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Archive for Sappho

Two wedding song fragments of Sappho (heavily emended); Vesper and Lucifer; the eroticism of morning

104a Voigt

Vesper, bringing all that shining dawn has scattered
you bring the sheep and goat, you bring the mother’s child;
far away you bring the child from mother, baneful star.

Ἔϲπερε πάντα φέρων ὄϲα φαίνολιϲ ἐϲκέδαϲ’ Αὔωϲ,
οἶν ϲὺ φέρηιϲ τε καὶ αἶγα, φέρηιϲ ἄπυ μάτερι παῖδα,
<τῆλέ γε παῖδα φέρηις ἀπὺ μάτερος, ὤλιος ἄστηρ.>


114 Voigt

– Maidenhood, maidenhood, where have you gone and left me?
– Not again, by any means, to you, at any time, shall I return from anywhere,
not again shall I return.

παρθενία, παρθενία, ποῖ με λίποιϲ’ ἀποίχηι;
οὐκέτι <πωϲ> πρὸϲ ϲέ <ποτ’> ἤξω <ποθέν,> οὐκέτ’ ἤξω.


Hermes 142 (2014), pp. 225–39.


The relation of Vesper or Hesperos, the Evening Star, to the goddess Aphrodite (Venus), a tacit presence in most of Sappho’s preserved poetry, is an interesting topic. The association of the goddess with the planet Venus is not attested in Greek sources before the fourth century B.C., but in Symbolae Osloenses 86 (2012) we speculated on possible relics in Greek art and literature of the mythological notion of Hesperos and Phosphoros (Lucifer), the Evening and Morning Star, serving as the goddess’s twin charioteers. This might relate them genetically to the winged Aśvin twins of Vedic mythology, who are the charioteers of Sūryasa, Daughter (or wife?) of the Sun. Textual parallels between Sappho 1, the “Hymn” to Aphrodite, describing a chariot voyage of the goddess, and RigVeda 1.118, could support such a relation. As has been suggested, Castor and Pollux, the twin riders of light, brothers of the divine Helen, might constitute another mythological hypostasis derived from the same cosmological foundation: the two opposite aspects of the planet Venus, custodians of the erotically charged light of evening and dawn.


Not only evening but also morning is a time of heightened eroticism, as in RigVeda 1.134.3:

Wake up abundance
Like a lover a sleeping girl,
Make both worlds visible, make the dawns light up

(transl. Karen Thomson)

– and in an hommage to Sappho by Posidippus of Pella addressed to Doricha the courtesan, lover of Sappho’s brother Charaxus (Gow-Page, Hellenistic Epigrams vv. 3143–45; Ath. 13.596c):

…the fragrant gown, which you wrapped around your beloved Charaxus as you, your skin adjacent to his, took hold of the ivy cups of daybreak.

What exactly is here meant by “the ivy cups of daybreak” (ὀρθρινὰ κιϲϲύβια) is uncertain. Gow-Page’s assertion that it refers to “a symposium prolonged past midnight” seems doubtful; for instance one might have expected the imperfect tense of the verb ἄπτομαι (“grasp”, “take hold”), denoting continued or repeated action. The wrapping of a gown around two naked bodies is also awkward in combination with holding cups and drinking, and the procedure is a literary topic associated with coitus in Archil. fr. 196a West (Archilochus molesting a girl) and Hieronymus of Rhodes fr. 35 Wehrli (Sophocles debauching a boy = test. 75 Radt, Ath. 13.604e).


Aphrodite with charioteers




Sappho 81b

Put lovely garlands, Dika, in your hair
with soft hands binding strands of dill:

then you will flower, and the blessed Graces
shall come near; they turn away from the ungarlanded.

σὺ δὲ στεφάνοις, ὦ Δίκα, πέρθεσθ’ ἐράτοις φόβαισιν
ὄρπακας ἀνήτω συναέρραισ’ ἀπάλαισι χέρσιν·

εὐάνθεμος ὢς γὰρ πέλεαι καὶ Χάριτες μάκαιραι
μᾶλλον προσέσοντ’, ἀστεφανώτοισι δ’ ἀπυστρέφονται.

Some spacious and perhaps philologically indefensible conjectures have made sense of the poetry:

εὐάνθεμος ὢς γὰρ πέλεαι (’then you will flower’): εὐάνθεα γὰρ πέλεται (’for they are flowery’, unmetrical).
προσέσοντ’ (’shall come near’): προτέρην (’former’, senseless).

Sappho 8

P.Oxy. 2289

[ἆδυ  μὲ]ν [τ]ὸ [κάλλος ἴδην φιλάων]
[ὤστε π]ὰμ φ[άεννον ἐν ὠράνοισιν]
[ἄστρον,  Ἄ]τθι· σὸ[ν δὲ πρόσωπον ἐλλάμ-]
xx[πει] νεφ[έλαισι.]

Sweet is the beauty of friends to see,
like every flaming star in the sky,
Atthis: but your face shines
xxthrough clouds.

Sappho 3

. . .
xx[δῶρα με] δώσην

οὐ τεα]ύτων μέντ’ ἐπ[ιδεύομαί τι
ἢ κ]άλων κἄσλων· σ[ὺ δ’ ἔπεσσιν αἴτης
οὐ κά]λοις, λύπης τε μ[άταιον ἴεισ’
xxεἰς ἔ]μ’ ὄνειδος.

αἰ γὰρ] οἰδήσαις ἐπὶ τ[ρὶς τόσονδε,
ὠς τρύφ]αν ἄσαιο· τὸ γὰρ [νόημμα
τὦ]μον οὐκ οὔτω μ[άλακως πέρα πρὸς
xxσοὶ] διάκηται

[ἀλλὰ] μηδ’ [ἄρ]ασδε [σὺ μηδὲ κρᾶσδε
[ὤστε βάτρα]χις, συνίημ[μι δ’ ἤδη
[ὄσσον εἰς πλήρ]ης κακότατο[ς. ἆρ’ οἶσθ’
xx[ὤς σε κάλημ]μεν; —

[ἴσθι πεδ τύχη]ν ἀτέραις μ’ ἔ[οισαν —]
[ἦ Δίκα ’χάρ]η φρένας εὖ [λέγοισα]
[ὤς φίλα θν]άτοις μακά[ρεσσι πάμπαν]
xx[ἔσσι μαγοίροις]

[ ]α[ ]
. . .


to give

I am not deficient in such matters
or in beautiful and good things: but you demand with words
that are not beautiful, and you grieve me, hurling witless
reproach at me

I wish you would swell to thrice your size,
so that you would have your fill of sweets. My mind
is no longer so softly disposed
towards you.

But do not bark, nor croak
like a frog. I know now
the extent to which you are full of baseness. Do you know
what we call you?

Yes, it happens that I associate with others:
Oh how Dika gladdened her mind, well saying
that you verily are a friend of the mortal, blessed

κ]άλων i the second, [νόημμα och τὦ]μον in the third strophe is by Blass; ἔ]μ’ in the second and μ[άλακως in the third by J. M. Edmonds.