golden cups serve nectar delicately mixed with delights.

Come hither foam-born Cyprian goddess, come,
And in golden goblets pour richest nectar
All mixed in most ethereal perfection,
     Thus to delight us.

Quoted by Athenaeus, who wrote in the first half of the third century A.D. The fragment is apparently part of an invocation to Aphrodite.


H?' se ku'pros kai` Pa'fos h?` Pa'normos

If thee, Cyprus or Paphos or Panormos [holds].

This is from Strabo, early first century A.D. Panormos was a frequent name, and does not refer to Palermo, which was not founded in Sappho's time.


Soi' d? e?'go deu'kas e?'pi bw^mon a?'igos
kapilei'psw toi ...

But for thee I will bring to the altar [the young] of a white goat... and add a libation for thee.

Cited by Apollonius of Alexadria about A.D. 140. The reading is uncertain.


Ai?'ð? e?'go xrusoste'fan? A?fro'dita,
to'nde to`n pa'lon laxo'hn.

May I win this prize, O golden-crowned Aphrodite.

From Apollonius. Sappho invented many beautiful epithets to apply to Aphrodite, and this fragment contains one of them.


Ai?' me timi'an e?po'hsan e?'rga
ta` sfa` doi^sai;

Who made me gifts and honoured me?

From Apollonius, illustrating Aeolic dialect in the word sfa'.


... Ta'de nu^n e?tai'rais
tai^s e?'maisi te'rpna ka'lws a?ei'sw.

This will I now sing skilfully to please my friends.

Athanaeus quotes this to show that there is not necessarily any reproach in the word e?tai'rai. Like many others, the fragment is unfortunately too short for anything but a literal translation. The breathing of the word in question in Attic Greek would of course be rough.


... O?'ttinas ga`r
eu?^ ðe'w kh^noi' me ma'lista ci'nnontai

For thee to whom I do good, thou harmest me the most.

From the "Etymologicum Magnum," tenth century A.D.


E?'gw de` kh^n? o?'ttw tis e?'patai.

But that which one desires I.

Quoted by Apollonius and in 1914 found to be part of the poem in the "Oxyrhynchus Papyrus," No. 1231.


tai^s kalais u?'mmin [to`] no'hma tw?^mon
     oi? dia'meipton.

To you, fair maidens, my mind does not change.

Quoted by Apollonius to illustrate the Aeolic form u?'mmin.


....E?'gwn d? e?mau'ta
     tou^to cu'noida.

And this I feel myself.

Quoted by Apollonius to illustrate Aeolic method of accentuation.


taisi [de`] psu^xros me'n e?'gento ðu^mos
pa`r d? i?'eisi ta` pte'ra ...

But the spirit within them turned chill and down dropped their wings.

The Scholist quotes this to show that Sappho says the same thing of doves as Pindar (Pyth. 1-10) says of the eagle of Zeus.

Another reading is psau^kros, "light", for psu^xros, "moist or chill." The sense would then be "the spirit within them became light and they relaxed their wings in rest."


... kat? e?'mon sta'lagmon,
to`n d? e?pipla'zontes a?'moi fe'roien
     kai` meledw'nais.

From my distress: let buffeting winds bear it and all care away.

From the "Etymologicum Magnum" to show the Aeolic use of z in place of ss. Bergk conjectures a?'moi for a?'nemoi, "winds". The fragment is tantilizingly incomplete, as so many others are, and the reading of one or two words in not certain.


Arti'ws m? a? xrusope'dillos A?u'ws.

Just now the golden-sandalled Dawn [has called].

There could hardly be a more beautiful epithet than "golden-sandalled" to apply to the Dawn. It is fully equal in this respect to "rosy-fingered," and in Greek both words are beautiful in sound.

This is quoted by Ammonius of Alexandria about A.D. 400 to show Sappho's use of A?rti'ws.

Next: Part II