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.
photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Oxford University Press. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Sappho. [Works. English. 2007] The poetry of Sappho / Sappho ; translated by Jim Powell. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-0-19-532671-0; 978-0-19-532672-7 (pbk.) 1. Sappho—Translations into English. 2. Love poetry, Greek—Translations into English. I. Powell, Jim, 1951– II. Title. PA4408.E5P69 2007 884˙.01—dc22 2006101655 1 3 5 7 9 8
ankles. [LP 57] The violet-lapped Muses’ lovely gifts belong to you now, children, and the piercing lyre, the friend of song. My body that, before, was supple, age already has taken by surprise, my raven tresses are turned white, my spirit has grown heavy and my knees too weak to carry me, that once were quick to dance as fawns. I grumble at them often but what good is that? For human beings to be ageless is not possible. 19 20 the poetry of sappho They say that once, for love, Dawn of the
[LP #]. Where other sources are used this is indicated. See Textual Notes for more information. Gaps in the sequence of LP numbers indicate fragments too broken for meaningful poetic translation (see The Text of Sappho’s Poems). Square brackets in the text indicate gaps in the text where the papyrus is torn or the citation breaks off. vii This page intentionally left blank The Poetry of Sappho This page intentionally left blank A rtfully adorned Aphrodite, deathless child of Zeus and
Page assembled and published these new papyrus texts together with the already extant fragments in Poetarum Lesbiorum Fragmenta, the standard modern edition of Sappho’s poetry in the original Aeolic Greek (LP; it also contains the surviving fragments of the poetry of her compatriot and contemporary, Alcaeus). In recent years advances in photographic imaging techniques and the use of computers to facilitate and speed the reassembly of fragments have begun to assist with the decipherment of papyri.
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.