Sapphus Carmen Primum

Sappho has been the classics story of the week, following the Daily Beast article about Dirk Obbink’s discovery and pending publication of new fragments from the Tenth Muse.

English translations emerged shortly after, like this one from Tom Payne and this one by Prof. Tim Whitmarsh. As a result, Sappho’s rediscovered words are not only being celebrated, but more people are invited to the party.

The translations no doubt emerge from the intersection of the public’s enthusiasm—despite limited Greek—to take part in the discovery and the experts’ enthusiasm to accept the challenge of presenting this exciting, new material to the public.

Sapphus Carmina chapter title

I imagine that something similar was the case in 1555. Henricus Stephanus published his edition of Pindar’s Odes and with them he included new editions of the Greek lyrics poets—Alcaeus, Stesichorus, Ibycus, Anacreon, Bacchylides, Simonides, Alcman, and, of course, Sappho. (The title page also includes the “Wait! But there’s more…” of the 16th-cent. print world—”Nonnulla etiam aliorum.“) That Stephanus was publishing Pindar and the other lyric poets in the original suggests the demand was there. At the same time, there was one way ensure the widest audience possible—print an adjoining Latin translation.

Stephanus includes with his reading of the “Hymn to Aphrodite”—the poem which now goes by Sappho fr. 1.—a Latin translation by Elias Andreas. I have include Andreas’ work below with Stephanus’ Greek for comparison.

Sapphus Canticum ad Venerem
(Elia Andrea interprete)

Sedibus gaudens variis dolisque
O Iovis proles Cypri Sempiterna
Confici ne me patiaris, oro,
   Diva dolore.

Huc ades tandem: precibus vocata
SI meis unquam celer affuisti.
Tecta me propter quia saepe linquis
   Aurea patris:

Et venis curru properante vecta:
Te nigris ad me tenues per auras
Passeres alis agiles ferebant
   Aethere ab alto.

Hic iugales vix tibi sunt soluti,
Ore quum tu me, dea, sempiterno
Incipis, ridens, animum rogare
   Quae mala tangant.

Cur vocem te, quid mihi tum furenti
Maxime poscam fieri, quis autem
Serviat captus mihi. Quis lacessit
   Te mea Sappho?

Si fugit nunc te, cito prosequetur:
Accipit numquam? dabit usque dona.
Non amat te nunc? at amabit, & quod-
   cunque iubebis

O favens adsis quoque nunc, meumque;
Libera curis animum molestis.
Adiutrix oro mihi sis in omni
   fortis amore.

Ἆσμα εἰς Αφροδίτην

Ποικιλόθρον’, ἀθάνατ’ Ἀφρoδίτα,
Παῖ Διὸς, δολοπλόκε, λίσσομαί σε
Μή μ’ ἄταισι μήδ’ ανίαισι δάμνα,
   Πότνια θυμόν·

Ἀλλὰ τῇδ’ ἔλθ’ αἴποτε κἀτ’ ἔρωτα
Τᾶς ἐμᾶς αὐδᾶς ἀΐοις, ἇς πολλάκ’
Ἔκλυες· πατρὸς δὲ δόμον λιποῖσα
   Χρύσεον ἦλθες,

Ἅρμ’ ὐποζεύξασα, καλοὶ δέ σ’ ἄγον
Ὠκέες στρουθοὶ, πτέρνγας μελαίνας
Πυκνὰ δινέοντες ἀπ’ ὠράν’, αἰθέ-
   ρος διὰ μέσσω.

Αἶψα δ’ ἐξίκοντο τὺ δ’ ὦ μάκαιρα,
Μειδιάσασ’ ἀθανάτῳ προσώπῳ,
Ἤρε’ ὄττι δ’ ἦν τὸ πέπονθα κ’ ὄττι
   Δεῦρο καλοῖμι.

Κ’ ὄττι γ’ ἐμῷ μάλιστ’ ἔθέλω γένεσθαι
Μαινόλᾳ θύμῳ, τίνα δ’ αὖτε πειθὼ,
Καὶ σαγηνεῦσαν φιλότητα. τίς σ’ ὦ
   Σάπφοῖ ἀδικεῖ;

Καὶ γὰρ αἲ φεύγει, ταχέως διώξει·
Αἲ δὲ δῶρα μὴ δέκετ’, ἀλλὰ δώσει·
Αἲ δὲ μὴ φιλεῖ, ταχέως φιλήσει,
   Κ’ ὄττι κελεύῃς.

Ἔλθέ μοι καὶ νῦν, χαλεπᾶν δὲ λῦσον
Ἐκ μεριμνᾶν. ὄσσα δέ μοι τελέσσαι
Θυμὸς ἱμείρει, τέλεσον, σὺ δ’ αυτὰ
   Σύμμαχος ἔσσο.

from Stephanus’s Pindari Olympia, Pythia, Nemea, Isthmia Caeterorum Octo Lyricorum Carmina, 1555  (

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