Fantasy Poets League

I’m going to put short fragments of Alcaeus, Sappho, and Anacreon to twisted use: linking them into a single narrative which rehearses a common theme of Archaic lyric: the poet driven mad by unrequited love for a youth.

Alcaeus forthrightly states the case:

Alcaeus Fr. 33

A whirlwind totally ripped away their senses.

πάμπαν δὲ τύφως ἔκ ϝ᾿ ἔλετο φρένας

That “whirlwind,” love, disturbs the equanimity of Sappho and Anacreon alike, turning the mind of each against itself:

Sappho Fr.51

I don’t know what to make of this;
I’m of two minds.

οὐκ οἶδ’ ὄττι θέω· δίχα μοι τὰ νοήμματα

Anacreon Fr. 428 (Campbell)

I’m in love again and not in love.
I’m raving mad and not raving mad. .

ἐρέω τε δηὖτε κοὐκ ἐρέω
καὶ μαίνομαι κοὐ μαίνομαι.

The cause of their confusion? Love for young people whose attractiveness is rooted in manifest immaturity:

Sappho Fr.49

There was a time, Athis, long ago,
I was in love with you.
You looked like a child, small and clumsy.

ἠράμαν μὲν ἔγω σέθεν, Ἄτθι, πάλαι ποτά [ ]
σμίκρα μοι πάις ἔμμεν’ ἐφαίνεο κἄχαρις.

Anacreon Fr. 360 (Campbell)

Boy with looks of a virgin girl,
I’m after you and you don’t see it.
You don’t know you hold the reins of my soul.

ὦ παῖ παρθένιον βλέπων
δίζημαί σε, σὺ δ᾿ οὐ κοεῖς,
οὐκ εἰδὼς ὅτι τῆς ἐμῆς
ψυχῆς ἡνιοχεύεις.

Photograph by Hellen van Meene for Garage Magazine.
Nothing stops us imagining it’s Sappho resting her head on the shoulder of Athis.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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