FRIDAY’S WORDS OF WISDOM: SAPPHO

This week I have been reading the Penguin Classics edition of Sappho’s poetry (Stung With Love: Poems and Fragments). It is a wonderful little book full of extraordinary language. One thing that made me stop was this bit from Aaron Poochigian’s introduction

The Spartan poet Alcman’s First and Third Panthenia (‘Maiden’s Songs’, seventh century BCE) provide evidence of socially sanctioned homoerotic attachments. In the First a chorus of maidens expresses admiration for the awe-striking beauty of its chorus leaders, Agido and Hegesichora. In the Third the chorus looks on Astymeloisa’s beauty with “limb-loosening desire.”(xxv)

That phrase, “limb-loosening desire” is wonderful, a perfect invocation of lust – Sappho uses it (21 – trans. Poochigian):

That impossible predator,
Eros, the Limb-Loosener,
Bitter-sweetly and afresh
Savages my flesh.

I have fallen in love with the little moments in Sappho that stop your heart. Here’s another that made my limbs go loose (35).

May you bed down,
Head to breast, upon
The flesh
Of a plush
Companion.

These lines manage to be both spare and incredibly lush – so little says so much. One more (29)…

Moon and The Pleiades go down.
Midnight and the tryst pass by,
I, though, lie
Alone.

Isn’t that beautiful? And isn’t heartbreaking that perhaps 90% of Sappho’s poetry is lost to us?

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