This is my only experience so far with collaborative translation, and it was a joy. It started as an exercise to keep our Greek reading skills sharp, but we reveled in the poetics of Sappho’s language and the joy (and necessity) of reviving a woman’s voice from antiquity. We’ve circulated this work among friends and colleagues, and we’re happy to share it with you, too! But please give credit to all three translators if you quote or share any part of this text.
Selected poems and fragments of Sappho (7th century BCE)
Translated by Kendra Dority, Ariane Helou, and Colleen Kron (copyright 2013).
“Subtle-minded Aphrodite, immortal
wiles-weaving child of Zeus, I beseech you,
do not with hatefulness or sorrow overpower
my heart, o queen,
but come here, if ever at another time,
catching my song from afar
you heard me, left behind your father’s house
of gold, you came,
your chariot yoked; and the swift pretty
sparrows led you around the black earth
spinning their fast-beating wings, from the sky
down in midair,
and they came quickly; but you, o happy one,
smiled at me with your undying face,
asked now again what I have suffered, now again what
do I call out for myself
and what I most want to happen in my
“Who is it that I now persuade again
to lead you back into her love? Who, o Sappho,
does you wrong?
For if ever she flees, swiftly will she chase you;
and if ever she turns away gifts, then instead she will give them;
and if she does not love, swiftly will she love you
even if unwilling.”
“So come to me now: set me loose from these harsh
thoughts of an anxious mind. As many things as my heart
wants to achieve, achieve; but you yourself, Aphrodite,
be my comrade-in-arms.”
From Crete here to me, to this holy temple
in this place where there is a lovely grove
of apple trees for you, and altars burning
and inside cold water sounds forth through the branches
of the apple tree, the whole earth is cast in shadow
by roses, and deep sleep swoops down
from the quivering leaves
and in the pony-grazed meadow flowering
with springtime blossoms, and the breaths of wind
blowing honey-sweet —
there you, Kypris, grasping
luxuriantly within your golden wine-cups
nectar mixed equally, abundantly:
Aphrodite, Nereids, grant:
that my brother come to this place unharmed
that all he desires in his heart come into being
that all be accomplished
that his former errors be all released
that he be a sweet delight to his friends
and grief to his enemies; and that no person,
not a one, be a sorrow to us.
If only he wanted for his sister
to share in honor, but mournful grief
. . .
. . . past grieving
Some say an army of horses, some say an army on foot,
some say an army of ships is the most beautiful thing
on the black earth; but I say it is
what one most desires.
It is entirely easy to make this understood
by everyone; for she who so greatly surpassed
all mortals in beauty, Helen, she abandoned
her worthiest husband,
went sailing to Troy; she remembered nothing,
absolutely nothing of her child nor her dear parents
but somebody (or something) led her astray —
for me it called to mind (my) Anaktoria
who is away:
and I would rather see her lovely stride
and the flashing radiance of her face
than the Lydians’ swift chariots
or foot-fighters in arms.
He seems to me an equal to the gods,
that man who stays facing you, he
who sits by you, listens close to your
and lovely laughter — the truth is,
it always sets my heart fluttering,
whenever I look at you I’m left with
my tongue shivers into silence, exquisite
flames run all under my skin,
eyes have no sight, ears
and cold sweat holds me, a trembling
seizes me whole, and greener than grass
am I, and almost dead
I seem to myself.
But all must be dared, since even a poor man —
Eros shook my
mind, as wind through a mountain falling upon oak trees
I used to love you, Atthis, once long ago
a small child you seemed and graceless
Dead will you lie: no memory of you ever
will there be, nor longing in the future; for you’ll have no share of the roses
of Pieria, but invisible even in the house of Hades
you will stalk among the darkened corpses, flown away.
But you, Dika, place the lovely crown on your hair,
binding anise fronds in your tender hands,
for toward garlanded ones do the blessed Graces prefer especially
to gaze; but they turn away from those who are uncrowned.
Sweet mother, I cannot weave on the loom.
I am overpowered by longing for a girl; slender Aphrodite’s fault.
Evening, drawing in all things, as many as light-bringing dawn scattered:
you draw in the sheep, you draw in the goat, you draw in the child to its mother.
as the sweet-apple reddens on the highest branch,
high on the highest one, and the apple-pluckers forgot–
no, not totally forgot, but were not able to reach.
(translated by Kendra Dority)