Immortal Aphrodite, on your intricately brocaded throne,[1]

            child of Zeus, weaver of wiles, this I pray:

            Dear Lady, don’t crush my heart

            with pains and sorrows.


5          But come here, if ever before,

            when you heard my far-off cry,

            you listened. And you came,

            leaving your father’s house,


            yoking your chariot of gold.

10        Then beautiful swift sparrows led you over the black earth

            from the sky through the middle air,

            whirling their wings into a blur.


            Rapidly they came. And you, O Blessed Goddess,

            a smile on your immortal face,

15        asked what had happened this time,

            why did I call again,


            and what did I especially desire

            for myself in my frenzied heart:

            “Who this time am I to persuade

20        to your love? Sappho, who is doing you wrong?


            For even if she flees, soon she shall pursue.

            And if she refuses gifts, soon she shall give them.

            If she doesn’t love you, soon she shall love

            even if she’s unwilling.”


25        Come to me now once again and release me

            from grueling anxiety.

            All that my heart longs for,

            fulfill. And be yourself my ally in love’s battle.



            Some say an army of horsemen,

            some of footsoldiers, some of ships,

            is the fairest thing on the black earth,

            but I say it is what one loves.


5          It’s very easy to make this clear

            to everyone, for Helen,

            by far surpassing mortals in beauty,

            left the best of all husbands


            and sailed to Troy,

10        mindful of neither her child

            nor her dear parents, but

            with one glimpse she was seduced by


            Aphrodite. For easily bent...

            and nimbly...[missing text]...

15        has reminded me now

            of Anactoria who is not here;


            I would much prefer to see the lovely

            way she walks and the radiant glance of her face

            than the war-chariots of the Lydians or

20        their footsoldiers in arms.







            That man to me seems equal to the gods,

            the man who sits opposite you

            and close by listens

            to your sweet voice


5          and your enticing laughter—

            that indeed has stirred up the heart in my breast.

            For whenever I look at you even briefly

            I can no longer say a single thing,


            but my tongue is frozen in silence;

10        instantly a delicate flame runs beneath my skin;

            with my eyes I see nothing;

            my ears make a whirring noise.


            A cold sweat covers me,

            trembling seizes my body,

15        and I am greener than grass.

            Lacking but little of death do I seem.





sapphic fragments




Come now, luxuriant Graces, and beautiful-haired Muses.




I tell you

someone will remember us

in the future.




Now, I shall sing these songs


for my companions.



The moon shone full

And when the maidens stood around the altar...




“He is dying, Aphrodite;

luxuriant Adonis is dying.

What should we do?”


“Beat your breasts, young maidens.

And tear your garments

in grief.”



O, weep for Adonis!




But come, dear companions,

For day is near.



The moon is set. And the Pleiades.

            It’s the middle of the night.

                        Time [hôrâ] passes.

But I sleep alone.




I love the sensual.

For me this

and love for the sun

has a share in brilliance and beauty




I desire

And I crave.



You set me on fire.




A servant

of wile-weaving






Giver of pain...





Coming from heaven

throwing off

his purple cloak.



Again love, the limb-loosener, rattles me



a crawling beast.



As a wind in the mountains

assaults an oak,

Love shook my breast.



I loved you, Atthis, long ago

even when you seemed to me

a small graceless child.



But you hate the very thought of me, Atthis,

And you flutter after Andromeda.



Honestly, I wish I were dead.

Weeping many tears, she left me and said,

“Alas, how terribly we suffer, Sappho.

I really leave you against my will.”


And I answered: “Farewell, go and remember me.

You know how we cared for you.


If not, I would remind you

 ...of our wonderful times.


For by my side you put on

many wreaths of roses

and garlands of flowers

around your soft neck.


And with precious and royal perfume

you anointed yourself.


On soft beds you satisfied your passion.


And there was no dance,

no holy place

from which we were absent.”



They say that Leda once found

an egg—

like a hyacinth.



“Virginity, virginity

Where will you go when you’ve left me?”


“I’ll never come back to you , bride,

I’ll never come back to you.”



Sweet mother, I can’t do my weaving—

Aphrodite has crushed me with desire

for a tender youth.






Like a sweet-apple

turning red


on the tip

of the topmost branch.

Forgotten by pickers.


Not forgotten—

they couldn’t reach it.



Like a hyacinth

in the mountains

that shepherds crush underfoot.


Even on the ground

a purple flower.



To what shall I compare you, dear bridegroom?

To a slender shoot, I most liken you.




[Sappho compared the girl to an apple....she compared the bridegroom to Achilles, and likened the young man’s deeds to the hero’s.]


                                                            Himerius (4th cent. A.D.), Or. 1.16



Raise high the roofbeams, carpenters!

            Hymenaon, Sing the wedding song!

Up with them!

            Hymenaon, Sing the wedding song!

A bridegroom taller than Ares!

            Hymenaon, Sing the wedding song!

Taller than a tall man!

            Hymenaon, Sing the wedding song!

Superior as the singer of Lesbos—

            Hymenaon, Sing the wedding song!

—to poets of other lands.




The Marriage of Hektor and Andromakhe



 ...The herald Idaios came...a swift messenger

 ...and the rest of Asia...unwilting glory (kleos aphthiton).

Hektor and his companions led the dark-eyed

luxuriant Andromakhe from holy Thebes and...Plakia

in ships upon the salty sea. Many golden bracelets and purple

robes..., intricately-worked ornaments,

countless silver cups and ivory.

Thus he spoke. And his dear father quickly leapt up.

And the story went to his friends through the broad city.

And the Trojans joined mules to smooth-running carriages.

And the whole band of women and...maidens got on.

Separately, the daughters of Priam...

And the unmarried men led horses beneath the chariots

and greatly...charioteers...


                                    ...like gods


set forth into Troy...

And the sweet song of the flute mixed...

And the sound of the cymbals, and then the maidens

sang in clear tones a sacred song

and a divinely-sweet echo reached the sky...

And everywhere through the streets...

Mixing bowls and cups...

And myrrh and cassia and frankincense were mingled.

And the older women wailed aloud.

And all the men gave forth a high-pitched song,

calling on Apollo, the far-shooter, skilled in the lyre.

And they sang of Hektor and Andromakhe like to the gods.



Blessed bridegroom,

The marriage is accomplished as you prayed.

You have the maiden you prayed for.



I don’t know what to do: I am of two minds.



For gold is Zeus’ child.



I have a beautiful daughter

Like a golden flower

My beloved Kleis.

I would not trade her for all Lydia nor lovely...



When you lie dead, no one will remember you

For you have no share in the Muses’ roses.

No, flitting aimlessly about,

You will wildly roam,

a shade amidst the shadowy dead.



Death is an evil.

That’s what the gods think.

Or they would die.




Because you are dear to me

Marry a younger woman.

I don’t dare live with a young man—

I’m older.








1.         And they passed by the streams of Okeanos and the White Rock

            and past the Gates of the Sun and the District of Dreams.


                                                                        Odyssey 24.11-12


2.         ...they say that Sappho was the first,

hunting down the proud Phaon,

to throw herself, in her goading desire, from the rock

that shines from afar.

But now, in accordance with your sacred utterance,

lord king, let there be silence

throughout the sacred precinct of the headland of the White Rock.


                                                                        Menander F 258K


3.         One more time taking off in the air, down from the White Rock

            into the dark waves do I dive, intoxicated with lust.


                                                                        Anacreon PMG 376


4.         I would be crazy not to give all the herds of the Cyclopes

in return for drinking one cup [of that wine]

and throwing myself from the white rock into the brine,

once I am intoxicated, with eyebrows relaxed.

Whoever is not happy when he drinks is crazy.

            Where it is allowed to make this thing stand up erect,

            to grab the breast and touch with both hands


the meadow[2] that is made all ready. And there is dancing

and forgetting [root lêth-] of bad things.


                                    Euripides Cyclops 163-172



5.         Related sources (summaries and commentary by G.N.): According to the account in Book VII of the mythographer Ptolemaios Chennos (ca. A.D. 100; by way of Photius Bibliotheca 152-153 Bekker), the first to dive off the heights of Cape Leukas, the most famous localization of the White Rock, was none other than Aphrodite herself, out of love for a dead Adonis. After Adonis died (how it happened is not said), the mourning Aphrodite went off searching for him and finally found him at ‘Cypriote Argos’, in a shrine of Apollo. She consults Apollo, who instructs her to seek relief from her love by jumping off the white rock of Leukas, where Zeus sits whenever he wants relief from his passion for Hera. Then Ptolemaios launches into a veritable catalogue of other figures who followed Aphrodite’s precedent and took a ritual plunge as a cure for love. For example, Queen Artemisia I is reputed to have leapt off the white rock out of love for one Dardanos, succeeding only in getting herself killed. Several others are mentioned who died from the leap, including a certain iambographer Charinos who expired only after being fished out of the water with a broken leg, but not before blurting out his four last iambic trimeters, painfully preserved for us with the compliments of Ptolemaios (and Photius as well). Someone called Makês was more fortunate: having succeeded in escaping from four love affairs after four corresponding leaps from the white rock, he earned the epithet Leukopetrâs ‘the one of the white rock’. We may question the degree of historicity in such accounts. There is, however, a more important concern. In the lengthy and detailed account of Ptolemaios, Sappho is not mentioned at all, let alone Phaon.

            From this silence we may infer that the source of this myth about Aphrodite and Adonis is independent of Sappho’s own poetry or of later distortions based on it. Accordingly, the ancient cult practice at Cape Leukas, as described by Strabo (10.2.9 C452), may well contain some intrinsic element that inspired lovers’ leaps, a practice also noted by Strabo (ibid.). The second practice seems to be derived from the first, as we might expect from a priestly institution that becomes independent of the social context that had engendered it. Abstracted from their inherited tribal functions, religious institutions have a way of becoming mystical organizations.

            Another reason for doubting that Sappho’s poetry had been the inspiration for the lovers’ leaps at Cape Leukas is the attitude of Strabo himself. He specifically disclaims Menander’s version about Sappho’s being the first to take the plunge at Leukas. Instead, he offers a version of “those more versed in the ancient lore,” according to which Kephalos son of Deioneus was the very first to have leapt, impelled by love for Pterelas (Strabo 10.2.9 C452). The myth of Kephalos and his dive may be as old as the concept of the White Rock. I say “concept” because the ritual practice of casting victims from a white rock may be an inheritance parallel to the epic tradition about a mythical White Rock on the shores of the Okeanos (as in Odyssey 24.11) and the related literary theme of diving from an imaginary White Rock (as in the poetry of Anacreon and Euripides). In other words, it is needless to assume that the ritual preceded the myth or the other way around.


6.         Others say that, in the vicinity of the rocks at Athenian Kolonos, he

[Poseidon], falling asleep, had an emission of semen, and a horse

Skuphios came out, who is also called Skîrônîtês [‘the one of the White Rock’].

                                                            Scholia to Lycophron 766



Poseidon Petraios [‘of the rocks’] has a cult among the Thessalians...because he, having fallen asleep at some rock, had an emission of semen; and the earth, receiving the semen, produced the first horse, whom they called Skuphios....And they say that there was a festival established in worship of Poseidon Petraios at the spot where the first horse leapt forth.


Scholia to Pindar Pythian 4.246


8.         But I love luxuriance [(h)abrosunê]...this,

and lust for the sun has won me brightness and beauty.[3]


Sappho F 58.25-26 V



[1]Alternatively: “with varieties of brocaded flowers on your gown”—G.N.

[2]Euphemism for female genitalia.

[3]This translation follows the reading ¶rvw éel¤v (vs. ¶row).