Discussion / News

New Sappho Poems!

By now it has made the rounds on the internet and in major news outlets(!) that two ‘new’ poems of Sappho has re-emerged from the depths of obscurity.  The preliminary edition by Dirk Obbink (forthcoming in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik) has been made available on the Oxford Papyrology website.   News of the newly discovered papyrus (which is held in a private collection in London) has hit the British media with the availability of the preliminary version of Obbink’s article, including a writeup on it in The Guardian and The Daily Beast, along with a translation by Tim Whitmarsh (currently of Oxford; soon to be our new Leventis Professor of Greek Culture; this translation is also appended further below).

The poems are, of course, not ‘new’, but the fragments were previously unknown and held in a private collection.  The fragments appear to be from the first book (of nine books total) on the basis of the characteristic ‘Sapphic Stanza’ used; the ‘books’ of Sappho in antiquity were organised by the metres.  Incidentally, we actually know how many verses were extant in the first book–Lobel and Page’s fragment 30, POxy. 1231, records the end of the first book (ΜΕΛΩΝ Α´) followed by a string of Greek acrophonic numerals, ΧΗΗΗΔΔ = 1320 lines, or 330 stanzas.  Here we have six-to-seven new ones.   It’s quite a lot, considering that we had hitherto only some 29 (some 126 lines) appreciably complete(-ish) stanzas from the first book, in addition to some bits of more scrappy stuff.  The new stanzas boost that number to 36, adding an extra 26-28 mostly complete lines to what has been previously known.  It gives you an idea of how significant the find is, considering how proportionally little is actually known to survive at present.

POxy. 1231 fr.56, showing ΧΗΗΗΔΔ at the end

POxy. 1231 fr.56, showing ΧΗΗΗΔΔ at the end (NB: not the new fragment)

The first fragment is missing the beginning of the poem, but is otherwise remarkably intact, carrying onto the end in five stanzas, and is about Sappho’s brother Χάραξος, whose name we had known from other references and testimonia, although in Sappho’s own poetry he is named here for the first time.  Previous mentions of him were limited to Lobel-Page fr. 5, as κασίγνητον:

Κύπρι καὶ] Νηρήιδες ἀβλάβη[ν μοι
τὸν κασί]γνητον δ[ό]τε τυίδ’ ἴκεσθα[ι
κὤσσα Ϝ]ο̣ι̣ θύμωι κε θέληι γένεσθαι
⸏πάντα τε]λέσθην,

ὄσσα δὲ πρ]όσθ’ ἄμβροτε πάντα λῦσα[ι
καὶ φίλοισ]ι Ϝοῖσι χάραν γένεσθαι
……. ἔ]χθροισι, γένοιτο δ’ ἄμμι
⸏……μ]ηδ’ εἴς·

“Cypris and Nereids, grant that my brother arrive here unharmed and that everything he wishes in his heard be fulfilled, and grant too that he atone for all his past mistakes and be a joy to his friends and a bane to his enemies, and may no one ever again be a grief to us…” (translation: Campbell, Loeb)

For context, the story of Kharaxos, as related by Herodotus (2.135), Kharaxos freed an Egyptian courtesan Rhodopis (rosy-face) for an enormous amount of money, and Sappho criticised him in her poems because of it:

Ῥοδῶπις δὲ ἐς Αἴγυπτον ἀπίκετο Ἐάνθεω τοῦ Σαμίου κομίσαντος, ἀπικομένη δὲ κατ᾽ ἐργασίην ἐλύθη χρημάτων μεγάλων ὑπὸ ἀνδρὸς Μυτιληναίου Χαράξου τοῦ Σκαμανδρωνύμου παιδός, ἀδελφεοῦ δὲ Σαπφοῦς τῆς μουσοποιοῦ. … Χάραξος δὲ ὡς λυσάμενος Ῥοδῶπιν ἀπενόστησε ἐς Μυτιλήνην, ἐν μέλεϊ Σαπφὼ πολλὰ κατεκερτόμησέ μιν.

Rhodopis came to Egypt to work, brought by Xanthes of Samos, but upon her arrival was freed for a lot of money by Kharaxus of Mytilene, son of Scamandronymus and brother of Sappho the poetess. … Kharaxus, after giving Rhodopis her freedom, returned to Mytilene. He is bitterly attacked by Sappho in one of her poems. (translation: Godley, Loeb)

The courtesan is also called Dorikha in a epigram of Posidippus preserved at Athenaeus 13.596cd:

Δωρίχα, ὀστέα μὲν σὰ πάλαι κόνιν, ἕσσατο δ’ ἑσμὸς
χαίτης ἥ τε μύρων ἔκπνοος ἀμπεχόνη,
ᾗ ποτε τὸν χαρίεντα περιστέλλουσα Χάραξον
σύγχρους ὀρθρινῶν ἥψαο κισσυβίων.
Σαπφῷαι δὲ μένουσι φίλης ἔτι καὶ μενέουσιν
ᾠδῆς αἱ λευκαὶ φθεγγόμεναι σελίδες.
οὔνομα σὸν μακαριστόν, ὃ Ναύκρατις ὧδε φυλάξει,
ἔστ’ ἂν ἴῃ Νείλου ναῦς ἐφ’ ἁλὸς πελάγη.

Doricha, your bones fell asleep long ago … the bands of your hair, and the perfume-breathing shawl in which you once wrapped the handsome Charaxus, and, joining him to your flesh, grasped the wine cup in the small hours.  But the white ringing pages of Sappho’s dear song abide and will still abide.  Happy your name, which Naucratis will preserve thus as long as a ship from the Nile goes upon the wide salt sea. (translation: Campbell, Loeb)

Ovid also provided a testimonium to Sappho chastising her brother at Heroides 15.63-70,  in his fictional letter from Sappho to Phaeon.

Finally, Obbink’s preliminary articulated text of first new poem fragment about Kharaxos is given as the following (I look forward to reading the finalised published text later in ZPE):

[aliquot versus desunt]

ἀλλ’ ἄϊ θρύληϲθα Χάραξον ἔλθην
νᾶϊ ϲὺμ πλέαι· τὰ μέν̣, οἴο̣μα̣ι, Ζεῦϲ
οἶδε ϲύμπαντέϲ τε θέοι· ϲὲ δ’̣ οὐ χρῆ
ταῦτα νόειϲθαι,

ἀλλὰ καὶ πέμπην ἔμε καὶ κέλ⟦η⟧`ε΄ϲθαι
πόλλα λί̣ϲϲεϲθαι̣ βαϲί̣λ̣η̣αν Ἤ̣ραν
ἐξίκεϲθαι τυίδε ϲάαν ἄγοντα
νᾶα Χάραξον,

κἄμμ’ ἐπεύρην  ἀρτ̣έ̣μεαϲ· τὰ δ’ ἄλλα
πάντα δαιμόνεϲϲ̣ιν ἐπι̣τ̣ρόπωμεν·
εὐδίαι̣ γ̣ὰρ̣ ἐκ μεγάλαν  ἀήτα̣ν̣
αἶψα πέ̣λ̣ο̣νται·

τῶν κε βόλληται βαϲίλευϲ Ὀλύμπω
δαίμον’ ἐκ πόνων ἐπάρ{η}`ω΄γον ἤδη
περτρόπην, κῆνοι μ̣άκαρεϲ πέλονται
καὶ πολύολβοι.

κ̣ἄμμεϲ, αἴ κε τὰν κεφάλα̣ν  έργ̣η
Λάρι̣χοϲ καὶ δήποτ’ ἄνη̣ρ γένηται,
καὶ μάλ’ ἐκ πόλλ⟦η⟧`αν΄ βαρ̣υθύ̣μιάν̣ κεν
αἶψα λύθειμεν.

And Tim Whitmarsh’s translation of the first poem as it appeared in The Guardian:

[ … ]

But you always chatter that Charaxus is coming,
His ship laden with cargo. That much, I reckon, only Zeus
Knows, and all the gods; but you, you should not
Think these thoughts,

Just send me along, and command me
To offer many prayers to Queen Hera
That Charaxus should arrive here, with
His ship intact,

And find us safe. For the rest,
Let us turn it all over to higher powers;
For periods of calm quickly follow after
Great squalls.

They whose fortune the king of Olympus wishes
Now to turn from trouble
to [ … ] are blessed
and lucky beyond compare.

As for us, if Larichus should [ … ] his head
And at some point become a man,
Then from full many a despair
Would we be swiftly freed.

So far there hasn’t been any attention given to the second poem yet, and understandably so.  The fragment is shorter, and quite damaged so that it isn’t quite clear what to read in the second half of the second stanza.  However from what it seems, it appears to be the beginning of a new erotic poem which overlaps with POxy. 1231 fr.16 = Sapph. fr.26 Lobel-Page.

Obbink’s articulated text of the second poem:

πώ {ϲ̣} κε δή τιϲ οὐ θαμέω̣ϲ̣ ἄϲαιτ̣ο,
Κύπρι δέϲ̣π̣ο̣ι̣ν̣’̣, ὄτ̣τ̣ι̣ν̣[α δ]ὴ̣ φι̣λ̣[είη
καὶ] θέλοι μάλιϲτα π̣ά̣λ̣ι̣ν̣ κάλ̣[εϲϲαι;
πόθ]ον ἔχηϲθα

παρ]κ̣άλοιϲα̣ μ’  λεμά̣τ̣ω̣ϲ̣ δ̣αΐ̣ϲ̣δ̣[ην
ἰμέ]ρω λύ{ι̣}ϲαντι γ̣όν̣ω̣ μ̣ ⏑̣ ε ̣‒̣ [ ×
̣‒̣ ̣] ̣α ̣α ̣ ̣[ ̣ ̣] ̣ ̣μ ̣ ̣ ̣ ̣ο[ ]πέρηϲ[θα
̣‒̣ ̣]νε̣ερ ̣[ ‒̣ ̣ ] ‒̣ ̣

I’m afraid I’m not brave enough to attempt a translation of the second Kypris poem fragment myself at the moment, and given how much is restored or uncertain I’d wager that to be a rather hazardous exercise.  I might, however, attempt to construe the first sentence as “How could someone possibly not be often satiated now, Lady Kypris?  How could someone now love another and be willing to call again?”  I’m not exactly sure how that works pragmatically, so perhaps I’m translating wrong, something isn’t clear with the restoration, or I’m just thick in the head.  (Or, perhaps some combination of the three.)  Perhaps we may collectively come to some better ideas in further discussion.

In any case, it’s splendid to see such new fragments turning up, and they also serve as an excellent reminder that the corpus of ancient literature is still not closed, and that there are always still new and exciting things being discovered and re-discovered.

6 thoughts on “New Sappho Poems!

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