Sappho 31

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Sappho 31 is an archaic Greek lyric poem by Ancient Greek female poet Sappho of the island of Lesbos. This poem was in antiquity known as phainetai moi (φαίνεταί μοι) after the opening words of its first line, or Lobel-Page 31, Voigt 31, Gallavotti 2, Diehl 2, Bergk 2, after the location of the poem in various editions containing the collected works of Sappho. The poem is a good representation of archaic lyric poetry, in that the persona and personal emotions of the poet are central to the poemʻs form; it is written in the first person singular, and the speaker is a woman in love with another woman, as in so many of Sapphoʻs poems. Some have seen it as a fragment from an epithalamion - a wedding poem, intended to be sung to the bride at the entrance to her nuptial chamber; it does not share any of the attributes of the classic form called enkomion - a poem of praise. It is perhaps Sappho's most famous poem.[1]

Sappho 31 was one of the two substantially complete poems by Sappho to survive from ancient times, written in Sappho's vernacular form of Greek, the Lesbian-Aeolic dialect. More fragments have been found in recent years, particularly in the Oxyrhynchus papyri. Sappho adopts her usual metrical form, the Sapphic meter of four lines: three lines of eleven syllables, and a fourth line of five syllables. Four strophes survive, plus a fragment of a fifth verse or concluding line. Sappho's poems were designed to be sung, and use direct and emotional language. The author starts by praising the beauty of the bridegroom, likening him to a god, but then describes her jealousy and the physical manifestations of her distress upon seeing a young woman whom she loves with her new husband, the epiphany bringing her to a symbolic death. The word choice, with alliteration and assonance, and repetition of short clauses - particularly the conjunction "δέ" - build up a rhythmic effect similar to a ritual incantation.

Longinus's treatise On the Sublime (Περὶ ὕψους, Perì hýpsous) selects the poem as an example of the sublime for the intensity of its passionate emotions. It was quoted in Plutarch's "Dialogue on Love" (Έρωτικός, Erotikos) in his Moralia (a Latin translation of the original Greek title, Ἠθικά, Ethika, Ethics).

The opening words of the poem - "he appears to me, that one, equal to the gods..." - are almost identical to the opening of Sappho 165, with the pronoun changed ("her" in Sappho 165 rather than "me" in Sappho 31).[2]The poem was adapted by Roman poet Catullus, and addressed his muse Lesbia, in his erotic poem Catullus 51, which begins "Ille mi par esse deo videtur" ("He seems to me to be equal to a god"). A scholarly reconstruction by Armand D'Angour has used the evidence of Catullus's sapphic poem 11 as well as poem 51 to suggest that the original poem may have had up to 8 stanzas.


Original Greek (stoa) Latin alphabet transliteration Literal translation by Gregory Nagy
(date unknown)

φαίνεταί μοι κῆνος ἴσος θέοισιν
ἔμμεν' ὤνηρ, ὄττις ἐνάντιός τοι
ἰσδάνει καὶ πλάσιον ἆδυ φωνεί-
σας ὐπακούει

καὶ γελαίσας ἰμέροεν, τό μ' ἦ μὰν
καρδίαν ἐν στήθεσιν ἐπτόαισεν·
ὠς γὰρ ἔς σ' ἴδω βρόχε', ὤς με φώναί-
σ' οὐδ' ἒν ἔτ' εἴκει,

ἀλλά κὰμ μὲν γλῶσσα †ἔαγε†, λέπτον
δ' αὔτικα χρῷ πῦρ ὐπαδεδρόμηκεν,
ὀππάτεσσι δ' οὐδ' ἒν ὄρημμ', ἐπιρρόμ-
βεισι δ' ἄκουαι,

κὰδ' δέ ἴδρως κακχέεται, τρόμος δὲ
παῖσαν ἄγρει, χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίας
ἔμμι, τεθνάκην δ' ὀλίγω 'πιδεύης
φαίνομ' ἔμ' αὔτᾳ.

ἀλλὰ πὰν τόλματον, ἐπεὶ †καὶ πένητα†...

phainetai moi kênos isos theoisin
emmen’ ônêr ottis enantios toi
isdanei kai plâsion âdu phônei-
sâs upakouei

kai gelaisâs îmeroen to m’ ê mân
kardiân en stêthesin eptoaisen.
ôs gar es s’ idô brokhe’ ôs me phônai-
s’ oud’ en et’ eikei,

alla kam men glôssa eâge lepton
d’ autika khrôi pur upadedromâken
oppatessi d’ oud’en orêmm’ epirrom-
beisi d’ akouai,

kad de m’ idrôs kakkheetai tromos de
paisan agrei khlôrotera de poiâs
emmi tethnâkên d’ oligô ‘pideuês
phainom’ em’ autâi.

Alla pan tolmaton, epei [kai penêta] ...

He appears to me, that one, equal to the gods,
the man who, facing you,
is seated and, up close, that sweet voice of yours
he listens to

And how you laugh your charming laugh. Why it
makes my heart flutter within my breast,
because the moment I look at you, right then, for me,
to make any sound at all won’t work any more.

My tongue has a breakdown and a delicate
— all of a sudden — fire rushes under my skin.
With my eyes I see not a thing, and there is a roar
that my ears make.

Sweat pours down me and a trembling
seizes all of me; paler than grass
am I, and a little short of death
do I appear to me.

But all may be ventured, since even [the poor]...

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Reading Sappho: contemporary approaches, Ellen Greene, University of California Press, 1996, ISBN 0-520-20601-0, p.58,64-67.
  2. ^ The Cambridge companion to Greek mythology, Roger D. Woodard, Cambridge University Press, 2007, ISBN 0-521-84520-3, p.29-35. Archived November 13, 2012 at the Wayback Machine