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Recently discovered poems of Sappho (7th century BCE)

These poems were recently found on scraps of papyrus used to wrap Egyptian mummies!


The first is a lament of aging.



Pursue the violet-laden Muses’ handsome gifts, my children, and the loud-voiced lyre so dear to song;


But me - my skin which once was soft is withered now by age, my hair has turned to white which once was black, my heart has been weighed down, my knees give no support which once were nimble in the dance like little fawns.


How often I lament these things. But what to do?


No being that is human can escape old age.


For people used to think that Dawn with rosy arms and loving murmurs took Tithonus(*) fine and young to reach the edges of the earth; yet still grey age in time did seize him, though his consort cannot die.


Translation by Richard Janko



The second is more familial.



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.


Translation by Timothy Whitmarsh


 (*) From Greek mythology: Tithonus was a youth so beautiful that the dawn-goddess took him as husband. At her request Zeus granted him immortality. But she forgot to ask for eternal youth. So, unlike his immortal lover, Tithonus grew old and feeble.


(**) Charaxus and Larichus were two of Sappho's brothers.