Exercise in Translation: Sappho’s “Hymn to Aphrodite”



I have been reading a lot of Ancient Greek lyric poetry lately, from the likes of Sappho, Alcaeus, Bacchylides, and the rest of the “Nine Lyric Poets,” a canonical group of poets who pioneered the art of choral and monodic verse. Highly esteemed by the scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria, they are stated to have established lyric song. This entry features a famous poem by the poetess Sappho in which she entreats Aphrodite, the goddess of love, to ensnare a reluctant lover. She implores the goddess not to spurn her pleadings, lest she break a heart which is already afflicted with grief.


Ποικιλόθρον᾽ ὰθάνατ᾽ ᾽Αφροδιτα,

παῖ Δίοσ, δολόπλοκε, λίσσομαί σε

μή μ᾽ ἄσαισι μήτ᾽ ὀνίαισι δάμνα,

πότνια, θῦμον.


ἀλλά τυίδ᾽ ἔλθ᾽, αἴποτα κἀτέρωτα

τᾶσ ἔμασ αύδωσ αἴοισα πήλγι

ἔκλυεσ πάτροσ δὲ δόμον λίποισα

χρύσιον ἦλθεσ


ἄρμ᾽ ὐποζεύξαια, κάλοι δέ σ᾽ ἆγον

ὤκεεσ στροῦθοι περὶ γᾶσ μελαίνασ

πύκνα δινεῦντεσ πτέῤ ἀπ᾽ ὠράνω

αἴθεροσ διὰ μέσσω.


αῖψα δ᾽ ἐχίκοντο, σὺ δ᾽, ὦ μάσαιρα

μειδιάσαισ᾽ ἀθάνατῳ προσώπῳ,

ἤρἐ ὄττι δηὖτε πέπονθα κὤττι

δἦγτε κάλημι


κὤττι μοι μάλιστα θέλω γένεσθαι

μαινόλᾳ θύμῳ, τίνα δηὖτε πείθω

μαῖσ ἄγην ἐσ σὰν φιλότατα τίσ τ, ὦ

Πσάπφ᾽, ἀδίκηει;


καὶ γάρ αἰ φεύγει, ταχέωσ διώξει,

αἰ δὲ δῶρα μὴ δέκετ ἀλλά δώσει,

αἰ δὲ μὴ φίλει ταχέωσ φιλήσει,

κωὐκ ἐθέλοισα.


ἔλθε μοι καὶ νῦν, χαλεπᾶν δὲ λῦσον

ἐκ μερίμναν ὄσσα δέ μοι τέλεσσαι

θῦμοσ ἰμμέρρει τέλεσον, σὐ δ᾽ αὔτα

σύμμαχοσ ἔσσο.


Immortal Aphrodite, atop thy irised Throne,

Daughter of Zeus, Weaver of Wiles

I plead thee, bruise not my Spirit with

Torments and despair, O Queen.


But if once thou heard my voice from afar,

Heeding thou, come hither now

And hearken, as once thou left the

Golden dominions of thy father;


Yoked went thy shining chariot,

Swift-wing’d and Sparrow-drawn,

From the bright Aether you flutter’d

Pinions o’er the black-bosom’d Earth.


Fleetly then didst thou appear with

Sudden brilliance of deathless countenance

Alight with thy smile, thus I had called thee

To my side, thou asked:


“What now has befallen thee? And

Whom should Persuasion (Peitho) summon to soothe

Thy heart’s stinging Madness of Desire?

Who wronged thee Sappho?


For she now flees, but soon shall pursue,

For gifts she now slights, but soon shall offer,

And if she loves not, soon her heart shall burn ,

Though she may remiss.”


Comest now I pray thee, and release me from my suffering,

Rid my heart of cruelest cares, I beseech thee,

Fulfill for me what I pine to arouse, O Queen,

Be thou my ally.


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