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The Poems of Sappho

System of Greek Transliteration

[J.B. Hare]

Sappho's poems are written in Aoelian Greek, spoken in antiquity in the North-Eastern Aegean. This is a rustic and more archaic dialect than the Attic or New Testament Greek which is typically taught in schools, closer to the Homeric. Indeed, many of the confirmed surviving Sappho fragments are from quotes in Roman grammatical treatises to illustrate fine points of the Aeolic dialect (The early Christians burned most of her poems, but couldn't eradicate every stray line of hers that was quoted in some textbook). In some cases the Sappho fragments are references in texts to quotes in other (lost) texts.

In this text, transliterated Greek text is shown in a monospaced font, e.g, Psa'pfa. The system of transliteration has been designed so that the Greek text can be migrated to Unicode automatically at some point, balancing of readability and resemblance to the original Greek letter. For this reason, it was felt that there should be exactly one character per grapheme, except where it would be unambigous (ks and ps). The ð (ð in HTML) (capital Ð) symbol is used to transcribe theta, because h is being used for eta and th would be ambiguous; the ð symbol represnts a similar sound to theta (abeit a voiced version, as in 'the') in Old English. Capitalized letters are written as the equivalent capital Latin letter. Although there were a couple of left over Latin characters, they were left out of the mix since standalone use of the letters 'c' and 'q' would just make the resulting transcriptions look stranger than they already are. Hopefully, if you are slightly familiar with Greek orthography, this system should only take a few moments to get up to speed with.

Accent marks follow the vowel they are placed on, including (for consistency) the breath marks ! and ?. [Note that the rough breath mark does not acutally appear in this corpus because it is not found in Aeolian Greek, except in one case (#112) where the poem was rewritten in Attic.] This is done even if the vowel is capitalized (in which case the Greek has the breathing mark written before the vowel, e.g. Helen, written here E?le'na, is actually spelled ?Ele'na).

Note also that an diaresis (umlaut) iota is found occasionally in long vowel combinations. This is written as the HTML ï (ï). This has no special phonetic significance as far as I know; it just seems to be an orthographic convention.

The following table gives the name of the Greek letter, the letter by which it is transcribed, and an approximate pronunciation (for non-experts). If you know nothing about Greek, and you want to try reading the Greek out loud (which I heartily recommend), just ignore the punctuation marks and pronounce h as 'e', w as 'o', and j as 'y'.

greek letter transliteration pronounced
epsilonelong e
etahshort e
theta ð th as in teeth, not the
xiksx as in box
omicronoshort o
upsilonu u (actually like German ü)
chixch as in Bach
psipsps as in oops
omegawlong o
digammavv (probably pronounced 'w')
smooth breathing?silent
rough breathing! h (not found in Aeolic)
accute accent'accent
grave accent`accent
subscript iotajy (modifies vowel)