Sappho and the Moon (contributed by Terry Walsh)

Sappho, the mystical poetess of the 7th century BC, has some beautiful lyrics about the night. The Moon was believed by the ancients to be the controller of all things feminine. These may be fragments, but they are striking and beautiful nonetheless, as when one comes upon an unexpected ruin on a small Greek island.

Terry Walsh


Δέδυκε μεν ἀ σελάννα
καὶ Πληΐαδες‧ μέσαι δὲ
νύκτες‧ πάρα δ᾽ ἔρχετ᾽ ὤρα,
ἔγω δὲ μόνα κατεύδω.


Well, the moon has set

And the Pleiades. It is the middle

Of the night. And the hour passes by,

But I sleep alone …….


Αστερες μέν ἀμφι κάλαν σελάνναν
ἆιψ ἀπυκρύπτοισι φάεννον εἶδος,
ὄπποτα πλήθοισα μάλιστα λάμπηι
γᾶν ……………


            Stars around the brilliant moon now

            Hide away their shining forms,

            When she fully floods the ……. earth

           With silver light…..


Πλήρης μὲν ἐφαίνετ᾽ ἀ σελάννα
αἰ δ᾽ ὠς περὶ βῶμον ἐσταθησαν.


  Full the moon appeared, while round

the altar the women took their places….


Sappho Leaping into the Sea from the Leucadian Promontory


Δέδυκε μὲν ἀ σελάννα ………… = Diehl 94 / Voigt 168b / Cox 48

Ἄστερες μὲν ἀμφὶ κάλαν σελάνναν… = Lobel-Page 34 / Voigt 34 / Diehl 4 (10?) / Bergk 3 / Cox 4

πλήρης μὲν ἐφαίνετ’ ἀ σελάννα …… = Lobel-Page 154 / 88D / Cox 49
Chosen and translated by Terry Walsh.

Terry recommends this issue:  The Poems of Sappho, with Historical and Critical Notes, Translations, and a Bibliography, E.M. Cox, 1925

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