A newly discovered papyrus may add new information concerning the life and works of the poet Sappho. The poems in this manuscript may be attributed either to Sappho or to her beloved Anaktoria.
See the shining moon in her robe of silver—
when she rises, shedding her light around her,
all the stars of heaven, however lovely,
grow pale before her.
So when you appear, every other maiden
dims before you, yielding to your bright radiance;
then my eyes are filled with you, then I wish to
gaze at you only.
Longing takes me, seizes me, like an oak tree
shaken by the wind till its branches tremble;
Love has done this, swaying me with desire
for a fair maiden.
As the sunlight glitters on fine bronze armor,
flashing from a warrior's shield and breastplate,
so the flashing brightness of one maid's glances
makes my heart joyful.
Yesterday I walked through an apple orchard;
pleasant breezes set all the leaves a-rustle,
so the trees themselves seemed like dear companions
Golden sunlight lay over all; the grasses
softly parted, bending before my sandals;
sweet the scent of ripening apples lingered
in every byway.
Boldly grasping one of the blushing apples
where it hung leaf-covered among the branches,
swift I turned and twisted it, till it tumbled
into my fingers.
Smooth and round it lay in my hand; I tasted,
sweet and tart I found it, still warm with sunlight,
crisp and perfect—down to the core I ate it,
licking the juices.
Only one thing lacking—for you were absent!
Come with me to gather the ripest apples;
I will give you fruit from the trees, and kisses
sweeter than honey.
I have heard that Sappho is not a beauty—
small and dark-haired, not in the latest fashion.
Yet, her golden lyre in hand, she seems like
one of the Muses.
When she strikes the lyre with skillful fingers,
soft at first, then growing in strength and fullness,
none can take their eyes from her, all lean forward,
eager to listen.
Playing, her whole body becomes a lyre,
till it almost seems that some god breathes through her:
shining eyes, face lit by some inner fire,
rapt in the music.
Where her footsteps passed lay a single violet
fallen in the grass from her wreath of flowers;
petals lined with delicate veins of purple
gave a sweet fragrance.
How have you enchanted me with your music?
Even in your absence your songs pursue me,
soft and tender, singing of love and longing,
till my heart trembles.
How have you enchanted me with your glances?
As you play your lyre, your eyes are shining,
eyes of flame! they suddenly strike me silent,
all my words fail me.
How have you enchanted me with your laughter?
Mirth lights up your face in a flash, like torches
lit and quenched again, and my heart is captured
In night's darkness, only the stars as witness,
soft and sweet, the melody of a lyre
broke the silence, rising beneath my window
as I lay wakeful.
Keeping still, I listened with lips half-parted
to the sound, as though I would breathe in music;
notes fell from the lyre like silver droplets
into a fountain.
Then a woman's voice joined the sounding lyre,
rich and full and passionate in her longing;
sweetly as the nightingale's came her singing
under the starlight.
Stars grew dim; the heavens began to brighten
with that soft grey light which is almost darkness,
and the music faded away to silence,
almost like dreaming.
Yet it was no dream, that soft mournful music;
I remember well every note and cadence,
I know both the lyre and her who played it
in the night's darkness.
Words of love she sang in the friendly darkness;
desperate love and passion rang through her music.
If she speaks such words to me in bright daylight,
what will I answer?
Queen of love and lady of all the Graces,
Aphrodite, girdled with fierce desire,
once again my lyre will sing your praises
now and forever.
She who I have loved with a burning passion,
sighing for her, sleepless in night's soft darkness,
singing frantic songs to my trembling lyre,
loves as I love her.
For your good assistance, your poet Sappho
and her Anaktoria, at your altar
hand in hand together will stand and pay you
Twine together wreaths of the sweetest roses;
they shall crown our heads when we sit together.
I will take my lyre and set the ringing
strings into motion.
Then, my Anaktoria, I will bid you
sing, and raise the melodies dear to Cypris
with your voice more golden than gold, and let us
join in one music.
I delight to see a fast team of horses
yoked together under a skillful driver;
now the reins are wrapped round his waist, he urges
them to run swiftly.
When he feels the wind in his hair, the hoofbeats
of his horses thundering on before him,
then he laughs aloud for sheer joy, his heartbeat
pounding in answer.
So my heart beats faster and thunders wildly
when I look upon you and hear you speaking,
when our fingers touch as we pass the wine-cup
ere we drink deeply.
Then I wish to kiss your white throat and shoulders,
with deft fingers loosen your woven girdle,
see your body lovely and bare before me,
breathless with longing.
Night has fallen; dearest, delay no longer.
Come to the embraces we both desire,
and for every kiss that you give, I promise
When we two go down to the House of Hades,
since we served the Muses and did them honor,
do not fear, sweet lady, that we will ever
fade from remembrance.
Those who honor golden-crowned Aphrodite,
those who love with song and with joyful laughter,
even when the thread of their life has ended
never will perish.
When the youths and maidens with lovely tresses
crown their heads with garlands and sing of lovers,
in a hundred years or a thousand, let them
sing of us also.
Written for the Femslash Exchange 2017. The title is from Sappho's Ode to Aphrodite.
Cypris: a name for Aphrodite, derived from her sacred isle of Cyprus
"it almost seems that some god breathes through her": "to breathe into" is the literal derivation of the word "inspire"