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Sappho's sixth and seventh poems
January 28, 2014 9:16 PM   Subscribe

Although she is a literary legend, only one complete poem of Sappho's survives, along with substantial fragments of four others (the last discovered in 2004). Now two new fragments have been discovered.

The poems came to light when the owner of a papyrus asked Oxford classicist Dirk Obbink about the Greek script on a scrap. Obbink recognised it and asked the owner for permission to publish an article, including a transcription (though not a translation) of the poems.
posted by Athanassiel (89 comments total) 110 users marked this as a favorite

 
So often what is found on papyrus is so disappointing (I'm looking at you Philodemus and the endless reams of your writing we've got), that this is extra exciting beyond the discovery of a new chunk of a classical author. Sappho! That's the holy grail of everyone who works on papyri. Well it is since Menander got discovered and everyone was disappointed that he didn't match up to everything people said about him in antiquity...
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:19 PM on January 28 [16 favorites]


When I was in school we didn't even speculate that more fragments could be found. Even after the Dead Sea Scrolls turned up, we thought Sappho was gone but for the few fragments we had. I am thrilled about how many fragments have been discovered since I left school. Midcentury progress put man on the moon and, although we aren't building space ships these days, we continually make astounding technological innovations and are discovering at the same time undreamed-of cultural and natural treasures all around us in our world. This makes me happy.
posted by Anitanola at 10:09 PM on January 28 [12 favorites]


I am so, so psyched.

And Philodemus isn't so bad---just disappointing given the possibilities. It's as though 98% of modern literature were destroyed save a cache of Norman Mailer essays.
posted by Bromius at 10:10 PM on January 28 [5 favorites]


I immediately thought of Mentats (rather than the Mentiats, of which have never come to mind immediately) and wondered why. They drank Sapho juice.
posted by juiceCake at 10:27 PM on January 28


How can we determine that she was such a great poet with such little content?
posted by koavf at 10:32 PM on January 28


Because of surviving work like this, koavf, written two and a half thousand years ago:
He is more than a hero
he is a god in my eyes—
the man who is allowed
to sit beside you — he

who listens intimately
to the sweet murmur of
your voice, the enticing

laughter that makes my own
heart beat fast. If I meet
you suddenly, I can't

speak — my tongue is broken;
a thin flame runs under
my skin; seeing nothing,

hearing only my own ears
drumming, I drip with sweat;
trembling shakes my body

and I turn paler than
dry grass. At such times
death isn't far from me.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 10:44 PM on January 28 [73 favorites]


How can we determine that she was such a great poet with such little content?

That's a legit historical question, and the answer illuminates a basic process about how history as a discipline works! We know that Sappho was considered a great poet in Greece (and for many centuries afterward) basically "because everyone says so." A bunch of contemporary writers and people who read her work when most of it was extant were constantly writing stuff like, "Holy fuck Sappho is amazing," "Holy shit have you heard this poem by Sappho" and "Sappho has like a gift from the gods holy heaven SAPPHO IS SUCH A GOOD POET I AM GOING TO DIE." There's enough of a consensus about her in the record we do have that we (like, historians) feel comfortable enough to say she was pretty excellent.

So it's super exciting to find MORE OF HER POEMS SO WE CAN ALL DIEEE.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:36 PM on January 28 [36 favorites]


koavf, two things.

1) Surviving ancient texts consistently refer to her as the most important artist in her genre. Imagine all recorded music was destroyed but you keep coming across articles referring favorably to someone named John Lennon.

2) as Bora said, what little survives sounds like this:

Some say horsemen, some say warriors,
Some say a fleet of ships is the loveliest
Vision in this dark world, but I say it’s
What you love.

It’s easy to make this clear to everyone,
Since Helen, she who outshone
All others in beauty, left
A fine husband,

And headed for Troy
Without a thought for
Her daughter, her dear parents…
Led astray….

And I recall Anaktoria, whose sweet step
Or that flicker of light on her face,
I’d rather see than Lydian chariots
Or the armed ranks of the hoplites.

posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:40 PM on January 28 [10 favorites]


or this, from ann carson:

]Sardis
often turning her thoughts here

]
you like a goddess
and in your song most of all she rejoiced.

But now she is conspicuous among Lydian women
as sometimes at sunset
the rosyfingered moon

surpasses all the stars. And her light
stretches over salt sea
equally and flowerdeep fields.

And the beautiful dew is poured out
and roses bloom and frail
chervil and flowering sweetclover.

But she goes back and forth remembering
gentle Atthis and in longing
she bites her tender mind
posted by PinkMoose at 11:51 PM on January 28 [7 favorites]


Man, she was so good. She's such a human poet and she has been to everyone who reads her. Every generation thinks they discovered sex, Sappho and Shakespeare. Like this guy (either Julian or his uncle) who wrote this letter in the early fourth century a.d. quoting Sappho:

You have indeed come, even though absent, by means of your letter - "And I was yearning for thee, and thou didst set ablaze my heart, already aflame with longing for thee." Nay, I neither refuse the love potion nor do I ever leave you at all, but with my soul I behold you as though you were present, and am with you when absent, and nothing is enough to quench my insatiate desire.

Like, who can't relate to that? "I think about you all the time, and I go crazy whenever you call me, JUST LIKE SAPPHO SAID, and we're soulmates, and I can't get enough of you."

Yay, we're doing favorites, here's mine:

The moon has set
and the Pleiades:
it's midnight;
time passes, time passes-
and I lie alone.

posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:05 AM on January 29 [15 favorites]


I'd like to point out that Obbink did not provide a translation of the rediscovered poems, just the original text and a description of it. As far as I can google, there is currently no translation of these poems anywhere on the internet.

The original text is at the bottom of this pdf.

Calling all mefites with a background in classics and/or poetry, we have two new poems by Sappho and there are no full translations available on the internet. We should fix that.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:09 AM on January 29 [10 favorites]


This post was awesome news; this thread is awesome comments.
posted by barnacles at 12:11 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


we have two new poems by Sappho and there are no full translations available on the internet

I ran the first two stanzas through Google Translate. The translation is imperfect, but I think the soul of the poet shines through:
But al thrylistha carve elthin
Yes pleai sym · The former, oiomai, Zeus
Olsen sympantes tech gods; S'se th financial
noeisthai these things,

But pempin me, and Kehl ⟦the⟧ `e sthai
many lissesthai vasilian lifted
exikesthai tyide saan Arid
NAA formulation,
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:22 AM on January 29 [16 favorites]


The article speculates that the papyrus fragment with the new poems might come from Oxyrhynchus, the Egyptian dump where for a thousand years an entire town just dumped their paper. Everything. Census records. Grocery lists. Household account books. Kids' homework. They reused papyrus all the time, so you might have a poem by Sappho on one side and the deed to an orchard on the other. It's like if you flipped over your paystub and doodled some song lyrics on the back while you were on hold with your bank and a thousand years later someone found that and it turns out it's almost the entire last verse of "You're So Vain" and they've been looking for that, everyone talked about that song, what was Saratoga, is that a battle reference, what's a Nova Scotia, what did these people think about boning your good friend's wife, put this in a climate-controlled box, we thought we would never find this again.

I think about Oxyrhynchus all the time. I have a lot of feelings about it, obviously. I guess, mostly, I do think I'll never die, because I'm always scribbling song lyrics in my journal and drawing pictures of cats and writing down the books I've read recently with little summaries and writing about my day and and taping in postcards and magazine pictures. See, someone might be looking for it someday.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:24 AM on January 29 [32 favorites]


She might have inspired Neruda... but its the lovely imagery of her on her island, drunk on words, wine, songs and rhythm
posted by infini at 12:31 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


I can only hope that someday someone will knock a hole in a wall and we find a stash of hundreds of her poems, carefully hidden there.
posted by happyroach at 12:44 AM on January 29 [6 favorites]


How much does the Aeolian dialect differ from Attic?
posted by thelonius at 2:59 AM on January 29


Gosh it's been a long time since I worked on a Sappho translation (well over a decade)... BUT THE TIME HAS COME to dust off my ancient greek dictionaries and to have a shot at this. It won't be pretty, and it won't be timely, but I want to try...

I'm unbelievably excited to hear this news. Despite my scientific focus, I actually have a classics degree too, and Sappho is just so, so special and beloved.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 3:03 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


I did mention that Obbink didn't translate the poem... I think it would be no end of awesome if Metafilter provided the first internet one! Sadly, having only a small amount of modern Greek, I'm useless in this regard. I'll just cheer you on with a translation of the last discovered fragment:
Pursue the violet-laden Muses’ handsome gifts,
my children, and the loud-voiced lyre so dear to song:
But me—my skin which once was soft is withered now
by age, my hair has turned to white which once was black,
my heart has been weighed down, my knees give no support
which once were nimble in the dance like little fawns.
How often I lament these things. But what to do?
No being that is human can escape old age.
For people used to think that Dawn with rosy arms
and loving murmurs took Tithonus fine and young
to reach the edges of the earth; yet still grey age
in time did seize him, though his consort cannot die.
(Translation by M L West, appearing at the end of an article Obbink wrote about the last discovered fragment, including more on Oxyrhynchus and a textual analysis down to a change in handwriting.)
posted by Athanassiel at 3:38 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


I got to the end of the article and noticed the lack of translation and thought (after a moments disappointment) "Well, of course, it's not translated, the audience he's writing for can all read ancient Greek."

This stuff happens all of the time (unfortunately I picked up Latin not Greek in gradschool. So I am of no use here).
posted by oddman at 4:54 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


I'm working on a rough translation of the first poem now. Could there possibly be a better use of a snow day morning?
posted by Bromius at 5:16 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


Bromius, I am delighted by this news too, and delighted that you're delighted to be working on it. Can't wait to read what you translate, so please do share.

But to answer your hypothetical: Clearly Sappho herself had a primary source of inspiration, and that's a hell of a good way to use a snowy day morning. Still, and for anyone!
posted by Sublimity at 5:31 AM on January 29


Yeah.

Then up comes Sappho.
I'm like, "Yo, Sappho, what's up?"
She's like, "Nothin'."
And I'm like, "That's cool."
posted by Drexen at 5:59 AM on January 29


Could there possibly be a better use of a snow day morning?

Nope!

This is thrilling. I'm not remotely a classicist, but this sets the thin fire running under my skin.
posted by rtha at 6:08 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


Her poetry was one of the best things I read in college. I hope this find holds up, because more Sappho is never a bad thing (in all senses of the phrase).
posted by Dip Flash at 6:09 AM on January 29


Imagine all recorded music was destroyed but you keep coming across articles referring favorably to someone named John Lennon.

Imagine no more records
it isn't hard to do...
posted by eriko at 6:11 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Things like this rekindle my childhood excitement for history and antiquity! I spent many hours pouring over National Geographic magazines that had articles on ancient Greece, Rome, or Egypt. But, I ended up studying other things... and I see a thread filled with enthusiasts! Can any of you recommend a good, beginner text on Sappho, assuming I read no ancient Greek and have little knowledge of ancient cultures outside of 12th grade Humanities?
posted by absquatulate at 6:54 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Sappho! That's the holy grail of everyone who works on papyri.

I'd put in a vote for Aristotle's lost treaty on comedy.

But then, I don't work with papyri.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:04 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


And, of course, previously
posted by IndigoJones at 7:21 AM on January 29


I dunno. Aristotle's treatise would be interesting academically, but would be unlikely to tell us anything new today. Sappho's poetry still has value and meaning to a larger modern-day audience. Given the choice, I'd take more of Sappho's work, thanks.
posted by YAMWAK at 7:28 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


I am grateful to its anonymous owner for access to and permission to publish the papyrus and its text here.

Permission culture has really gotten out of hand.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:36 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


would be unlikely to tell us anything new today.

Well, in that case, there are a bunch of plays I would like to get my hands on. Also some histories. But, you know, to each his own.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:42 AM on January 29


Things like this rekindle my childhood excitement for history and antiquity! I spent many hours pouring over National Geographic magazines that had articles on ancient Greece, Rome, or Egypt.
posted by infini at 7:48 AM on January 29


OK, with the caveat that I have a few questions about the final stanzas, here is my rough translation:

[Several missing stanzas]

But you always prattle on that Charazon is coming
With a full ship: Zeus, I think,
And all the gods know this, and you
Must not think about it.

You must, rather, send me off and order me
To pray many things to Queen Hera:
That Charazon, sailing his boat
Arrive here

And find us safe and sound. The rest
Let us entrust entirely to the gods:
For fair weather can arise suddenly
From a great storm:

Those for whom the King of Olympus
Wishes a spirit as a helper with troubles,
They become happy
And greatly blessed.

And if Larichos ever lifted his head
And became a man,
He would free us, too,
From very great despair.


The poem reminds me very much of Sappho's Hymn to Aphrodite insofar as it's a one-sided conversation that seems to be both poem and prayer at once.
posted by Bromius at 7:50 AM on January 29 [48 favorites]


An old friend of mine from college, when we were young, we collaborated (she did most of the work) on an applique quilt of a Sappho fragment, the one that goes "If you will come, I will put out new pillows for you to rest on." It was in Greek, black letters appliqued on a white background. I think she still brings it out sometimes when she has a special date planned.

I just texted her "NEW SAPPHO POEM NEW SAPPHO POEM NEW SAPPHO POEM," I can't wait to see what she responds.
posted by KathrynT at 8:22 AM on January 29 [13 favorites]


NEW QUILT NEW QUILT NEW QUILT
posted by rtha at 8:24 AM on January 29 [16 favorites]


"Those aren't pillows!"
posted by Dip Flash at 8:28 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Oh yes they are
posted by infini at 8:28 AM on January 29 [9 favorites]


i took one semester of ancient greek in college from a Greek lyric poetry specialist and he would remark about the untranslatable qualities of ancient greek poetry. in ancient greek, like other classical languages, the word order isn't specified by the grammar so, the syntactic possibilities are much broader than our subject-verb-object world. as a result, this prof. would claim, that ancient greek poetry had several levels of subtext and inner structure beyond stanza, meter et al which you could never translate into english.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:57 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


I feel a bit like I've been allowed to tag along with a internet cross of Indiana Jones and Rupert Giles. (Note to fiction: more scholarly female adventurers, please.) Thanks, Bromius!
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:17 AM on January 29 [6 favorites]


And thanks, Snarl Furillo, for that description of Oxyrhynchus, which adds to the sense of adventure.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:20 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


By the way, to answer a question asked earlier, Aeolic Greek (spoken mainly on the coast of what is today Turkey and the outlying islands like Lesbos as well as in parts of Central Greece) is older than "standard" classical Greek (i.e. Attic Greek, from the region around Athens). It shares a number of characteristics--specifically some verb forms--in common with Homeric Greek. It also has certain vowel/consonant differences, so for example there's no initial h sound in the dialect, and many words that would use an eta in Attic have an alpha in Ionic, e.g. Attic μήτηρ (mother) vs. Aeolic μάτηρ.
Your average Greek student would come across it only in Sappho and another poet from the area, Alcaeus.
posted by Bromius at 9:40 AM on January 29 [6 favorites]


Boy, at least in Bromius' translation (thank you for that, Bromius!), the poem comes across as really snarky! "Yes, we all know that Charaxos will be coming home with a ship full of goods. We ALL know. Even Zeus. Because you won't shut up about it! Don't worry, I will play the dutiful sister, I will sing my prayers to Hera, but remember: all KINDS of bullshit can happen out on the open sea, from great storms to calm waters, but only those blessed by the Gods can truly know peace and happiness. Although Larichos, if you got off your ass and got a job, it would go a long way."

I am. . . not a student of classics, so I may be badly misinterpreting.
posted by KathrynT at 9:49 AM on January 29 [27 favorites]


> Aeolic Greek (spoken mainly on the coast of what is today Turkey and the outlying islands like Lesbos as well as in parts of Central Greece) is older than "standard" classical Greek (i.e. Attic Greek, from the region around Athens).

No it's not (no contemporaneous dialect is older than any other), any more than Cantonese is "older" than Mandarin or Icelandic "older" than other Nordic languages; they all have certain archaic features that stand out, but they've also lost other old features. Mycenaean Greek is indeed older than both Aeolic and Attic, but that's because it's older.

Having clarified that... off to read the new Sappho! (Also, I would be just as excited about new Archilochus as new Sappho, but yeah: Sappho!)
posted by languagehat at 10:11 AM on January 29 [7 favorites]


I rather like KathrynT's interpretation of the verse.
posted by infini at 10:22 AM on January 29


OK, here's my attempt:
But you keep repeating "Kharaxos is coming
with a full boat": that, I believe, is for Zeus
and all the gods to know; you should not be
thinking such things;

you should send me instead with strict instructions
to pray fervently to Lady Hera
that she might arrive here bringing Kharaxos'
ship safe and sound,

finding us safe as well. As for the rest,
let's entrust it all to the gods—fair weather,
after all, can come from a heavy gale
all of a sudden.

Those to whom the Lord of Olympus chooses
to send a god, one who will help them forthwith
out of their troubles, they are the blessed ones
and very wealthy.

We ourselves, if Larikhos should raise
up his head and one day become a man,
we will be from the troubles that weigh us down
freed in an instant.
posted by languagehat at 11:46 AM on January 29 [59 favorites]


I have no idea why this thread and its real time Ancient Greek translations of Sappho's newly discovered papyri is sending frissons down my spine. Thanks linguists and other such experts for making this a wonderful thread.
posted by infini at 11:50 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


languagehat, thanks for the translation!

Is it wrong for me to say that I sense that Sappho is being snarky here? "Oh sure, other people get the gods to help them, but for us, we have to wait for that damn Larikhos to just get off his fat ass..."

My goodness, I miss my class on Greek literature in translation!
posted by math at 12:09 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


> Is it wrong for me to say that I sense that Sappho is being snarky here?

It's an understandable reaction these days, but no, snark was not something they did back in the seventh century BCE. It's just as earnest as the famous Hymn to Aphrodite with which it has so much in common. (Note in particular αἶψα 'suddenly,' which I translated as "in an instant" in the last line here and which occurs equally dramatically at the start of line 13 there: αἶψα δ' ἐξίκοντο 'and they arrived suddenly/swiftly,' with the same verb 'arrive' as in line 7 here.) Here's a paragraph from Obbink's article that may help you think about how it was intended:
In the Brothers Poem as we have it, Sappho challenges the addressee (and by extension, her audience) to remember that Charaxos’ success and safety is in the hands of the gods and attainable (if at all) only through the correct form of prayer in song. Against this is held up universal knowledge of all the gods and the cosmos by the speaker, and the power of hymnic song, framed in the poem, to help secure Charaxos’ safety, as well as the safety and prosperity of the family or community. [...] She looks forward to his thus returning to Lesbos, and imagines and advises how one would have to pray to the gods to secure his safe passage, and in the course of which she herself does so: i.e. performs this hymnic prayer—putatively in the future, just as in Sa. 1 [the Hymn to Aphrodite] she reperforms one that she narrates in the past, thus bringing it into the immediacy of the present. First and foremost, the text may be seen as a wish for Charaxos to come home (ἔλθην), at most anxiety that he is gone (ἔλθην) and a prayer that he come home happily.
posted by languagehat at 12:29 PM on January 29 [4 favorites]


Well, there's Thersites in the Iliad.
posted by Bromius at 12:33 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]




Thank you all; this thread has turned a dull day into an illuminated one.

That Daily Beast article, though? Ugh. "Poetess"? An awful picture of Sappho swooning over some male warrior type? Meh.
posted by jokeefe at 12:46 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


but no, snark was not something they did back in the seventh century BCE

it is surprising to me how much trouble I have internalizing this! I mean, I know reading ancient works through modern eyes is a problem, but there is a part of me that is genuinely like "lol cool story bro tell me another one."

I hasten to add, I believe you. I just. . . believing you takes work.
posted by KathrynT at 12:54 PM on January 29 [5 favorites]


no idea if Sappho is any good, but translations of her stuff are often amongst the best poetry, whether from famous poets or excellent but unfamous translators, so always worth looking out for in English
@Bromius "It's as though 98% of modern literature were destroyed save a cache of Norman Mailer essays." somehow that made me laugh so hard...
posted by maiamaia at 12:55 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Oxyrynchous Online was a website way back when wikipedia was a fraction of its current size, later it was a subsection of oxford.ac.uk, no idea now, but i bought my mum the book about it - The City of the Sharp Nosed Fish or similar name - and while obviously a bit academic and dry, it was very interesting, can recommend.
posted by maiamaia at 1:07 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


omg is the languagehat mefite the languagehat translation blog? celebrity alert
posted by maiamaia at 1:08 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


I don't have a lot of time today and I only do Attic, but I want to play too. Is there a way to do this collaboratively?

Bromius tr., first stanza
But you always prattle on that Charazon is coming
With a full ship: Zeus, I think,
And all the gods know this, and you
Must not think about it.

languagehat tr., first stanza
But you keep repeating "Kharaxos is coming
with a full boat": that, I believe, is for Zeus
and all the gods to know; you should not be
thinking such things;

I'm inclined to keep the first half of #1 and the second half of #2. "Prattle" is a bit looser but more evocative and (I think) does a better job of emphasizing that the "repeating" is inappropriate. After the colon, I think the italicized "you" does a good job of emphasizing the parallelism implied by the "men...de..." construction in the second half of the stanza.

Possible fusion translation of the first stanza
But you always prattle on that Charazon is coming
With a full ship: that, I believe, is for Zeus
and all the gods to know; you should not be
thinking such things;
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:15 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


> "Prattle" is a bit looser but more evocative

Misleadingly evocative. It is totally out of synch with the entirely serious diction of the poem.
posted by languagehat at 1:24 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


This is what I love about ancient Greek. The translation (from what I can gather; I don't know much about the field) takes a lot of work because there are so many ways to interpret each word, and so each translator puts so much of himself or herself into the words.

When I translate from Spanish to English, there's usually only the most minor of differences between my work and the work of others, but languagehat and Bromius could almost be working on different poems.

More! I want more!
posted by math at 1:31 PM on January 29


To be clearer about "prattle": that would be a fine way to translate θρυλέω when Aristophanes uses it, but when Euripides' Elektra says to the newly slain Aigisthos:
καὶ μὴν δι' ὄρθρων γ' οὔποτ' ἐξελίμπανον
θρυλοῦσ' ἅ γ' εἰπεῖν ἤθελον κατ' ὄμμα σόν

and in the early mornings I never ceased
to [θρυλέω] what I wanted to say to your face
...I don't think "prattle" works. (Not a knock on Bromius, who did a bang-up job on the spur of the moment, just explaining why I think my choice is better in this context.)
posted by languagehat at 2:04 PM on January 29 [5 favorites]


Yeah, the vicissitudes of what survived from antiquity is really stunning. Catullus survived in a single manuscript that was found in his hometown, Verona, at the beginning of the Renaissance. Before that, the manuscript had probably gone walkabout around France before someone brought it "home." It's sort of like if the extant works of Bob Dylan had only survived because someone in the library of Hibbings, Minnesota decided that there should be a copy there, and every other copy in the world got destroyed.
posted by Kattullus at 2:43 PM on January 29 [5 favorites]


Tom Stoppard puts a wonderful monologue into the mouth of Benjamin Jowett on that very topic in The Invention of Love.
posted by Bromius at 2:50 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


"Prattle" is a bit looser but more evocative
Misleadingly evocative. It is totally out of synch with the entirely serious diction of the poem.


I'd like to withdraw my earlier remarks. Thanks for the elaboration. It's neat to get a sense of what your process is in translating.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:11 PM on January 29


This whole thread fills me with happiness. Not one but two translations, discussion of why certain translations were chosen, links to more great stuff, and of course, some insightful and hilarious comments. Metafilter: come for the articles, stay for the comments.
posted by Athanassiel at 3:42 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


I can barely stumble through Attic Greek, so take this with a grain of salt, but it seems to me that θρυλέω is used in contexts where the speaker has been constantly repeating something in a false manner: Euripides' Elektra privately repeats a denunciation to herself rather than make it public; Sappho's brother keeps stating something uncertain with confidence; Aristophanes' Kleon accuses his opponent of being a wannabe lawyer who bores his friends by reciting his single successful oration.

It's hard to find a single English word that combines the elements of repetition with falsity. Perhaps "mutter"? It really means an indistinct and barely-audible vocalisation, but the usual context for it is when someone is addressing themselves with words appropriate for a wider audience. So Elektra would each morning mutter about her step-father's crimes; the brother would keep muttering about the richly-laden vessel due to arrive Any Day Now; Kleon's opponent would mutter his oration to himself all night.

As for the ship, I think a better word would be "galleon". It's ahistorical, but the word actually does derive from "galley", which I think is the sort of ship they would have used. It implies wealth, because galleons carried Spanish treasure from the New World, hence the compound treasure-galleon. I suppose this is why by J K Rowling borrowed the word for the magical gold coins minted by her goblins.

Finally, there's a good word that combines both relying on something uncertain and overstepping one's place. Perhaps Sappho might have meant that her brother shouldn't presume that their ship will come in? Combining these suggestions, how about:
You keep muttering "Charazon
comes here with a galleon!" – Zeus, I suppose, and
all the other gods may know that;
you should not presume it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:17 PM on January 29 [6 favorites]


In the second stanza, Bromius was right and I was wrong about the construction (those accusative/infinitive combos are murder); the last two lines of my version should read:
that Kharaxos might arrive and bring his
ship safe and sound here,
posted by languagehat at 6:44 PM on January 29 [4 favorites]


> but no, snark was not something they did back in the seventh century BCE

And I had always assumed that the word came from Σναρκος, the god of teen-agers.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:49 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I'm being a total pedant here, and I don't know ancient Greek, Attic or Aeolian, but this is bugging me. The Greek letters ζ and ξ look a lot alike, but Sappho's older brother's name was Χάραξος – Charaxos or Kharaxos – not Charazon.
posted by nangar at 8:06 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


MeTa
posted by homunculus at 8:13 PM on January 29


You're right, nangar. That's what excitedly translating a little too early in the morning can do. Sorry!
posted by Bromius at 8:28 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Well, that breaks my internal rhyme.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:31 PM on January 29


'always prattle' v. 'keep repeating' - In the paper that Dirk Obbink wrote, he uses 'always chattering about 'Charaxos' coming with a full ship'.
posted by unliteral at 8:49 PM on January 29


No worries, Bromius. You can read Greek and I can't! And you gave us a translation! It was a minor and transparent typo on your part. What bugged me was that other people were repeating it.
posted by nangar at 9:30 PM on January 29


benito.strauss: "And I had always assumed that the word came from Σναρκος, the god of teen-agers."

And Σναρκος is accompanied by Βερσον, goddess of "Ugh."
posted by ocherdraco at 10:14 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


> "... snark was not something they did back in the seventh century BCE."
> "Well, there's Thersites in the Iliad."

As near as I can tell, snark first became a regular thing in literature around the end of the fifth century BCE. I actually wouldn't count Thersites in the Iliad; his criticisms of Agamemnon can easily be interpreted without a trace of sarcasm.

The evidence suggests that snark became a thing during the period when what are now known as the "Old Comedies", the first comic plays, were being developed by writers such as Aristophanes. (The first official comedy was staged sometime around 486 BCE.) However, I'd say it was not ultimately restricted to comedy, as a strong argument can be made that snark appears in the later works of Euripides.
posted by kyrademon at 4:48 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]


Translation by Prof. Tim Whitmarsh in The Guardian:
[ … ]

But you always chatter that Charaxus is coming,
His ship laden with cargo. That much, I reckon, only Zeus
Knows, and all the gods; but you, you should not
Think these thoughts,

Just send me along, and command me
To offer many prayers to Queen Hera
That Charaxus should arrive here, with
His ship intact,

And find us safe. For the rest,
Let us turn it all over to higher powers;
For periods of calm quickly follow after
Great squalls.

They whose fortune the king of Olympus wishes
Now to turn from trouble
to [ … ] are blessed
and lucky beyond compare.

As for us, if Larichus should [ … ] his head
And at some point become a man,
Then from full many a despair
Would we be swiftly freed.
posted by Kattullus at 6:51 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]


Boy, that's a professorial translation: "Let us turn it all over to higher powers" sounds like something from a commencement speech. And I don't like "chatter" any better than "prattle."
posted by languagehat at 8:58 AM on January 30 [9 favorites]


EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE​EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE​EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE


..which is to say, thank you everyone for doing such awesome translation, this is a great article but the comments are amazingly better.
posted by corb at 9:12 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]


So looking forward to Anne Carson getting her hands on this. Her Sappho translations fucking destroy me.
posted by dersins at 9:33 AM on January 30 [8 favorites]


(By which I don't intend to denigrate the translations in this thread at all, by the way. It's just, y'know. Anne fucking Carson.)
posted by dersins at 9:34 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


I don't like "reckon" in that take. It's a perfectly nice word that I use pretty frequently myself, but I don't like it there - it grates on my ears.
posted by rtha at 9:36 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]


sadly, kattullus, that official one sucketh badlyeth compared to ye olde languagehat and blasblor er bromius
posted by infini at 10:48 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


phew, for a minute rtha i thought you were objecting to the rather than the reckon ;p
posted by infini at 10:50 AM on January 30


I don't like "reckon" in that take.

I don't like "higher powers" as a translation of πάντα δαιµόνεϲϲ̣ιν in Whitmarsh's stanza 3. However, "all the gods" doesn't quite work either. Daimon is probably untranslatable - there's no exactly parallel English language concept.

"Reckon" is downright bizarre. That's not Sappho, it's John Wayne.

Now listen here, pilgrim,
You keep goin' on about how Charaxus is comin' back with mucho dinero.
Now I may sound like a bible beater yelling up a revival at a river crossing camp meeting but that don’t change the truth none.
I reckon there must be some higher power or how else does all this stuff work?
Maybe you ought to listen up and shut yer yap.

posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:05 PM on January 30 [20 favorites]


I am still laughing helplessly, @justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow.

I'll get on in there, read the riot act
and badger and bully the powers that be
until they give Charaxus a personal escort back
And keep them cattle-wrasslers away.


(Not as brilliant as yours, but I'm in a hurry.)
posted by Athanassiel at 2:01 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]


Daimon is probably untranslatable - there's no exactly parallel English language concept.

Does deva work?
posted by infini at 3:18 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


"Reckon" is downright bizarre. That's not Sappho, it's John Wayne.

It's not. You are thinking of the Southern "reckon", but this is the (English) Northern 'reckon' and since the translator is a fellow at Oxford, the context is English rather than American.

Also, I would be just as excited about new Archilochus as new Sappho, but yeah: Sappho!

Yes, absolutely.
posted by ersatz at 7:19 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


A roundup from Reddit on some of the recent controversy around this new find.
posted by Rumple at 10:59 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Translation by Christopher Pelling in today's Times Literary Supplement:

Oh, not again - "Charaxos has arrived!
His ship was full" Well, that's for Zeus
And all the other gods to know.
Don't think of that,

But tell me, "go and pour out many prayers
to Hera, and beseech the queen
That he should bring his ship back home
Safely to port,

And find us sound and healthy". For the rest,
Let's simply leave it to the gods:
Great stormy blasts go by and soon
Give way to calm.

Sometimes a heavenly helper comes, if that's
The way Zeus wills, and guides a person round
To safety: and then blessedness and wealth
Become one's lot.

And us? If Larichos would raise his head,
If only he might one day be a man,
The deep and dreary draggings of our soul
We'd lift to joy.
posted by Marauding Ennui at 9:59 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


« Older I waited for the gush of joy, and I felt blank.   |   We Have a Complement of 38... Newer »


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