Sappho 2 Summoning Cypris from Crete

Sappho 2 Ostracon Flor. (prim. ed. M. Norsa, Ann. R . Scuola di Pisa vi, 1937, 8 ss)

Translated by Steven J. Willett

Note: This lyric was scratched on a potsherd from the 3rd. century BC. It may not have the opening that is given in l. 1 of the first strophe. Above that was a scratched but unclear reading that says “coming down from heaven (?), from the mountain top (?).”

Come to me from Crete and again this temple

holy, where for you is a grove of graceful

apple trees, and altars intense with smoking

fragrance of incense;

there cold water rustles among the branches

apple trees are sprouting, and all the region’s

shadowed under roses, from quivering leaves

slumber descends deep;

also here a meadow, where horses graze, has

started blooming flowers of springtime season,

everywhere the passing, quite mellow winds

blow in their freshness.

Surely there you will, O my lady Cypris,

into golden goblets a nectar, one that’s

mingled keen with festival joy, now gently

pour for our drinking.

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5 Responses to Sappho 2 Summoning Cypris from Crete

  1. Avatar LeaNder says:

    … where apples on trees fill branches?

    minor interference?

    Given context, one wonders of course without any agronomic knowledge, could something looking more like apple hedges than trees already have existed then?

  2. Avatar Deap says:

    Apples, roses, grazing horses — sounds like Central Asia origins.

  3. Avatar Steven J. Willett says:

    The same word, μαλίνων (apple trees), fills the same position at the start of lines 3 and 2 in the first and second strophes respectively This makes very difficult syntax, but I’ve done my best to clarify the accentual English version.

  4. Avatar saviour says:

    Lesbos had different flora & fauna back then.
    The Romans changed it into the endless olive grove that it is today, should you ever visit.

    It was famed for its wine and , it is now famed for its olive oil… well, and ouzo if this is your thing.

    They still have a thing for horses as well, more so near the centre of the island.

  5. Avatar English Outsider says:

    Pure magic. I envy you the ability to read the original, but not that much in this case because so much comes through the translation. Thank you for that.

    “Temples” and “Altars”. The castle photographed in your tour of Lesbos above could, I read somewhere; have been the site of a temple. Presumably she spent some time there, being it seems high society of that age, and looked out on the same stretch of water that you took pictures of. Maybe ended her life near that stretch if that story’s not entirely apocryphal. Then a few centuries later someone makes some scratches on a bit of pottery and it lies around for a couple of millennia or so. A frail chain of transmission but, like the pre-Christian Nordic inscriptions on stone or fragments of this and that, a secure one if it makes it to the other end. No scribe has tinkered with it and we get the original, or in this case one imagines pretty close.

    So Sappho’s Lesbos gets changed by the Romans – “Saviour” above – into an “endless olive grove”, goes through some rough history to end up as the quiet paradise you photographed, and then gets swallowed up by the age of mass tourism. Now it’s the scene of straight tragedy and we get tumbled into the dysfunctional present –

    “Mória Reception and Identification Centre, better known as Mória Refugee Camp, or just “Mória”, was the largest refugee camp in Europe until it was burned down in September 2020. It was located outside the village of Moria near Mytilene on the island of Lesbos.”

    There’ll not be one of us readers on Colonel Lang’s site who doesn’t know what kicked off that desperate migration. We are not good custodians of the precious heritage come down to us.

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