In English
Fragment 58x (The Tithonus Poem) of Sappho
Sappho
Sappho in Greek

Υμμες πεδὰ Μοισᾱν ιοκολπων καλα δωρα παιδες

σπουδασδετε και τᾱν φιλαοιδον λιγυρᾱν χελυννᾱν                    2

 

εμοί δ' απαλον πριν ποτ' εοντα χροα γηρας ηδη

επελλαβε λευκαι δ' εγενοντο τριχες εκ μελαινᾱν ·                       4

 

βαρυς δε μ' ο θῡμος πεποηται γονα δ' ου φεροισι

τά δη ποτα λαιψηρ' εον ορχησθ' ισα νεβριοισι .                              6

 

τα μεν στεναχισδω θαμεως · αλλὰ τί κεν ποειην ;

αγηραον ανθρωπον εοντ' ου δυνατον γενεσθαι .                          8

 

και γαρ ποτα Τῑθωνον εφαντο βροδοπᾱχυν Αυων

ερωι φ..αθεισαν βαμεν εις εσχατα γᾱς φεροισαν                       10

 

εοντα καλον και νεον αλλ' αυτον υμως εμαρψε

χρονωι πολιον γηρας εχοντ' ᾱθανατᾱν ακοιτιν .                        12

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METRICAL SCHEME

Sapphic Tetrameters (matched couplets)

ˉ ˉ ˘ ˘ | ˉ ˉ ˘ ˘ | ˉ ˉ ˘ ˘ | ˉ ˘ ˉ ˉ (3 ionics + 1 trochee)

 

VOCABULARY NOTES

1    υμμες = ὑμεῖς

1    πεδὰ = μετὰ

1    Μοισᾱν = Μουσων

2    σπουδασδετε = σπουδαζετε

2    τᾱν = την

2    χελυννᾱν = χελωνην

3    απαλον = ἁπαλον

4    επελλαβε < επιλαμβανω

4    εγενοντο < γιγνομαι

4    τριχες < θριξ

4    μελαινᾱν = μελαινῶν

5    μ' = μοι

5    ο = ὁ

5    φεροισι = φερουσι

6    τά = ἅ

6    ποτα = ποτε

6    νεβριοισι = νεβρειοις

7    στεναχισδω = στεναχιζω

7    κεν = αν

8    γενεσθαι < γιγνομαι

9    εφαντο < φημί

9    βροδοπᾱχυν = ῥοδοπηχυν

10  βαμεν = βαινειν

10  γᾱς = γης

10  φεροισαν = φερουσαν

11  υμως = ὁμως

12  ᾱθανατᾱν = ᾱθανατην

 

Textual Notes

This is Martin L. West's reconstruction of a nearly complete passage of Sappho's poetry that has only recently come to light. Italicized letters and words are missing from the papyrus and have been supplied by Professor West.

The line endings of this passage have been known since 1922 from a papyrus fragment found at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt (Fragment 58 = P. Oxy. 1787). In 2002, the University of Cologne purchased some Egyptian mummy cartonnage (papyrus recycled as mummy casing) from a private collector. Two years later, one of those scraps was identified as part of a scroll of Sappho's poetry. The precise dividing points between one poem and the next are not indicated in the original text, but the endings of lines 11-22 in Fragment 58 match up with lines from this new papyrus, yielding what appears to be a complete poem.

This poem is a first-person lament for old age, illustrated by the myth of Tithonus, a mortal who was granted immortality but not eternal youth, and withered away to nothing while his goddess lover remained eternally young. As in Fragment 31, the poet portrays herself as an outsider doomed to watch a joyous celebration in which she plays no role. Martin West aptly notes that the things Sappho chooses to leave unspoken in this poem are as touching as what she actually says. I think he has hit on the key to her poetry with that simple statement.