Sappho Fragment 31 (contributed by Mariangela Labate)

This is one of the most appreciated poems of classical antiquity; in fact it has been imitated and revised by many poets (see Catullus, Carmina 51). The first lines of the poem represent an intimate conversation between a girl and a man; in the second part Sappho describes the devastating effects of love. We don’t know who the man and woman are; neither do we know the occasion of the lyric. It was probably featured during the wedding of one of the girls of the thiasos.

This fragment has been variously interpreted, as the missing last lines make it difficult to properly understand the poem. It has often been defined “the poem of jealousy” by scholars who think that this is its main argument. Others stress the emphasis on the individual expression of the power of love, a feeling that causes both physical and emotional upheaval.

Mariangela Labate
Head of Classics



φαίνεταί μοι κῆνος ἴσος θέοισιν

ἔμμεν’ ὤνηρ, ὄττις ἐνάντιός τοι

ἰσδάνει καὶ πλάσιον ἆδυ φωνεί-

σας ὐπακούει


καὶ γελαίσας ἰμέροεν, τό μ’ ἦ μὰν

καρδίαν ἐν στήθεσιν ἐπτόαισεν,

ὠς γὰρ ἔς σ’ ἴδω βρόχε’ ὤς με φώνας

οὔδεν ἔτ’ εἴκει,


ἀλλὰ κὰμ μὲν γλῶσσα +ἔαγε, λέπτον

δ’ αὔτικα χρῶι πῦρ ὐπαδεδρόμακεν,

ὀππάτεσσι δ’ οὐδ’ ἒν ὄρημμ’, ἐπιρρόμ-

βεισι δ’ ἄκουαι,


κὰδ’ δέ ἴδρως κακχέεται, τρόμος δὲ

παῖσαν ἄγρει, χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίας

ἔμμι, τεθνάκην δ’ ὀλίγω ‘πιδεύης

φαίνομ’ ἔμ’ αὔτᾳ.


ἀλλὰ πᾶν τόλματον, ἐπεὶ +καὶ πένητα
He seems very similar to the gods

That man who sits in front of you

And listens to you speaking

And smiles softly; 

And suddenly my heart throbs.

When I glance at you,

I can no longer speak,

My tongue is broken and

A subtle flame is creeping into my skin,

My eyes can see nothing more,

My ears are buzzing,

Drops of sweat are oozing,

My whole body is trembling.

I become greener than grass

And I feel as if I were dead

But everything must be tolerated, because … a poor man….

Alcaeus and Sappho. Side A of an Attic red-figure kalathos, ca. 470 BC. From Akragas (Sicily)

Chosen and translated by Mariangela Labate.

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