Sappho Criticizes Her Brother


Recently two as yet unknown poems by Sappho were discovered, one of which, btw, confirms our man Herodotus — the father of prose — as a better historian than he is usually given credit for by the champions of Thucydides (i.e. historians in the employ of the state that won.) Indeed, Herodotus spoke of the so-called “brother poem” a poem in which Sappho criticized her brother Charaxos or his mistress, which is one of the two poems just discovered & readable for the first time. “Readable” — if you have ancient Greek: the one English translation I have seen so far doesn’t really cut the mustard. It is given in a TLS blog piece by Dirk Obbink that does  offer a fair amount of context for the two poems — to read it, click here. I’ll just reproduce the Greek below & maybe someone will propose a better translation & send it to me?

 The Brothers Poem

[. . .]

ἀλλ’ ἄϊ θρύλησθα Χάραξον ἔλθην
νᾶϊ σὺν πλήαι. τὰ μέν οἴομαι Ζεῦς
οἶδε σύμπαντές τε θέοι· σὲ δ᾽οὐ χρῆ
ταῦτα νόησθαι,

ἀλλὰ καὶ πέμπην ἔμε καὶ κέλεσθαι
πόλλα λίσσεσθαι βασίληαν Ἤραν
ἐξίκεσθαι τυίδε σάαν ἄγοντα
νᾶα Χάραξον

κἄμμ’ ἐπεύρην ἀρτέμεας. τὰ δ’ ἄλλα
πάντα δαιμόνεσσιν ἐπιτρόπωμεν·
εὐδίαι γὰρ ἐκ μεγάλαν ἀήταν
αἶψα πέλονται.

τῶν κε βόλληται βασίλευς Ὀλύμπω
δαίμον’ ἐκ πόνων ἐπάρωγον ἤδη
περτρόπην, κῆνοι μάκαρες πέλονται
καὶ πολύολβοι·

κἄμμες, αἴ κε τὰν κεφάλαν ἀέρρη
Λάριχος καὶ δή ποτ᾽ ἄνηρ γένηται,
καὶ μάλ’ ἐκ πόλλαν βαρυθυμίαν κεν
αἶψα λύθειμεν.

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Pierre Joris

Pierre Joris is a poet, translator, essayist & anthologist who has published more than 50 books, most recently, Meditations on the Stations of Mansur al-Hallaj (poems) from Chax Press and The University of California Book of North African Literature (volume 4 in the Poems for the Millennium series), coedited with Habib Tengour. Exile is My Trade: A Habib Tengour Reader edited & translated by Joris, and Pierre Joris: Cartographies of the In-between, essays on Joris’ work edited by Peter Cockelbergh, came out in 2012. Forthcoming are Barzakh — Poems 2000-2012 (Black Widow Press) & Breathturn Into Timestead:The Collected Later Poems of Paul Celan (FSG).

3 opinions on “Sappho Criticizes Her Brother”

  1. I don’t have Greek, so I can’t judge the quality, but there’s another translation available, at the Facebook page of the Luther College Classics department. Translation is by David Riesbeck.

  2. The translation by Christopher Pelling in the TLS is a scholar’s literal rendition. Wait for others to come by poet translators. I understand Rachel Hadas is working on a version. Same thing happened when the previous newly discovered Sappho made its appearance in 2004. Various translations followed, including one by me that was published in APR. I will search for Riesbeck’s translation of this latest one later tonight.

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