The “Newest Sappho”: a set of working translations, with minimal comments

2015.10.08 | By Gregory Nagy


These working translations of mine are drawn from an essay, “Genre, Occasion, and Choral Mimesis Revisited,” published in Classical Inquiries 2015.10.01. When I say the “newest Sappho” in the title here, I mean the new fragments of Sappho as published in a 2016 book edited by Anton Bierl and André Lardinois, The Newest Sappho (P. Obbink and P. GC Inv. 105, frs. 1–5). This book, which is listed in the Bibliography below, contains not only the new fragments of Sappho as edited by Dirk Obbink but also a set of chapters that comment extensively on those fragments. Among those commentaries is Chapter 21 by me (Nagy), “A poetics of sisterly affect in the Brothers Song and in other songs of Sappho.” A longer version of my Chapter 21 is already available online, with the permission of the the editors and their publisher, as indicated in the Bibliography below.

In the translations that follow, I attempt to match my wording in English with the original Greek wording as contained in each consecutive “line” of the song. For a more complete set of translations, I recommend the work of Rayor and Lardinois, listed in the Bibliography.

The sequencing of the fragments that I translate here (“Text 1,” “Text 2,” and so on) corresponds to the sequencing I give in the essay, “Genre, Occasion, and Choral Mimesis Revisited,” mentioned earlier.

Text 1

. . . |2 πάμ]παν οὐκ ἔχη[ϲθα πόθεν δυναίμαν, |3 μ]ᾶτερ, ἐόρταν|4 [φαιδί]μαν ὤραι τέλε[ϲαι; τὸ δ’ ἐστί] |5 χάρμ’ ἐ]παμέρων

. . . Don’t you have the resources for me to be able, Mother, to celebrate [teleîn] at the right season [ōrā] the festival [eortā], which is a delight [kharma] for [us] mortals, creatures of the day that we are?

Sappho Song 91

Text 2

. . . |5 ἀλλ’ ἄϊ θρύληϲθα Χάραξον ἔλθην |6 νᾶϊ ϲὺν πλήαι. τὰ μέν οἴο̣μα̣ι Ζεῦϲ |7 οἶδε ϲύμπαντέϲ τε θέοι· ϲὲ δ᾽οὐ χρῆ |8 ταῦτα νόηϲθαι, |9 ἀλλὰ καὶ πέμπην ἔμε καὶ κέλεϲθαι |10 πόλλα λί̣ϲϲεϲθαι βαϲί̣λ̣η̣αν Ἤ̣ραν |11 ἐξίκεϲθαι τυίδε ϲάαν ἄγοντα |12 νᾶα Χάραξον |13 κἄμμ’ ἐπεύρην ἀρτ̣έ̣μεαϲ. τὰ δ’ ἄλλα |14 πάντα δαιμόνεϲϲ̣ιν ἐπι̣τ̣ρόπωμεν·|15 εὔδιαι̣ γ̣ὰρ̣ ἐκ μεγάλαν ἀήτα̣ν̣ |16 αἶψα πέ̣λ̣ο̣νται. |17 τῶν κε βόλληται βαϲίλευϲ Ὀλύμπω |18 δαίμον’ ἐκ πόνων ἐπάρωγον ἤδη |19 περτρόπην, κῆνοι μ̣άκαρεϲ πέλονται |20 καὶ πολύολβοι· |21 κ̣ἄμμεϲ, αἴ κε ϝὰν κεφάλα̣ν ἀέρρ̣η |22 Λάρι̣χοϲ καὶ δή ποτ᾽ ἄνη̣ρ γένηται, |23 καὶ μάλ’ ἐκ πόλλαν βαρ̣υθυ̣μίαν̣ κεν |24 αἶψα λύθειμεν.

. . . |5 But you are always saying, in a chattering way [thruleîn], that Kharaxos will come |6 in a ship full of goods. These things I think Zeus |7 knows, and so also do all the gods. But you shouldn’t have |8 these things on your mind. |9 Instead, send [pempein] me off and instruct [kelesthai] me |10 to implore [lissesthai] Queen Hera over and over again [polla] |11 that he should come back here [tuide] bringing back [agein] safely |12 his ship, I mean Kharaxos, |13 and that he should find us unharmed. As for everything else, |14 let us leave it to the superhuman powers [daimones], |15 since bright skies after great storms |16 can happen quickly. |17 Those mortals, whoever they are, |18 whom the king of Olympus wishes |18 to rescue from their pains [ponoi] by sending as a long-awaited helper a superhuman force [daimōn] |19 to steer them away from such pains—those mortals are blessed [makares] |20 and have great bliss [olbos]. |21 We too, if he ever gets to lift his head up high, |22 I mean, Larikhos, and finally mans up, |23 will get past the many cares that weigh heavily on our heart, |24 breaking free from them just as quickly.

Sappho Brothers Song

Text 3

|1 πλάϲιον δη μ[…..]…οιϲ᾿ α̣ [ ̣ ̣ ̣ ̣]ω |2 πότνι’ Ἦρα, ϲὰ χ [αρίε]ϲ̣ϲ᾿ ̣ἐόρτ[α] |3 τὰν ἀράταν Ἀτρέϊδαι π̣ό̣ηϲαν |4 τόι βαϲίληεϲ, |5 ἐκτελέϲϲαντεϲ μ[εγά]λ̣οιϲ ἀέθλοιϲ[] |6 πρῶτα μὲν πὲρ Ẹἴ̣[λιον]· ἄψερον δέ̣ […] |7 τυίδ’ ἀπορμάθεν[τεϲ, ὄ]δ̣ο̣ν γὰρ εὔρη[ν] |8 οὐκ ἐδύναντο, |9 πρὶν ϲὲ καὶ Δί’ ἀντ[ίαον] πεδέλθην |10 καὶ Θυώναϲ ἰμε[ρόεντα] παῖδα· |11 νῦν δὲ κ[αί….. …] ]…πόημεν |12 κὰτ τὸ πάλ[αιον |13 ἄγνα καὶ κα[….. ὄ]χλοϲ |14 παρθέ[νων….. γ]υναίκων |15 ἀμφιϲ.[…] |16 μετρ’ ὀ̣λ̣[ολύγαϲ].

|1 Close by, …, |2 O Queen [potnia] Hera, … your […] festival [eortā], |3 which, vowed-in-prayer [arâsthai], the Sons of Atreus did arrange [poieîn] |4 for you,2 kings that they were, |5 after first having completed [ek-teleîn] great labors [aethloi], |6 around Troy, and, next [apseron], |7 after having set forth to come here [tuide], since finding the way |8 was not possible for them |9 until they would approach you (Hera) and Zeus lord of suppliants [antiaos] |10 and (Dionysus) the lovely son of Thyone. |11 And now [nun de] we are arranging [poieîn] [the festival], |12 in accordance with the ancient way […] |13 holy [agna] and […] a throng [okhlos] |14 of girls [parthenoi] […] and women [gunaikes] |15 on either side … |16 the measured sound of ululation [ololūgā].

Sappho Song 17.1–16

Text 4

|1 πότνιαι Νηρήιδεϲ ἀβλάβη[ν μοι] |2 τὸν καϲίγνητον δ[ό]τε τυίδ’ ἴκεϲθα[ι] |3 κὤττι ϝῶ̣ι̣ θύμωι κε θέληι γένεϲθαι |4 κῆνο τελέϲθην, |5 ὄϲϲα δὲ πρόϲθ’ ἄμβροτε πάντα λῦϲα[ι] |6 καὶ φίλοιϲι ϝοῖϲι χάραν γένεϲθαι |7 κὠνίαν ἔχθροιϲι, γένοιτο δ’ ἄμμι |8 μηδάμα μηδ’ εἴϲ· |9 τὰν καϲιγνήταν δὲ θέλοι πόηϲθαι |10 [μέ]ϲδονοϲ τίμαϲ, [ὀν]ίαν δὲ λύγραν |11 […]οτοιϲι π[ά]ροιθ’ ἀχεύων

|1 O Queen Nereids, unharmed [ablabēs] |2 may my brother, please grant it, arrive to me here [tuide], |3 and whatever thing he wants in his heart [thūmos] to happen, |4 let that thing be fulfilled [telesthēn]. |5 And however many mistakes he made in the past, undo them all. |6 Let him become a joy [kharā] to those who are near-and-dear [philoi] to him, |7 and let him be a pain [oniā] to those who are enemies [ekhthroi]. As for us, |8 may we have no enemies, not a single one. |9 But may he wish to make his sister [kasignētā] |10 worthy of more honor [tīmā]. |11 The catastrophic [lugrā] pain [oniā] … in the past, he was feeling sorrow [akheuōn]

Sappho Song 5.1–11

Text 5

(This is not from the “newest Sappho” fragments, but I cannot resist citing the wording here for comparison with the wording of Text 4,)

|3 μή μ’ ἄϲαιϲι μηδ’ ὀνίαιϲι δάμνα, |4 πότνια, θῦμον

|3 Do not dominate with hurts [asai] and pains [oniai], |4 O Queen [potnia], my heart [thūmos].

Sappho Song 1.3–4

Text 6

|1 πῶϲ κε δή τιϲ οὐ θαμέω̣ϲ̣ ἄϲαιτ̣ο, |2 Κύπρι δέϲ̣π̣ο̣ι̣ν̣’̣, ὄττινα [δ]ὴ φι̣λ̣[ήει] |3 [κωὐ] θέλοι μάλιϲτα πάθα̣ν̣ χ̣άλ̣[αϲϲαι;] |4 [ποῖ]ον ἔχηϲθα |5 [νῶν] ϲ̣άλοιϲί μ’ ἀλεμά̣τ̣ω̣ϲ̣ δ̣αΐϲ̣δ̣[ην] |6 [ἰμέ]ρω<ι> λύ{ι}ϲαντι γ̣όν̣’ ω̣μ̣ε.[

|1 How can someone not be hurt [= asâsthai, verb of the noun asā ‘hurt’] over and over again, |2 O Queen Kypris [Aphrodite], whenever one loves [phileîn] whatever person |3 and wishes very much not to let go of the passion? |4 [What kind of purpose] do you have |5 [in mind], uncaringly rending me apart |6 in my [desire] as my knees buckle?

Sappho Kypris Song 1–6

The ending of this song was already known before the discovery of the new supplements for the beginning as I just quoted it. At this ending, we find the persona of Sappho declaring the poetics of her own self-awareness:

Text 7

|11 … ἔγω δ’ ἔμ’ [αὔται |12 τοῦτο ϲυ]νοίδα

|11 And I—aware of my own self—|12 I know this.

Sappho Song 26.11–12


BFO = Burris, Fish, and Obbink 2014.

Bierl, A., and Lardinois, A., eds. 2016.The Newest Sappho (P. Obbink and P. GC Inv. 105, frs. 1-5). Leiden.

Burris, S., J. Fish, and D. Obbink. 2014. “New Fragments of Book 1 of Sappho.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 189:1-30.

Nagy, G. 2016|2015. “A poetics of sisterly affect in the Brothers Song and in other songs of Sappho.” Printed | Online version. Ch. 21 in Newest Sappho. A longer version is available online.

Newest Sappho = Bierl and Lardinois 2016.

Obbink, D. 2014. “Two New Poems by Sappho.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 189:31-50.

Rayor, D., and Lardinois, A. 2014. Sappho: A New Translation of the Complete Works. Cambridge 2014.

West, M. L. 2014. “Nine Poems of Sappho.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 191:1–12.


1 I follow here the text as restored by West 2014. But the translation is my own.

2 West 2014:4 suggests that we read π̣ό̣ηϲάν τοι, not π̣ό̣ηϲαν τοί. But I defend the accentuation preserved in the new papyrus, τόι. This reading τόι (in the new P.GC inv. 105 fr. 2) differs from the reading τοι (PSI 123 and P.Oxy. 1231). As I argue, we see here an emphatic use of the pronoun, ‘for you’, not an enclitic use.

Image via Wikimedia Commons in the public domain.

This post edited by Keith Stone.