Plato hailed her as "the Tenth Muse," and 2,500 years later her voice remains dazzling as well as direct and honest. Sappho, a lyric poet from the Greek island of Lesbos, wrote verse that sings to both sexes of desire, rapture, and sorrow. Praised for their simplicity and sincerity, her poems nevertheless evoke powerful and memorable images as well as a sense of unreserved eroticism. Her focus on emotion and individualism sets her work apart from that of her contemporaries, lending it an intimacy that foreshadows modern poetry.
Details about Sappho's life are largely unknown; she is thought to have lived sometime between 612–570 B.C.E., and her poetry was read and admired throughout the ancient world. Today her poems survive in fragmentary form, and she is best known as a symbol of female homosexuality, having inspired the terms "sapphic" and "lesbian." This concise collection of her surviving works features an informative Introduction by translator J. M. Edmonds.
About the Author
Details about the life of Sappho, a lyric poet from the Greek island of Lesbos, are largely unknown. She is thought to have lived sometime between 612–570 B.C.E., and her poetry was read and admired throughout the ancient world. Today Sappho's poems survive in fragmentary form and she is best known as a symbol of female homosexuality, having inspired the terms "sapphic" and "lesbian."
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1 TO APHRODITE
Immortal Queen of the gorgeous throne,
2 TO TBROCHEO
No God in Heaven I count so high As one that sits my darling by,
By the cool brookside the breeze Murmurs' mid the apple-trees;
5 TO APHRODITE
Whether Thou art w Cyprus and Paphos or at Panormus,
6 TO APHRODITE
Come, Love, and mix with dainty cheer In cups of gold Thy heavenly wine,
7 TO APHRODITE
and to Thee I will burn the rich fat of a white goat.
and I will leave behind for thee
9 TO APHRODITE
Love-Goddess of the wreath of gold,
10 OF THE MUSES
... whose gift of their own work Hath brought me honour ...
11 TO CERTAIN SEEMING-FORTUNATE WOMEN
... But to me The Muses gave true wealth, and when I die I shall not be forgot.
12 OF HER WOMEN FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCE
These songs I'll sing to-day with all my might For my sweet comrades' sake and dear deliaht.
For those I have done good to Do me the greatest wrong.
To you my pretty ones this mind of mine Can never change.
but as for me, I am conscious of this; —
16 OF DOVES
and they With lightening care and slackening wing
because of my pain
... and those who blame,
The golden-slippered Dawn was hardly come, When ...
... towards the feet hung down,
21 OF JASON'S MANTLE.
... with manifold hues comminglèd
and I long and I yearn
24 TO1 HECATE
Aphrodite's golden-shining handmaid
25 FROM AN ADONIS-SONG
Woe for Adonis!
He thinks himself ... who
YOU burn me
28 OF LOVE
(a) (b) giver of pain weaver of tales
to gentle-voiced maidens
31 OF LOVE
offspring of Earth and Heaven
32 TO THE EVENING STAR
Fairest of all the Stars that shine
33 TO PERSUASION
daughter of Aphrodite
35 TO CHARAXUS
Aye! seek the false and shun the true,
36 TO THE NEREIDS
Golden Daughters of the Foam Bring me my brother safely home,
37 TO CHARAXUS
... And, Cypris, may she find e' en Thee Less sweet than once Thou wert, nor boast what bliss Is Doricha s with a new mate like this!
38 TO ANACTORIA
A host of horse or foot may be To some the fairest sight to see,
40 TO HERA
Great Hera, grant my prayer to-night,
When tempests rage, the mariner, for fear of the great blasts of the wind, doth cast his cargo overboard and drive his vessel ashore; as for me, I pray I may be bound nowhither in time of storm, nor be fain, with fear lying heavy in my heart, to cast my cargo for worthless into the deep; but if so be it should fall to Nereus in his flowing pageant of the sea to receive the gift of my goods.
And if these paps their milk could give,
... 'Sweet dames,' I answered O,
... For when I look on you,
Come to-night with your Lydian lyre,
For you came to my house the other day and sang to me, and that is why I am come. O talk with me! come down and make me free of thy beauty. For we are walking near, and well you know it. Quick, send your handmaidens away, and may the Gods grant me whatsoever They have for me! Were there a road which man could tread to great Olympus, I would ever ...
47 FROM A WEDDING SONG
... And we maidens spend all the night at this door, singing of the love that is between thee, thrice happy bridegroom, and a bride whose breast is sweet as violets. But get thee up and go when the Dawn shall come, and may great Hermes lead thy feet where thou shalt find just so much ill-luck as we shall see sleep to-night
Excerpted from "Poems of Sappho"
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Life of Sappho,