The Tithonos Song of Sappho
|November 12, 2015||Posted By Gregory Nagy listed under By Gregory Nagy, Sappho||
2015.11.12 | By Gregory Nagy
§1. This posting of 2015.11.12 picks up from where I left off at 2015.11.5. There I explored the idea of a cycle from girl to woman back to girl in the poetics of Sappho, and I noted the use of the word pais in the sense of ‘girl’ in a vase painting that showed the pursuit of a girl by a woman who was in turn pursued by the girl in a seemingly eternal cycle. I see a comparable use of the word pais in the so-called Tithonos Song of Sappho, as edited by Dirk Obbink 2010 (the details of publication are given in the Bibliography). Here is the text of this song, followed by my own translation:
|1 [. . . words missing . . . ἰ]ο̣κ[ό]λ̣πων κάλα δῶρα, παῖδεϲ, |2 [. . . words missing . . .τὰ]ν̣ φιλάοιδον λιγύραν χελύνναν· |3 [. . . words missing . . .] π̣οτ̣’ [ἔ]ο̣ντα χρόα γῆραϲ ἤδη |4 [. . . words missing . . .]ἐγ]ένοντο τρίχεϲ ἐκ μελαίναν· |5 βάρυϲ δέ μ’ ὀ [θ]ῦμο̣ϲ̣ πεπόηται, γόνα δ’ [ο]ὐ φέροιϲι, |6 τὰ δή ποτα λαίψηρ’ ἔον ὄρχηϲθ’ ἴϲα νεβρίοιϲι. |7 τὰ ⟨μὲν⟩ ϲτεναχίϲδω θαμέωϲ· ἀλλὰ τί κεν ποείην; |8 ἀγήραον ἄνθρωπον ἔοντ’ οὐ δύνατον γένεϲθαι. |9 καὶ γάρ π̣[ο]τ̣α̣ Τίθωνον ἔφαντο βροδόπαχυν Αὔων |10 ἔρωι φ̣ ̣ ̣α̣θ̣ε̣ιϲαν βάμεν’ εἰϲ ἔϲχατα γᾶϲ φέροιϲα[ν], |11 ἔοντα̣ [κ]ά̣λ̣ο̣ν καὶ νέον, ἀλλ’ αὖτον ὔμωϲ ἔμαρψε |12 χρόνωι π̣ό̣λ̣ι̣ο̣ν̣ γῆραϲ, ἔχ̣[ο]ν̣τ̣’ ἀθανάταν ἄκοιτιν. |13 [. . . words missing . . .]ιμέναν νομίϲδει |14 [. . . words missing . . .]αιϲ ὀπάϲδοι |15 ⸤ἔγω δὲ φίλημμ’ ἀβροϲύναν, . . .⸥ τοῦτο καί μοι |16 τὸ λά⸤μπρον ἔρωϲ ἁελίω καὶ τὸ κά⸥λον λέ⸤λ⸥ογχε.
|1 [. . .] gifts of [the Muses], whose contours are adorned with violets, [I tell you] girls [paides] |2 [. . .] the clear-sounding song-loving lyre. |3 [. . .] skin that was once tender is now [ravaged] by old age [gēras], |4 [. . .] hair that was once black has turned (gray). |5 The throbbing of my heart is heavy, and my knees cannot carry me |6 —(those knees) that were once so nimble for dancing like fawns. |7 I cry and cry about those things, over and over again. But what can I do? |8 To become ageless [a-gēra-os] for someone who is mortal is impossible to achieve. |9 Why, even Tithonos once upon a time, they said, was taken by the dawn-goddess [Eos], with her rosy arms |10 —she felt [. . .] passionate love [eros] for him, and off she went, carrying him to the ends of the earth, |11 so beautiful [kalos] he was and young [neos], but, all the same, he was seized |12 in the fullness of time by gray old age [gēras], even though he shared the bed of an immortal female. |13 [. . .] |14 [. . .] |15 But I love delicacy [(h)abrosunē] [. . .] this, |16 and passionate love [erōs] for the Sun has won for me its radiance [tò lampron] and beauty [tò kalon].
Sappho, Tithonos Song
§2. This fragmentary text of Sappho is based primarily on two papyrus fragments, which Obbink calls Π¹ and Π2. The first, Π¹, is a Cologne papyrus dated to the third century BCE (P. Köln inv. 21351 + 21376); the second, Π2, is an Oxyrhynchus papyrus dated to the second or third century CE (P. Oxy. 1787). Π¹ preserves those parts of the Tithonos Song that occupy the opening portions of the lines, while Π² preserves the closing portions. The text that follows line 12 in Π¹ is another song, composed in non-Sapphic meter, and this text is not given in what I have just quoted above. The text that follows line 12 in Π² continues the same song, and it is this text that I give in lines 13–16 above. These lines Π2 13–16 are the equivalent of lines 23–26 in a text that used to be known simply as Fragment 58 of Sappho. At lines 15–16, the wordings enclosed in half-square brackets are restorations from a quotation by Athenaeus 15.687b (Clearchus F 41 Wehrli).
§3. The text of the song as I have quoted it here, extending through line 16, is a version designed for choral performance, while the shorter text, which extends only through line 12, is a version repurposed for sympotic or concertizing performance. That is what I argued in another project. The question was: which text of the song is definitive—the shorter one as written in the earlier Cologne papyrus (Π1) or the longer one as written in the later Oxyrhynchus papyrus (Π2)? And here was my answer:
I think that the shorter and the longer texts of Sappho’s “song of Tithonos” are actually two versions of the same song, and that both the shorter and the longer versions can be considered definitive. This definitiveness, however, has to be viewed in terms of performing the song, not in terms of writing the text of the song.
Viewed in this light, the longer version of Sappho’s “song of Tithonos” as written in the later Oxyrhynchus papyrus did not result from a textual addition. Conversely, the shorter version as written in the earlier Cologne papyrus did not result from a textual subtraction. Rather, both the addition and the subtraction were a matter of alternative performances. And the differences in addition or subtraction correspond to differences in the contexts of alternative performances.
I think that the longer version of Sappho’s “song of Tithonos,” where the additional four lines express a hope for an afterlife, would have been most appropriate for performance in the context of choral singing and dancing at public events like the festivals of Lesbos. As for the shorter version, which is without those four lines and without an expression of hope for an afterlife, I think it would have been more appropriate for performance in the context of monodic singing at (1) public events like the competition of citharodes at the festival of the Panathenaia in Athens or at (2) private events like the competitions of symposiasts at symposia.
I do not mean to say, however, that the longer version of Sappho’s “song of Tithonos” would have been inappropriate for Panathenaic or sympotic performances at Athens. That version too could have been appropriate. I am only saying that there was something special about the shorter version that made it particularly appropriate for Panathenaic or sympotic performances. That special something is what I call the mentality of relay performance. In terms of this mentality, it is not that the speaker has given up hope for an afterlife. Rather, the hope for an afterlife is being expressed indirectly, by way of a relay from one performance to the next.
§4. And here I return to the starting point of my presentation. The fact that the speaking persona in the Tithonos Song is addressing paides, which I translate as ‘girls’, is relevant to new evidence at lines 13–16 in Song 17 of Sappho, where we see a reference to some form of interaction between girls and women in choral performance. The reference to an interaction between the paides ‘girls’ and the persona of Sappho in the Tithonos Song is I think likewise a matter of choral performance. Such a reference to choral performance, however, does not rule out the possibility that the same kind of reference can be made in sympotic and concertizing performances as well. I will explore that possibility in the posting that follows this one.
H24H. See Nagy 2013.
Nagy, G. 1990a. Pindar’s Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past. Baltimore. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Pindars_Homer.1990.
Nagy, G. 1990b. Greek Mythology and Poetics. Ithaca, NY. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Greek_Mythology_and_Poetics.1990.
Nagy, G. 1996. Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond. Cambridge. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Poetry_as_Performance.1996.
Nagy, G. 2010. “The ‘New Sappho’ Reconsidered in the Light of the Athenian Reception of Sappho.” The New Sappho on Old Age: Textual and Philosophical Issues (ed. E. Greene and M. Skinner) 176–199. Cambridge, MA, and Washington, DC. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:Nagy.The_New_Sappho_Reconsidered.2011.
Nagy, G. 2013. The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours. Cambridge, MA. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_NagyG.The_Ancient_Greek_Hero_in_24_Hours.2013.
Nagy, G. 2015. “A poetics of sisterly affect in the Brothers Song and in other songs of Sappho.” The Newest Sappho (P. Obbink and P. GC Inv. 105, frs. 1–5), edited by A. Bierl and A. Lardinois, Leiden: Brill, 2015. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:NagyG.A_Poetics_of_Sisterly_Affect.2015.
Obbink, D., ed. 2010. “Sappho Fragments 58–59: Text, Apparatus Criticus, and Translation.” The New Sappho on Old Age: Textual and Philosophical Issues (ed. E. Greene and M. Skinner) 176–199. Cambridge, MA, and Washington, DC.
 The last two lines of this song, Π2 25–26 = Sappho F 58.25–26 V, are highlighted in H24H Hour 5 Text I.
 On the reading ἔρωϲ ἁελίω instead of ἔροc τὠελίω, see Nagy 1990a:285 [10§18], Nagy 1990b:261–262; Nagy 1996:90, 102–103. More in Nagy 2010. My translation of lines 15–16 above is based on the reading ἔρωϲ ἁελίω instead of ἔροc τὠελίω. In terms of the first reading, ἔρωϲ ἁελίω, the Sun is the objective genitive of erōs, ‘passionate love’. In terms of the second reading, ἔροc τὠελίω, the translation would be … ‘Passionate love [erōs] has won for me the radiance and beauty of the Sun’. More in Nagy 2010.
 Nagy 2010.
 Nagy 2010:186.
 Nagy 2015 §§119–127.