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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

Great News, Citizens of Lesbos! Two New Sappho Poems Found

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Attention, luxuriant Graces and beautiful-haired Muses! Scholars have confirmed that they've found two heretofore undiscovered poems by the 7th-century-BC master Sappho. In case you haven't studied your Classics (and/or you never had that one asshole cousin who snorted "LOL UR FROM LESBOS" at every opportunity), Sappho is perhaps best known today as a lesbian icon—she was a resident of the aforementioned Greek island, and lush descriptions of female beauty and unrequited love feature prominently in her work.

But Sappho wrote passionately about men as well—plus she lived a really really long time ago and most of her work has been lost—so characterizations of her as the OG lesbian slam-poet may be a bit reductionist. Regardless, Sappho was rad.


Via the Telegraph:

Sappho was born on the Greek island of Lesbos in the late seventh century BC, after all, and not much her work has survived. Like Bowie, though, she has gained a reputation for playing with voices and manipulating our views of gender – which is one reason why so little of her work survives. Her best-known lines are filled with longing for another woman. Monks didn't preserve her poetry, and manuscripts of her work that were held in the Vatican burnt in purifying flames.

These gaps are all the more tormenting because what poetry we have from Sappho is so gorgeous. The best-known is addressed to a girl whom the poet sees forlornly through the eyes of the girl's boyfriend. Its description of the lurch and palpitations lovers feel is so physically acute that some commentators read it as a medical diagnosis.

...This latest poem emerges from elsewhere – an anonymous collector – and it is the scoop of Dr Dirk Obbink, a Classics fellow at Oxford, who when he saw it declared that it was by Sappho. It's highly unlikely that he's wrong. They are written in her distinctive meter, with the long vowels of the Lesbian dialect. Best of all, one poem mentions the Sappho's brother, Charaxos.


UUUUUGH, I MISS TAKING CLASSICS AND TALKING ABOUT GREEK SHIT SO MUCH. This makes me want to dig out all my old notebooks and pretend like I remember stuff.

Here's a translation of one of the poems, for your close-reading nerd-pleasure:

Tom Payne's verse translation of the Sappho fragment

Still, you keep on twittering that Charaxos

comes, his boat full. That kind of thing I reckon

Zeus and his fellow gods know; and you mustn't

make the assumption;

rather, command me, let me be an envoy

praying intensely to the throne of Hera

who could lead him, he and his boat arriving

here, my Charaxos,

finding me safely; let us then divert all

other concerns on to the lesser spirits;

after all, after hurricanes the clear skies

rapidly follow;

and the ones whose fate the Olympian ruler

wants to transform from troubles into better –

they are much blessed, they go about rejoicing

in their good fortune.

As for me, if Larichos reaches manhood,

[if he could manage to be rich and leisured,]

he would give me, so heavy-hearted, such a

swift liberation.

Image via Getty.