We are well acquainted with Sappho’s legend. Few details of her life are confirmed, but thanks to her cult of personality (and people’s delight in salacious gossip), we can make out hazy images of her: holding a lyre, within a circle of young women, singing hymns to Aphrodite, falling—and failing—over and over again in love and in lust. Her reputation as lyric virtuosa has inspired hundreds of renditions of her poems, and thousands of words written about her in the course of literary history. So why visit her again and again?
A characteristic theme of Sappho’s poetry is the phenomenology of lust and heartbreak. In the many already extant translations of these poems, Sappho sometimes appears all too remote; she seems oracular, a high priestess reaching out to goddesses and girls of a bygone, mythic era. This is beautiful in its own right, but it contradicts her intense descriptions of physical sensation. The vision of a lover causing fire to run under one’s skin is an invention born of Sappho’s particular experience, and yet it is strikingly relatable. We should have Sappho brought to us as close as possible, thereby rendering her earthly and tangible. We should let her make us her confidant, an intimate rather than an audience member. Hence my aim with these translations—to render the drama of our pagan poet as immediate, sympathetic, incarnate.
Following Pound’s advice, I did not attempt to copy Sappho’s quantitative meter, but rather to approximate it in free verse, letting the form follow from content but always with a sensuous music underlying it all. Sappho’s world was a pagan one. She and her contemporaries sought out the divine in nature, and saw it oftentimes in the face of a lover. This seems justification enough for an engagement with her ancient art, to remind us of the vital importance of the ineffable in nature and in each other.
– Christina Farella
Book twenty-one of Homer’s Iliad covers the core of Achilles’s rampage, after Patroclus’s death and before Hector’s, and includes Achilles’s battle with the river Xanthus, one of the best set pieces in the epic. The book opens with the Trojans, who were on the cusp of victory the day before, in full retreat. In the confusion half the army stampedes into the Xanthus, and the other half is making its way over the plain, trying to reach the shelter of Ilios’s walls. What follows is a summary of this version’s conventions.
Achaeans, Argives, Danaans, and their fellows are flattened to “Greeks,” unless the context asks for some distinction between regions. Trojan factions are treated similarly.
Patronymics (“son-of-Atreus”) are treated as surnames, and surnames may be used alone where Homer uses a patronymic alone and there is no danger of ambiguity. That is,
McCartney = Paul McCartney = Paul, son of Cartney
Peleus = Achilles Peleus = Achilles, son of Peleus
Aeacus = Achilles Peleus Aeacus = Achilles, son of Peleus, grandson of Aeacus
Homer is lax about pronoun referents (“he chased him and he fled” would be an acceptable construction) and this translation is lax about countering this laxity. Ambiguous cases are clarified in notes.
Some Greek words and particles, often cognates, are retained unmodified: agora (assembly), daimon (spirit, demigod), hero (warrior), mantis (seer), phalanx (battalion), and others, as well as prefixes such as ambi-, amphi-, para-, and poly-. Compounds such as “horsebreaking,” “greatsouled,” and “brazenshirted” reflect single-word epithets in the Greek, whereas hyphenates like “long-haired” correspond to multiword formulas.
This translation retains the Greek punctuation mark áno teleía (“·”). It functions like a colon or semicolon, separating independent clauses.
Occasional three-accent hemistiches, or half-lines, are employed for effect. The hemistiches do not reflect metrical irregularities in the original.
Line numbers in the English equate to line numbers in the Greek, give or take some syntactical variation.
– D. H. Tracy
The exact arrangement of poems in Meleager’s Garland, usually dated to 100 BCE, is unknown, but the evidence is strong that while some of its texts collected later in the 10th-century Palatine Anthology (AP) retain the same sequence as in the Garland, others do not. The two poems translated here most likely retain their original order. In the Garland, where the organizing principle seems to have been thematic and verbal resemblance, the first of these poems, 5.136 (its number in the AP), almost certainly followed and was a variation on a poem by Callimachus, a thematically similar amatory epigram with a nearly identical first line that includes the same first four words. In the AP, with its somewhat different organizing principles, the epigram by Callimachus, because addressed to Diocles, a boy, has been displaced to its book of same-sex amatory epigrams (Book 12; its number is 12.51). The second of the two poems translated here is essentially a variation on the variation. Its closeness thematically and verbally to 5.136 is such that only some as-yet-unidentified factor in the organization of the Garland could account for it not immediately following 5.136. Even if the largely discredited theory that the Garland’s poems were arranged alphabetically should turn out to be accurate—a theory based on a scholiast’s note to the AP—the order of these two poems would likely still stand, as their first words in the original are enkhei kai and enkhei tas, respectively.
– Fortunato Salazar
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