In English
Fragment 16 of Sappho's Lyrics in Greek
Sappho
Sappho in Greek

οι μεν ιππηων στροτον οι δε πεσδων

οι δε νᾱων φαισ' επι γᾱν μελαινᾱν

εμμεναι καλλιστον εγω δε κην' οτ-

τω τις ερᾱται                                                                    4

 

παγχυ δ' ευμᾱρες συνετον ποησαι

παντι τουτ΄ γαρ πολυ περσκεθοισᾱ

καλλος ανθρωπων Ελενᾱ Ϝον ανδρα

τον μεγ' αριστον                                                              8

...
 

τᾱς κε βολλοιμᾱν ερατον τε βᾶμα

κᾱμαρυχμα λαμπρον ιδην προσωπω

τα Λῡδων αρματα κᾱν οπλοισι

πεσδομαχεντας.                                                            20

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METRICAL SCHEME

Sapphic Stanza

First 3 lines:  ˉ ˘ ˉ ˉ | ˉ ˘ ˘ ˉ | ˘ ˉ ˉ  or  ˉ ˘ ˉ ˘ | ˉ ˘ ˘ ˉ | ˘ ˉ ˉ

Last line:  ˉ ˘ ˘ ˉ ˉ (must carry over from 3rd line)

 

VOCABULARY NOTES

1st Stanza:

οι = ο

ιππεων = ἱππεων

στροτον = στρατον

πεσδων = πεζων

φαισ' = φᾱσι

γᾱν = γην

εμμεναι = ειναι

κην' = εκεινο

οττω = ὁτου

 

2nd Stanza:

ποησαι = ποιησαι

ᾱ = ἡ

περσκεθοισα = περισχουσα < περιεχω

Ελενᾱ = Ἑλενη

 

5th Stanza:

τᾱς = της

βολλοιμᾱν = βουλοιμην

βᾱμα = βημα

κᾱμαρυχμα = και αμαρυγμα

ιδην = ιδειν

προσωπω = προσωπου

αρματα = ἁρματα

κᾱν = και εν

οπλοισι = ὁπλοισι

πεσδομαχεντας = πεζομαχεντας

 

Commentary

These are the first, second and fifth stanzas of yet another poem about separation from a loved one. The third and fourth stanzas, which are badly damaged, move from the realm of mythology (Helen of Troy, led astray by love from her dear family members) to the immediately personal (a female acquaintance named Anactoria, who is absent for reasons unknown). The two women, and the two realms, flow together in the final stanza for a typically Sapphic moment where a simple statement, beautiful on its surface, resonates with emotional depth.

 

Textual Notes

This fragment was preserved among the 2nd-century CE papyrus scraps discovered at the site of Oxyrhynchus in Egypt (P. Oxy. 1231 and 2166, not available for online viewing).

Italicized Greek letters are missing from the text, or badly damaged, and have been supplied by modern scholars.

The first stanza is patterned on the formal rhetorical device called a "priamel": three alternatives are mentioned and discarded, preparing for the acceptance of a climactic fourth.

ιππεων. The word ἱππευς  means "chariot fighter" in Homer but comes to mean "cavalryman" in classical times. Since the following stanza (omitted here) deals with Helen of Troy, and the final stanza refers to Lydian war-chariots (still in use during Sappho's time), it is logical to give this word its Homeric sense.

τᾱς. Used pronominally rather than as a definite article.

βολλοιμᾱν. Optative, with κε. The infinitive complement is ιδην ("I would rather see").

εν ὁπλοισι. A standard phrase (found in the Iliad but still current in Plato's time) for armed combat.