Some of the text was newly recovered from a Cologne University scroll. The scroll was used as Egyptian mummy cartonnage and is the earliest known Sappho text, written some 300 years after her death. Nearly the whole poem has been recovered by combining other fragments, known since 1922. This process of recovering lost texts is fascinating and I have tried in my own way to make it speak again.
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
– go to this page and hover over each Greek word for a translation
Sappho Fragment 58, Tithonus, Aeolic Greek, restored by Martin L. West
You desire the beautiful gifts
of the violet-chitoned Muses.
So, girls, quickly seize them,
and the clear-toned shell harp
that loves to sing.
My once fair skin
is already attacked by old age.
My black hair has turned white,
my spirit heaving,
my knees, once quick as a faun’s,
so swift to dance…
For all this I often cry myself sick.
What else can I do?
It’s just not possible
to be human and ageless.
Once Dawn of rose arms,
struck by love, lofted Tithonus
over the world’s edge
when he was young and beautiful.
Even though he had a deathless wife,
in time, grizzled old age
still caught up with him.
Translation by Andrew Bellon.