Rich-throned, immortal Aphrodite,
daughter of crafty Zeus, I beg you,
my lady, do not weigh down my spirit
with overflowing grief,
but come to me now, if ever you came before
when you heard my voice, far away,
leaving your father’s golden house,
your chariot and came. Swift and beautiful
sparrows brought you over the dark earth
with a thick whir of wings across the borders of heaven.
At once they brought you, happy one,
with a smile your ageless face,
to ask what troubled me, why
I called you,
and what my frantic spirit
most wished for. “Who do you want me to
talk into loving you this time? Who has
wounded you, Sappho?
If she runs away now, soon she will be chasing you.
If now she won’t take your gifts, she will give to you.
If she doesn’t love you now, soon she will,
even if she doesn’t want to.”
Come to me now, soothe
my anxious mind. Fulfill everything
my heart desires and be
– Sappho, quoted in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On the Arrangement of Words 23
(My own translation)
This is the only poem by the ancient Greek lyric poet Sappho to come down to us from antiquity intact. In its structure and form, it follows the conventions of a prayer: invoking the god or goddess whose help is sought, celebrating their noble lineage and superhuman powers, reminding them of their past relationship with the person making the prayer, and finally imploring them to use their full powers to help with the current problem. Sappho slyly takes this formula and turns it into a love poem about the anxiety of unrequited affection. With a little gentle self-mockery, she pictures herself repeatedly falling into one-sided love and Aphrodite as the long-suffering friend who comforts her when things don’t work out.
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