Sappho 31

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Sappho 31 is an archaic Greek lyric poem by the Ancient Greek female poet Sappho of the island of Lesbos. The poem is also known as phainetai moi (φαίνεταί μοι) after the opening words of its first line. It is one of Sappho's most famous poems, describing her love for a young woman.


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]

The poem is written Aeolic, the dialect of Greek used on Lesbos. It is written in Sapphic stanzas, a metrical form named after Sappho, consisting of stanzas of four lines: three of eleven syllables, and a fourth 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.

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]


Fragment 31 was one of the few substantial fragments of Sappho to survive from ancient times, preserved in the first-century AD work On the Sublime.[3] Four stanzas are well-preserved, followed part of one more line; this, as well as Catullus' adaptation of the poem, suggests that there was originally one more stanza of the poem.[3] A reconstruction of the poem by classicist Armand D'Angour suggests that the original poem may have had up to 8 stanzas.[4]

Reception and influence[edit]

Longinus's treatise On the Sublime 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" in his Moralia.

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"). It was also adapted by Tennyson, whose "Eleanore" and "Fatima" were both inspired by the poem.[5]


  1. ^ Greene 1996, pp. 58,64–67
  2. ^ Woodward 2007, pp. 29–35
  3. ^ a b Rayor & Lardinois 2014, p. 108
  4. ^ D'Angour
  5. ^ Peterson 1994, p. 123

Works cited[edit]

  • D'Angour, Armand. "Sensational Sappho". 
  • Greene, Ellen (1996). Reading Sappho: Contemporary Approaches. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-20601-0. 
  • Rayor, Diane; Lardinois, André (2014). Sappho: A New Edition of the Complete Works. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Woodward, Roger D. (2007). The Cambridge Companion to Greek Mythology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-84520-3. 

External links[edit]