Recommendations for an English translation of Sappho?

Gamblingbear

Active Member
Some excerpts.

The first is the first 3 stanzas of a longer piece (I think the only complete poem we still have from Sappho)

Poochigian:
Subtly bedizened Aphrodite,
Deathless daughter of Zeus, Wile-weaver,
I beg you, Empress, do not smite me
With anguish and fever

But come as often, on request,
(Hearing me, heeding from afar,)
You left your father's gleaming feast,
Yoked team to car,

And came. Fair sparrows in compact
Flurries of winged rapidity
Cleft sky and over a gloomy tract
Brought you to me -


Carson:
Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind
child of Zeus, who twists lures, I beg you
do not break with hard pains,
O lady, my heart

but come here if ever before
you caught my voice far off
and listening left your father's
golden house and came,

yoking your car. And fine birds brought you,
quick sparrows over the black earth
whipping their wings down the sky
through midair--


Carson's use of spacing and brackets does sort of remind me of more experimental modern poetry although Sappho is the farthest thing from modern and the themes are very traditional for poetry: love, broken hearts, nature, beauty, proverbs, etc. I think it was a positive, but if strange formating is not your cup of tea, then Carson's version probably won't work for you.

An example:

]
]
]
] youth
]
]
]
]
]
]


Or just these words on an otherwise empty page:


spangled is
the earth with her crowns
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Usually I prefer rhymed poetry, but I think the Carson version (of that particular one at any rate) works better.

But the odd formatting you describe would bug me, yes.
 

Gamblingbear

Active Member
Usually I prefer rhymed poetry, but I think the Carson version (of that particular one at any rate) works better.

But the odd formatting you describe would bug me, yes.

Callaina Was Greek poetry normally rhymed? I have no idea.


I have a high tolerance for experimental formatting (though its not my favorite), but I know many don't so that's why I mentioned it. Those are rather extreme examples though. I think it helped though to give the idea that there's something more, we just don't know what.

I read the Epic of Gilgamesh not that long ago and it also made use of a lot of brackets. It seems to be a standard usage in Ancient Mesopotamian translations to mark lacunae. Carson takes this (I'm assuming brackets are standard in Ancient Greek research as well) and makes it into a stylistic element.

The formatting (and the Greek on the left side of each page) did make an almost 400 page book of poetry a quick read. ;)

Though maybe it really is justified here as she's translating fragments!

That's a really good point. The longer fragments and the one complete poem don't have odd formatting. They are mostly made up of stanzas with three long lines and one shortened line.

It's only the fragments where the papyrus is unreadable or they come from quotes in other texts where the formatting is non-traditional.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Callaina Was Greek poetry normally rhymed? I have no idea.
No, but it used extremely sophisticated meters instead.

I read the Epic of Gilgamesh not that long ago and it also made use of a lot of brackets. It seems to be a standard usage in Ancient Mesopotamian translations to mark lacunae. Carson takes this (I'm assuming brackets are standard in Ancient Greek research as well) and makes it into a stylistic element.
I've got to say, that's sort of cool. Something that could be dry and scholarly becomes part of the creative work. I like that. :)
 

Aurifex

Aedilis
Staff member
But the odd formatting you describe would bug me, yes.
It's a perfectly standard practice in the printing of classical texts to indicate lacunae with spaces, dots and brackets. Square brackets generally indicate physical loss to the MS; dots indicate missing or illegible letters. There may be variations on this practice.

So all that empty space in your book is not experimental formatting at all, but an indication of how extensive the original poem/MS was in its complete state.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
It's a perfectly standard practice in the printing of classical texts to indicate lacunae with spaces, dots and brackets. Square brackets generally indicate physical loss to the MS; dots indicate missing or illegible letters. There may be variations on this practice.

So all that empty space in your book is not experimental formatting at all, but an indication of how extensive the original poem/MS. was in its complete state.
Ah. Makes sense, though I'm now slightly disappointed that this wasn't some idea of Carson's.
 

Gamblingbear

Active Member
Using brackets to indicate lacunae certainly wasn't Carson's invention, but I wouldn't call her interpretation of brackets as standard. I've seen the brackets, spaces and dots that Aurifex is referring to in other texts with lacunae. This isn't quite the same.

What's different with Carson's is that it is used as a stylistic element and part of the poem's structure. Perhaps Carson's words will do her intent more justice than I did:

"It is not the case that every gap of illegibility is specifically indicated: this would render the page a blizzard of marks and inhibit reading. Brackets are an aesthetic gesture toward the papyrological event rather than an accurate record of it." She goes on to say "Even though you are approaching Sappho in translation, that is no reason you should miss the drama of trying to read a papyrus torn in half or riddled with holes or smaller than a postage stamp--brackets imply a free space of imaginal adventure."
 

Aurifex

Aedilis
Staff member
"Brackets are an aesthetic gesture toward the papyrological event rather than an accurate record of it."
Carson is perfectly free to claim an aesthetic role for the brackets in her own publication, but to claim (if that is what she is doing) that the brackets indicating lacunae in other printed texts of Sappho are also an aesthetic gesture is simply fanciful.
I wouldn't call her interpretation of brackets as standard.
There is only one possible interpretation of the brackets in all bona fide texts of Sappho, which is that they indicate lacunae. All Carson seems to be saying is that she's not indicated all the lacunae in her book, but she's included some to give you a taste of what the MS. looks like. Referring to the brackets as the "free space of imaginal adventure" might enhance some people's reception of them but it doesn't change their primary role in the slightest, which is purely a functional one.

While we're at it, I thought I'd quote one of the more entertaining Amazon reviews of Carson's book:

"When the she-poet Sappho was alive in 630 BC, the lop sided male-supremacist, misogynist Indo European patriarchal attitude had already terrorized for more than a thousand years the pre-patriarchal, ancient matriarchal, intellectual and sexual and economical autonomy of the Grecian Race of Women. Sappho's poetry shows that matriachal women were kind and wise, were spiritually FAR superior to the utterly inferior,
all life desecrating, patriarchal certified fascistic priests and politicians. Sappho lived in times when patriarchal rapine Zeus-ian delusional grandeur was already rampant. Nevertheless, Sappho's poetry strongly echos women's matriarchal intellectual & sexual autonomous freedom that pre-existed the utterly women-hating patriarchal classic Grecian-Indo-European cultural and economical TOTAL disaster."
 

Araneus

Umbraticus Lector
Wow. I bet Sappho had one of those "Male tears" coffee mugs, and lyre-picks that said "F*** the I-E patriarchy"!!
 

Gamblingbear

Active Member
Carson is perfectly free to claim an aesthetic role for the brackets in her own publication, but to claim (if that is what she is doing) that the brackets indicating lacunae in other printed texts of Sappho are also an aesthetic gesture is simply fanciful.
She's definitely only referring to her own publication. I'm not sure how you got that she (or maybe you thought I was?) was implying that brackets are always aesthetic. That's not the case at all. It's a comment that relates just to this translation.

While we're at it, I thought I'd quote one of the more entertaining Amazon reviews of Carson's book:

Wow! That is an amazing review. I feel like I should burn a bra or start a march after reading that.

In all, I was surprised at how relatable and, for lack of a better word, normal Sappho's poetry was. Between views like the reviewer's and the idea that it was scandalous lesbian poetry (i think I got that from a Sylvia Plath obsessed school teacher), I was expecting something very different. It was in all just good poetry that brought images and feelings to mind, across all the centuries.
 
Does anyone have an opinion on either version? Or can you recommend a different version?

thanks
I can't add anything to your initial inquirey but that aside, on BBC Radio Three they have a 1hr show called Words and Music (a mixture of poetry/prose set to music.) There's an episode called "Women in Love" and it's mainly the Sappho fragments played to music composed by Linda Montano. It might be worth you checking it out via their website, it's a bit weird sounding but I liked it.
 
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