Sappho Springs to Mind

Sappho, fr. 96

“…..Sardis….
Often she turns her mind there
…[where she brought you ]….
Like a goddess best known
She was delighting especially in your song.

Now she stands out among the Lydian
Women like the rosy-fingered moon
when the sun is setting
and it outshines all the stars—
Its light pours over the salted sea
And equally over the much-flowered plains.

Dew drips with beauty
While the roses bloom alongside
The soft chervil and blossoming clover.

But while she wanders back and forth
She thinks so much of gentle Atthis with longing
And it weighs down her fragile thoughts.

She wants to go there….
…[a great sound of thoughts]…
How unwise it is to rival deities in lovely form…

…you have…
….desire….
….Aphrodite…was pouring nektar
From gold….with her hands….
Persuasion….”

[ ]σαρδ.[..]
[ πόλ]λακι τυίδε̣ [ν]ῶν ἔχοισα
ὠσπ.[…].ώομεν, .[…]..χ[..]
σε †θεασικελαν ἀρι-
γνωτασε† δὲ μάλιστ’ ἔχαιρε μόλπαι̣·
νῦν δὲ Λύδαισιν ἐμπρέπεται γυναί-
κεσσιν ὤς ποτ’ ἀελίω
δύντος ἀ βροδοδάκτυλος †μήνα
πάντα περ<ρ>έχοισ’ ἄστρα· φάος δ’ ἐπί-
σχει θάλασσαν ἐπ’ ἀλμύραν
ἴσως καὶ πολυανθέμοις ἀρούραις·
ἀ δ’ <ἐ>έρσα κάλα κέχυται τεθά-
λαισι δὲ βρόδα κἄπαλ’ ἄν-
θρυσκα καὶ μελίλωτος ἀνθεμώδης·
πόλλα δὲ ζαφοίταισ’ ἀγάνας ἐπι-
μνάσθεισ’ ῎Ατθιδος ἰμέρωι
<>λέπταν ποι φρένα κ[.]ρ̣… βόρηται·
κῆθι δ’ ἔλθην ἀμμ.[..]..ισα τό̣δ’ οὐ
νῶντ’ ἀ[..]υστονυμ̣[…] πόλυς
γαρύει̣ […]αλον̣[……].ο̣ μέσσον·
ε]ὔ̣μαρ[ες μ]ὲ̣ν οὐκ̣ α.μι θέαισι μόρ-
φαν ἐπή[ρατ]ον ἐξίσω-
σθ̣αι συ[..]ρ̣ο̣ς ἔχηισθ’ ἀ[…].νίδηον
[ ]το̣[….]ρατι-
μαλ[ ].ερος
καὶ δ[.]μ̣[ ]ος ᾿Αφροδίτα
καμ̣[ ] νέκταρ ἔχευ’ ἀπὺ
χρυσίας [ ]ν̣αν
<>….]απουρ̣[ ] χέρσι Πείθω

by Sarathkumaran Ranganathan

The Rites of Spring

Horace Ode I.23

You bolt from me like a fawn, Chloē,
One searching pathless hills for her anxious mother,
And not without unfounded fear
Of the winds and woods.

For when the arrival of spring
Ruffled leaves, making them sway,
Or green lizards parted the brambles,
In her heart and in her knees the fawn trembles.

But I’m not pursuing you, like a wild tiger
Or Gaetulian lion, so as to crush you.
It’s time–stop traipsing after your mother.
You’re ripe for a man.

Vitas hinnuleo me similis, Chloē,
quaerenti pavidam montibus aviis
matrem non sine vano
aurarum et siluae metu.

nam seu mobilibus veris inhorruit
adventus foliis seu virides rubum
dimovere lacertae,
et corde et genibus tremit.

atqui non ego te tigris ut aspera
Gaetulusve leo frangere persequor:
tandem desine matrem
tempestiva sequi viro.

Some thoughts:

  • Chloe does not simply bolt (vitas), but does so in the manner of a frightened fawn searching for the familiar in a bewildering environment. Since the simile insists that the fawn is lost and afraid, we should imagine Chloē’s movement as hesitant, confused, uncertain (“vitas…me” could simply mean “you evade me”). 
  • The second stanza is an elaboration of the fawn’s “unfounded fear” (vano…metu). Here too the concern is with movement: movement of the leaves and movement of the brambles. What the two movements have in common is that we readers know the cause of each (wind in the case of the leaves, lizards in the case of the brambles) but the inexperienced fawn does not. To the fawn, the movements are unexplained and frightening. Are these movements in nature metaphors for some movement in Chloē–the cause of which we know but she does not? Is Horace pointing to the birth of sexual desire in the young woman? 
  • In Sappho 31, trembling is one of the physical manifestations of desire. And green is associated with–technical terming coming–horniness. “Trembling seizes all of me,” Sappho sings, “And I’m greener than grass” (31.13-14). Not for nothing, Chloē, χλόη in Greek, means “green shoots.” What moves the brambles (metaphor for a movement within her) is a green lizard. And of course Chloē’s stand-in, the fawn, trembles (tremit) at nature’s mysterious developments.
  • “You’re ripe for a man” (tempestivaviro). This phrase is ordinarily read as an expression of the speaker’s desire for Chloē. It concludes his seduction attempt. But her ripeness (“ready for a man” is probably the most common translation) might speak as much to her needs as to his. That is to say, Chloē has reached the age where she has not only a desirable body, but a desiring self.
Mark Rothko. Untitled (Green on Maroon). 1961. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

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 featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Some Roman Poets Sing the Spring

Horace, Ars Poetica 299-304

…”O, what a savage I am,
Who cleanse myself of bile for the coming of the season of spring!
No one else would make better poems. It is truly
Worth nothing. Therefore, I act in place of a whetstone,
Which can return to steel its edge, but is powerless to cut itself.”

…o ego laevus,
qui purgor bilem sub verni temporis horam!
non alius faceret meliora poemata: verum
nil tanti est. ergo fungar vice cotis, acutum
reddere quae ferrum valet, exsors ipsa secandi;

Vergil, Georgics 2.149-154

“Here, spring is endless and summer overtakes other months:
The flocks give birth twice a year; twice a year the trees have fruit.

hic ver adsiduum atque alienis mensibus aestas:
bis gravidae pecudes, bis pomis utilis arbos.

Ovid, Fasti 4.125-132

“And no time of the year was better fit for Venus than spring
In spring the lands shine, the fields are tender in spring,
The grains raises its heads through the broken earth
And the shoot drives its buds in swollen bark.

Gorgeous Venus is worthy of a gorgeous time,
As always, and goes hand in hand with Mars.
In spring she tells the curved ships to go
Over maternal seas because she no longer fears the winter.”

nec Veneri tempus quam ver erat aptius ullum:
vere nitent terrae, vere remissus ager,
nunc herbae rupta tellure cacumina tollunt,
nunc tumido gemmas cortice palmes agit.
et formosa Venus formoso tempore digna est,
utque solet, Marti continuata suo est:
vere monet curvas materna per aequora puppes
ire nec hibernas iam timuisse minas.

Propertius, 4.5.59-60

“While spring is in your blood, while your age is free of wrinkle,
Use it—just in case tomorrow takes the youth from your face.”

dum vernat sanguis, dum rugis integer annus,
60utere, ne quid cras libet ab ore dies

Image result for ancient roman seasons spring
Villa Dar Buc Ammera, Libya, Roman era mosaic of the four seasons

Some Roman Poets Sing the Spring

Horace, Ars Poetica 299-304

…”O, what a savage I am,
Who cleanse myself of bile for the coming of the season of spring!
No one else would make better poems. It is truly
Worth nothing. Therefore, I act in place of a whetstone,
Which can return to steel its edge, but is powerless to cut itself.”

…o ego laevus,
qui purgor bilem sub verni temporis horam!
non alius faceret meliora poemata: verum
nil tanti est. ergo fungar vice cotis, acutum
reddere quae ferrum valet, exsors ipsa secandi;

Vergil, Georgics 2.149-154

“Here, spring is endless and summer overtakes other months:
The flocks give birth twice a year; twice a year the trees have fruit.

hic ver adsiduum atque alienis mensibus aestas:
bis gravidae pecudes, bis pomis utilis arbos.

Ovid, Fasti 4.125-132

“And no time of the year was better fit for Venus than spring
In spring the lands shine, the fields are tender in spring,
The grains raises its heads through the broken earth
And the shoot drives its buds in swollen bark.

Gorgeous Venus is worthy of a gorgeous time,
As always, and goes hand in hand with Mars.
In spring she tells the curved ships to go
Over maternal seas because she no longer fears the winter.”

nec Veneri tempus quam ver erat aptius ullum:
vere nitent terrae, vere remissus ager,
nunc herbae rupta tellure cacumina tollunt,
nunc tumido gemmas cortice palmes agit.
et formosa Venus formoso tempore digna est,
utque solet, Marti continuata suo est:
vere monet curvas materna per aequora puppes
ire nec hibernas iam timuisse minas.

Propertius, 4.5.59-60

“While spring is in your blood, while your age is free of wrinkle,
Use it—just in case tomorrow takes the youth from your face.”

dum vernat sanguis, dum rugis integer annus,
60utere, ne quid cras libet ab ore dies

Image result for ancient roman seasons spring
Villa Dar Buc Ammera, Libya, Roman era mosaic of the four seasons