Lyric Love, Translation and Transformation

Sappho fr. 31

“That man seems like the gods
To me—the one who sits facing
You and nearby listens as you
sweetly speak—

and he hears your lovely laugh—this then
makes the heart in my breast stutter,
when I glance even briefly, it is no longer possible
for me to speak—

but my tongue sticks in silence
and immediately a slender flame runs under my skin.
I cannot see with my eyes, I hear
A rush in my ears—

A cold sweat breaks over me, a tremble
Takes hold of me. Then paler than grass,
I think that I have died
Just a little.”

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 φώναι-
σ’ οὐδ’ ἒν ἔτ’ εἴκει,

ἀλλ’ ἄκαν μὲν γλῶσσα †ἔαγε λέπτον
δ’ αὔτικα χρῶι πῦρ ὐπαδεδρόμηκεν,
ὀππάτεσσι δ’ οὐδ’ ἒν ὄρημμ’, ἐπιρρόμ-
βεισι δ’ ἄκουαι,

†έκαδε μ’ ἴδρως ψῦχρος κακχέεται† τρόμος δὲ
παῖσαν ἄγρει, χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίας
ἔμμι, τεθνάκην δ’ ὀλίγω ‘πιδεύης
φαίνομ’ ἔμ’ αὔται·

As many know and many love, Catullus 51 is a ‘translation’. This poem brought my first exposure to Sappho at the tender age of 16. I can translate it almost without looking at it.

“That man seems to me equal to a gods,
that man, if it is right, surpasses the gods
as he sits opposite you
seeing and hearing you

sweetly laughing; every sense escapes
miserable me: for the same time I see you
Lesbia, nothing is left for me

my tongue grows heavy, and a tender flame
flickers under my limbs, and twin ears
ring with their own sound, my eyes
are shaded by night.

Leisure, Catullus, is your problem:
you revel in leisure and you have done too much.
Leisure has brought kings low,
and destroyed cities once rich.”

Ille mi par esse deo videtur,
ille, si fas est, superare divos,
qui sedens adversus identidem te
spectat et audit
dulce ridentem, misero quod omnis
eripit sensus mihi: nam simul te,
Lesbia, aspexi, nihil est super mi
* * * * * * * *

lingua sed torpet, tenuis sub artus
flamma demanat, sonitu suopte
tintinant aures gemina, teguntur
lumina nocte.

otium, Catulle, tibi molestum est:
otio exsultas nimiumque gestis:
otium et reges prius et beatas
perdidit urbes.

Sappho is pretty amazing. I also love this anecdote from Aelian:

Aelian, Fragment 187/190 (from Stobaeus 3.29.58)

“Solon the Athenian, the son of Eksêkestides, when his nephew sang some song of Sappho at a drinking party, took pleasure in it and asked the young man to teach it to him. When someone asked why he was eager to learn it, he responded: “So, once I learn it, I may die.”

Σόλων ὁ ᾿Αθηναῖος ᾿Εξηκεστίδου παρὰ πότον τοῦ ἀδελφιδοῦ αὐτοῦ μέλος τι Σαπφοῦς ᾄσαντος, ἥσθη τῷ μέλει καὶ προσέταξε τῷ μειρακίῳ διδάξει αὐτόν. ἐρωτήσαντος δέ τινος διὰ ποίαν αἰτίαν τοῦτο σπουδάσειεν, ὃ δὲ ἔφη ‘ἵνα μαθὼν αὐτὸ ἀποθάνω.’

Image result for medieval manuscript sappho

Boccacio, de mulieribus claris/Le livre de femmes nobles et renomées (trad. anonyme), 15-16th century, France (Cognac). Bibliothèque Nationale MS Français 599 fol. 42

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