“Once” and “Now”: Temporal Markers and Sappho’s Self-Representation

Eva Stehle

To refer to this article, please cite it in this way:
Eva Stehle, "'Once' and 'Now': Temporal Markers and Sappho's Self-Representation," Classics@ Volume 4: Ellen Greene and Marilyn Skinner, eds. The Center for Hellenic Studies of Harvard University, online edition of March 11, 2011. http://chs.harvard.edu/wa/pageR?tn=ArticleWrapper&bdc=12&mn=3534.


It is well known that memory plays an important role in Sappho’s poetry. As scholars have emphasized, Sappho vividly evokes the past, even “blurs” past and present, through her poetic recall. [1] But the fragment and the apparently complete poem yielded by the new Cologne papyri call attention to a different dimension of Sappho’s treatment of time, for temporal markers are surprisingly prominent in them. [2] Lines 1–8, the last lines of a poem that I call the Thalia poem, has nun twice, while the new version of 58 V (lines 9–20), which I call the Tithonos poem, has three instances of pota, and possibly one or more of nun, if suggested supplements are accepted. [3] Nun and pota as “now” and “once” are distinct in aspect as well as time. Pota is unaccented and indefinite, unlocated in calendric chronology, while nun is definite, emphatic, close at hand. They are common words, often found together, but Sappho uses them with unusual density in these two poems, and uses them in the context of her meditations on death and old age—two subjects intimately linked to time. [4]

Indefinite past and emphatic present: how does Sappho see their relationship to her mortality? The new Sappho inspires me to reexamine the articulation of time in her poetry. What I find is that “once” is an imaginary time of mythic, erotic plenitude, and “now” is a time of performative speech that, among other things, looks forward to the heroization of the poet. In other words, Sappho as speaker presents herself as poised between two eras when she is close to divinity. My reading is inevitably subjective, and I include some fragments that consist of no more than a few suggestive words. But by teasing out the contrasts that these two words imply and taking them in the strongest sense they will bear, I think I can identify an underlying pattern that runs through Sappho’s conception of her past, present, and future.

I begin with pota in the Tithonos poem. The three instances mark two different pasts: the first two refer to Sappho’s own lost youth (lines 11 and 14), while the third in line 17 refers to the distant, heroic past, when Dawn carried off Tithonos. [5] The resonance among the adverbs suggests that Sappho’s youth parallels Tithonos’ youthful beauty when Dawn fell in love with him. Alerted by the multiple instances of pota here, we can look for similar double past times in other poems. The most striking case is Sappho’s 16 V, even though it does not contain an explicit pota, for it also includes both a myth and Sappho’s own past. It can help us understand the Tithonos poem, and the latter, in turn, can illuminate 16 by making us think about time.

In 16 V, as in the Tithonos poem, Sappho adduces a myth to illustrate a human truth that she states and applies to herself as well. In 16 V the truth is that the most beautiful is whatever one loves. The myth of Helen leaving home for Troy is introduced by gar in line 6 as an exemplum; there is no immediate indication that it has deeper relevance for Sappho beyond its logical usefulness (hence perhaps no pota). [6] But the narrative quickly takes on a more complex form, for it contrasts conventional, male assessment (Helen as most beautiful of humans, 6–7; Menelaus as “best,” 8) with the implied perception of the female lover (Paris as most beautiful). [7] Sappho then marks the transition to her own case with nun in line 15:

. . . now reminded [me] of Anaktoria, who is not here, whose lovely walk I would rather see, and the bright sparkle of her face, than the Lydian chariots and foot soldiers with their weapons.

Sappho does not simply name one who now seems most beautiful to her, but instead expresses longing to see her. Anaktoria’s being beautiful is a memory, not a description of what Sappho actually sees when she looks. [8] Sappho and Anaktoria, now separated, were therefore together at some past time, and the poem’s audience is invited to recall that army, fleet, and Menelaus forced Helen to return to her assigned place also. What is left implicit in Helen’s story is her being violently separated from the one she loved, and what is left implicit in Sappho’s story of loving Anaktoria is that they were once together. It is as though Sappho’s story is the continuation and completion of Helen’s story. Thus, in the deep structure of her poem, Sappho creates a temporal alignment that does not separate the mythic time of Helen from her own past but rather separates lovers together from lovers parted. In mythic time a female lover (Helen or Sappho) can choose her love and experience intimacy, whereas nun (for Helen and Sappho) is the time when the conventional social structure has intervened. This difference between mythic time and now is marked cognitively as well: Helen “did not remember” (oude . . . emnasthē, lines 10–11) her child or parents when [Aphrodite?] led her off to Troy, but her story “reminds” (onemnais’, lines 15–16) Sappho of Anaktoria. Helen, that is, could forget her assigned familial place, but Sappho can only remember her love.

We can read the Tithonos poem in light of nun in 16 V. It presents a similar temporal divide: “once” a goddess chose the young, beautiful Tithonos as her love. But in this case it is human feebleness, not the social structure, that intervenes: Tithonos grows old. What is left implicit this time is that Eos abandoned Tithonos and that Sappho was once the intimate of a goddess, Aphrodite surely. Sappho suggests as much when she laments (13–14), “my knees do not carry (me), which truly once were nimble to dance like fawns.” Orcheisthai (“to dance”) is not found in the rest of Sappho’s extant work, but does occur in two fragments that Voigt lists as incerti auctoris but which many would consider Sapphic. The first is inc. auct. 16:

Cretan women indeed once (pot’) thus gracefully with their tender feet danced around the lovely altar . . . treading the tender bloom of the grass . . .

The time is “once,” and this is an idealizing image. The other fragment is a scrap, inc. auct. 35:

. . . Aphrodite . . . being freed . . . to you certainly . . . of women . . . blowing (?) . . . dance (OR: to dance), lovely Abanthis.

In both cases the adjective “lovely” (eroeis) occurs in the vicinity of “dance.” Aphrodite appears in inc. auct. 35, and the altar in 16 could be hers. [9] In the Tithonos poem too, dancing may signify being in the presence of Aphrodite and/or being in a divinely-charged erotic space. If so, then “once” represents a time when Aphrodite was present for Sappho, whereas now that her knees are weak Aphrodite has abandoned her. Sappho would then finish Tithonos’ story, his loss of the Dawn’s love, just as she finishes Helen’s story in 16 V. The Tithonos poem and 16 V, read together, suggest that for Sappho the time of myth extends up to her own youth and past loves.

The mythic quality of Sappho’s personal “once” is more explicit in 1 V, which shows Aphrodite coming in response to Sappho’s prayer for help “once.” [10] Poem 1 V contains both pota and nun within a prayer structure (as often). Sappho apostrophizes Aphrodite in the first stanza, then opens the second with a request (5–7): “But come here, if also once at another time (ai pota k’aterota), hearing my words from afar, you listened . . . .” With pota in line 5 Sappho opens the gates of memory, through which floods the picture of Aphrodite’s past arrival(s) in her sparrow-chariot, and she again hears Aphrodite’s voice. Aphrodite takes over Sappho’s own voice to address Sappho, and, using it, promises Sappho fulfillment of her wish. In the final stanza (line 25) Sappho reclaims her voice and says, “Come to me now also . . . .” By using a standard prayer form to recount her experience of a god’s undisguised presence and speech, Sappho again distinguishes two times, a “now” when she prays and a mythical time “once” when the goddess came in person, as if to a Homeric hero, in response to a call for help. [11] There is no myth except the one she creates by using epic imagery of a god’s advent to recount her own past. [12] Rather than assimilate herself to a mythic figure as she does in 16 V to Helen, she here presents her own earlier self as the one whom Aphrodite favored. But Eos snatching Tithonos, Aphrodite leading Helen to Troy, and Aphrodite coming to Sappho to promise her erotic fulfillment all occupy the indefinite past time.

Sappho 1 V is not the only poem in which she places herself in a scene with Aphrodite in the indefinite past. Sappho encounters the goddess again in a more fragmentary poem, 22 V. After requesting (kelomai) another woman, possibly Abanthis, to sing and describing a third woman’s desire for her (Abanthis), Sappho adds (14–19), “and I rejoice, for indeed Aphrodite herself once censured (me) because I pray . . . this . . . I want . . . .” One might think of Aphrodite blaming Helen in Iliad 3.414–17. Again, in the broken fragments at the end of 96 V appear the words (26–28), “Aphrodite . . . was pouring (OR: used to pour) nectar from a golden . . . .” This episode too must belong to “once” when she was visible to Sappho, and the nectar emphasizes the mythic, idyllic quality of the scene. [13] Thus in several poems Sappho portrays her past interaction with Aphrodite in the glow of myth, or, we could say, in a time continuous with the time of myth. To put it another way, Sappho “blurs” myth and memory but separates them from “now.”

A subtler use of pota appears in 96 V. [14] Here an idyllic landscape is the setting for “once,” the sort of place, perhaps, in which Sappho’s knees were “nimble to dance like fawns.” The first two preserved stanzas of 96 V are fragmentary, so we cannot tell whether pota was included, but the one legible clause (5) says “and she used to delight especially in your song.” The imperfect gives the indefinite temporal sense of pota. The clause also shows that Sappho is addressing one woman about another and that those two were together in the past and are now separated. Other isolated words suggest a magical time; there are hints of divine beauty in arignota (“very eminent”) and theasikelan (“like a goddess”), however they are to be emended and construed. [15]

Then in the third stanza we find nun (6) introducing the separation of the two women, for one of them is now in Lydia. Sappho does not use a first-person verb of speaking here but describes the distant woman as if her gaze could reach that far (6–17):

Now (nun) she is conspicuous among Lydian women as (was) once (pot’), the sun having set, the rose-fingered moon outshining all the stars; its light spreads over the salty sea and the flowery fields; the beautiful dew settles; roses bloom and tender chervil and flowerlike honey-lotus. Wandering often throughout, remembering gentle Atthis, she eats out . . . her delicate heart with longing.

In line 7 something odd occurs: within the account that begins with nun Sappho introduces the simile marked by pot’. The pot’ is difficult, as Hutchinson remarks in his commentary on this poem; the verbs describing the moon’s effect are all present (epischei, kechutai, tethalaisi), but taking pot’ as “sometimes” is intolerably feeble. [16] However, in light of the earlier examples, I think that Sappho uses pot’ to mark an unlocated mythic time, a past that is still visible when the moon fills the night with the same kind of erotic plenitude that Selene once did when she visited the sleeping Endymion and that Aphrodite does by her presence. [17] We know that Sappho told the story of the Moon’s love for Endymion. [18] The flowers blooming under the stimulus of dew are those found in Sappho’s imaginative erotic spaces belonging to sleep, death, and the gods. [19] The woman in Lydia becomes goddess-like by being identified with the moon and placed in this setting. [20] Pot’ is the sign that she has been absorbed into myth.

In lines 15–17, Sappho returns to the woman with zaphoitais’ (“wandering throughout”), an image ambiguously referring to her as permeating the space like the moon or wandering in lonely rootlessness. As the sentence continues, however, the latter meaning dominates: she is eating out her heart in longing. Time has shifted back to nun. Rhetorically it is as though the woman in Lydia is snatched away afresh from an embracing “once.” Or we could say that, in a stunning poetic collage, Sappho shows us the woman as she lives both in the seductive “once” of those who remember and fantasize about her (myth and memory blurred) and in her own painful “now.” [21] This is a different poetic effect, created for speaking to one woman about another, from Sappho’s self-description in the Tithonos poem, where she rigorously separates the two times, just as she does in speaking of herself in 1 V.

In both 96 V and 16 V Sappho uses a traditional trope—the moon/woman surpasses (perrechoisa) the stars as Helen is surpassing (perschethoisa, 6) in beauty among humans—but she uses it in unexpected ways, adding dimensions (Helen’s choice as anti-conventional, the moon’s erotic stimulus on flowering plants) and making them operate as implicit narratives rather than static comparisons. In the Tithonos poem she uses a less familiar image that combines innocent youth (the fawns) with erotic joy (dancing) to evoke a hint of the same landscape and potential for new love.

If pota signals the mythic time of female choice, erotic plenitude, and youth, what characterizes nun, time now? It is, first of all, a time of limitations recognized. In the Tithonos poem Sappho acknowledges (16) that “it is not possible for humans to be unaging” (note ou dunaton genesthai). In 16 V she says (21–22), in the first line of the stanza following the one quoted above, just as the papyrus gives out, “. . . it is not possible [for ?] to become (ou dunaton genesthai) . . . human(s) . . . to pray to share . . . .” Recognition of reality puts the time “now” beyond the boundary of myth. Her view is like Homer’s at moments in the Iliad when he looks back from the perspective of his own time: “such as humans are now.” [22] Of course, Tithonos’ aging is as much a part of the myth as Dawn’s carrying him off, but when Dawn closes the doors to lock him away from her, he disappears from myth and becomes part of “now,” a cicada. By assimilating his old age to her own, Sappho draws a parallel between their experience.

Nun is also the time of remembering, as in 16.15–16 V. Recognition is the other face of memory; they provoke each other. [23] As the time of reality and recognition, separation and memory, nun is also the time of emphatic speech. In 16 V Sappho recalls, utters a wish, and asserts her perception (egō de [phaimi], 3). In the Tithonos poem, Sappho says (15), “These things I groan over often,” or, with Richard Janko’s metrical supplement, “These things I now groan over often” (ta nun stenachizō thameōs). As in 16 V, she articulates a truth based on the memory and a desire to return to the remembered time. In 1 V “now” is the time of her prayer (25): “come to me now also.” In 22 V she commands and announces her gladness in light of her recollection. All of these are forms of expressive or performative speaking, a self-conscious measuring of the distance at which Sappho stands from the desired past.

In recalling mythic time Sappho is like a bard bringing the lost heroic past to light again through memory. But she is a bard for whom the memory and loss are personal as well as mythic, so she does not just recite. She groans, wishes, prays for the return of divine presence, or acknowledges its impossibility with a resigned rhetorical question. While, as bard, she tells us about that past, she presents herself as wishing to re-experience it herself. This combination of mythic grandeur and personal investment is one source of Sappho’s poetic power. [24] But we cannot speak simply of Sappho’s recapturing memory; she reshapes it into a different kind of past, emotionally absolute, supremely vivid, and now accessible only through poetry—like myth. In other words, the temporal divide gives Sappho’s poetry its monumentality. [25]

This brings us to the Thalia poem, which can teach us more about nun. The word appears twice. In the first instance, nun thalia (“now festivity . . .,” 3), she may have been making a declarative statement, or, as in other poems in which nun is the time of performative speech, she may be asserting that festivity should occur now. The first editors supply ge[noito or ge[nesthō, that is, “may there be (OR: let there be) festivity.” In line 6 she refers to “now” when she is on earth rather than under it. In this poem (unlike the ones so far examined), she associates “now” with her singing. [26] Thalia, of course, involves music along with other kinds of festivity. More specifically (7–8), Sappho is now (apparently) liguran (“clear-voiced”) “whenever taking hold of the lyre . . . I sing, Muse, beautiful things.”

At the same time, in the extant lines, at least, these references to “now” do not contrast with the past; instead, they offer a model for the future. As artist, Sappho is concerned with her status in future time, so her performative speaking in this context predicts the heroizing of the poet Sappho rather than recalling the mythic lover Sappho. [27] A tentative translation might read (4–8):

[me being] . . . beneath the earth . . . having a prize-of-honor (geras) as is appropriate . . . may they [?marvel at] as now when I am on the earth . . . clear-voiced, whenever taking hold of the lyre . . . I sing, Muse, beautiful things. [28]

Sappho speaks of being remembered after death in other fragments: 147; Aristides, Or. 28.51 (= 55 V Test); and, implicitly, 55 and 150 V. She connects remembrance of her to her association with the Muses in all of these except 147, and speaks of the Muses as making her “honored” in 32 V. [29] Here, however, she takes the idea farther. She describes herself as “marveled at” now (if [thauma]zoien is the correct supplement) and hopes that she will still rouse wonder and have the geras she deserves after she is dead. [30] Geras is a concrete gift in honor of a human or a divinity.

With the Thalia poem we should compare 65.5–10 V. The remains are very fragmentary:

Sappho, the queen (?) of Cyprus (= Aphrodite?) loves (?) you, although great(ly) . . . for as many people as shining [?the sun] . . . everywhere fame (kleos) . . . and you also in Acheron . . . .

This scrap adds kleos to Sappho’s vocabulary of current renown and/or continued honor after death. [31] The Thalia poem together with 65 V thus gives us a list: geras, kleos, thauma. These suggest the honors paid to heroes. In the face of death, Sappho seems to claim for herself what Homer creates for his heroes: fame and honors in response to lives lived at the extreme of intensity, lives in which the gods take an interest and that make more mundane humans wonder. So she desires to be heroized as the bard of her own “mythic” experience (and that of other women who choose their loves). In the future her “now” of song and the “once” of the mythic experience that it records will be united when future generations marvel at her vivid re-imagining of her interactions with Aphrodite and experience of female erotic subjectivity.

Her declaration, “now thalia,” may therefore be a proclamation that festivity—the festivity with which she should be honored in the future—is to start now. Her performative words turn the present into that festivity for the audience of the poem. Since, within the poem, she is always still “now on earth,” she must always inspire celebration of thalia “now.” Paides are the next generation, who will pass on the message to celebrate by singing this song in her voice. (For readers, too, she is always still alive and marveled at, while hoping that the wonder will persist.)

I thus prefer the supplement to the first line of the Tithonos poem suggested by Gronewald and Daniel (pherō tade Mousan io-, which yields, “I bring these beautiful gifts of the violet-breasted Muses”) to the one proposed by V. di Benedetto (gerairete Moisan io-, “Honor the beautiful gifts of the violet-breasted Muses”). [32] The first makes Sappho claim the Muses’ gifts. In light of the Thalia poem, where she views her poetic performance as a way of surviving death, she is surely more likely to emphasize her poetry and singing as the Muses’ gift to her in old age. [33]

And that brings us back, finally, to Tithonos. I said earlier that what is left implicit in this poem is that Eos abandoned Tithonos and that Sappho was once the intimate of Aphrodite. But just as Sappho’s story does not end with loss of Aphrodite’s favor, neither does Tithonos’. In the version of the myth found in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite Tithonos becomes a singer in his old age (237–38). There has been debate over whether we should assume that Sappho is alluding to that conclusion of the story. [34] I think that, just as she “finishes” Helen’s story in 16 V with her wish to see her own love again, so it is open to us to construe this poem as Sappho completing Tithonos’ story by singing in her old age. Tithonos becomes a singer when he loses the attention of Eos and drops out of the myth, and likewise Sappho presents herself as a singer who in old age can no longer experience the indefinite, mythic past of erotic plenitude. We should imagine Tithonos too, like the woman in Lydia in 96 V, as thrust out from “once” into “now,” where he (still) sings beautifully about his lost youth, love, and life in loveliness with a goddess.

Together the poems seem to outline a temporal sequence: mythic plenitude in an indefinite past, song recreating or requesting renewal of that (imaginary) plenitude in the present, and immortality in hero-cult, figuratively or literally, in the future, based on the power of the singer’s song and by analogy with Tithonos. Thalia now and Tithonos in the past and future (beloved beauty and eternal singer) comprise the trajectory Sappho envisions for herself and the place of her poetry in it.


Boedeker, D. 1979. “Sappho and Acheron.” Arktouros: Hellenic Studies Presented to Bernard M. W. Knox (ed. G. W. Bowersock, W. Burkert, M. C. J. Putnam) 40–52. Berlin.

Brown, C. 1989. “Anactoria and the Charitōn amarugmata: Sappho fr. 16, 18 Voigt.” Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica 32:7–15.

Di Benedetto, V. 1985. “Il Tema della Vecchiaia e il fr. 58 di Saffo.” Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica 19:145–63.

Bernsdorff, H. 2005a. “Offene Gedichtschlüsse.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 153:1–6.

———. 2005b. “La Nuova Saffo e Dintorni.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 153:7–20.

duBois, P. 1995. Sappho is Burning. Chicago.

Ferrari, G. 2002. Figures of Speech: Men and Maidens in Ancient Greece. Chicago.

Geissler, C. 2005. “Der Tithonosmythos bei Sappho und Kallimachos: Zu Sappho fr. 58 V, 11–22 und Kallimachos, Aitia fr. 1 Pf.” Göttinger Forum für Altertumswissenschaft 8:105–14.

Gosetti-Murrayjohn, A. 2006. “Sappho as the Tenth Muse in Hellenistic Epigram.” Arethusa 39:21–45.

Greene, E. 1994. “Apostrophe and Women’s Erotics in the Poetry of Sappho.” Transactions of the American Philological Association 124:41–56. Repr. in Greene 1996:233–47.

———, ed. 1996. Reading Sappho: Contemporary Approaches. Berkeley.

———. 2002. “Subjects, Objects, and Erotic Symmetry in Sappho’s Fragments.” In Rabinowitz and Auanger 2002:82–105.

Hardie, A. 2005. “Sappho, the Muses, and Life after Death.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 154:13–32.

Hutchinson, G. O. 2001. Greek Lyric Poetry: A Commentary on Selected Larger Pieces. Oxford.

Jarrett, S. 2002. “Sappho’s Memory.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 32:11–43.

Luppe, W. 2004. “Überlegungen zur Gedicht-Anordnung im neuen Sappho-Papyrus.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 149:7–9.

Most, G. 1981. “Sappho Fr. 16.6–7 L.-P.” Classical Quarterly 31:11–17.

Page, D. 1955. Sappho and Alcaeus: An Introduction to the Study of Ancient Lesbian Poetry. Oxford.

Rabinowitz, N. S., and L. Auanger, eds. 2002. Among Women: From the Homosocial to the Homoerotic in the Ancient World. Austin.

Rawles, R. 2006. “Notes on the Interpretation of the ‘New Sappho’.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 157:1–7.

Rosenmeyer, P. 1997. “Her Master’s Voice: Sappho’s Dialogue with Homer.” Materiali e Discussioni per l’Analisi dei Testi Classici 39:123–49.

Segal, C. 1974. “Eros and Incantation: Sappho and Oral Poetry.” Arethusa 7:139–60.

Skinner, M. 1991. “Aphrodite Garlanded: Erôs and Poetic Creativity in Sappho and Nossis.” Rose di Pieria (ed. F. de Martino) 79–96. Bari.

Snyder, J. 1997. Lesbian Desire in the Lyrics of Sappho. New York.

Stehle, E. 1990. “Sappho’s Gaze: Fantasies of a Goddess and Young Man.” differences 2:88–125. Reprinted in Greene 1996:193–225.

———. 1997. Performance and Gender in Ancient Greece: Nondramatic Poetry in its Setting. Princeton.

West, M. L. 2005. “The New Sappho.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 151:1–9.

Williamson, M. 1995. Sappho’s Immortal Daughters. Cambridge, MA.

Winkler, J. J. 1990. The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece. New York and London.

Worman, N. 1997. “The Body as Argument: Helen in Four Greek Texts.” Classical Antiquity 16:151–203.


[ back ] 1. Hutchinson 2001 uses the word “blur.” See also Greene 1994, Stehle 1997:297.

[ back ] 2. See Gronewald and Daniel 2004a and 2004b for the new fragments.

[ back ] 3. I accept the Cologne text as a complete poem. See Bernsdorff 2005a and 2005b and Edmunds, this volume, for the dispute over whether an “open ending” is plausible. Edmunds shows that it is rare in archaic monody, but Sappho is an innovative poet, and she draws the moral before adducing the myth. Moreover, lines 23–26 do not appear to pick up an earlier idea, whereas Sappho’s return from myth, simile, etc., is sharp and elegant in 1, 2, 16, 31, and 96. It may be that the relevant idea was in 23–24, but the few extant words do not encourage that thought. See also Rawles 2006 for a nuanced view, di Benedetto 1985:153–63 for an older one. Gronewald and Daniel 2004a:3–4 suggest a reference to Phaon.

[ back ] 4. Gronewald and Daniel 2004a:2–3 point out the thematic associations between the two poems. See also Clayman, this volume.

[ back ] 5. For the story see Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 218–38; Hellanikos FgrH 4 F 140, where the god changes him into a cicada; LIMC s.v. Eos.

[ back ] 6. See Most 1981 on Sappho as exemplum.

[ back ] 7. Stehle 1990; Worman 1997:167–70.

[ back ] 8. See Brown 1989 on the poetic associations of the “bright sparkle” of Anaktoria’s face.

[ back ] 9. An altar appears in 2.3 V in the enchanted landscape where Aphrodite is invited to pour nectar mixed with festivity (thalia) into golden cups.

[ back ] 10. See esp. Greene 2002 on this poem.

[ back ] 11. See Segal 1974:153 and passim on the incantatory quality of Sappho’s poetry. With Sappho’s mythicizing compare Ferrari 2002:17–19 and chs. 1–2 passim, who suggests that images of women together cannot be divided between mythic and genre scenes.

[ back ] 12. Winkler 1990:167–70 discusses Sappho’s self-identification with Diomedes and the parallels with Homer’s description of Athena and Hera mounting and driving a chariot to go to the battle at Troy in Iliad 5 lines 719–32, 767–72. For Diomedes’ prayer see Iliad 5 lines 115–20. See also n. 25.

[ back ] 13. See also 2 lines 13–16 V for the image of Aphrodite pouring nectar.

[ back ] 14. On this poem see Snyder 1997:45–55, esp. 49–52 on nun de and the simile of the moon; Stehle 1997:300–302.

[ back ] 15. Voigt obelizes theasikelan arignota but favors the interpretation se theais’ ikelan Arignota, taking Arignota as a proper name in vocative or nominative. Hutchinson 2001:179 also favors the proper name. Page 1955 ad loc. prefers to take arignota as an adjective agreeing with singular thea, citing Od. 6 line 108, where it is used of Artemis. Since, as he points out (89 ad 4–5), the name does not appear among those known later from her poems, I adopt his view. The word is used of Artemis in Od. 6 line 108.

[ back ] 16. Hutchinson 2001:180 ad 7–8. West emends to os ot’ (Hutchinson ad loc. and app. crit.) Contrast 34 V: “The stars around the beautiful moon hide their shining shape whenever (hoppote) it is full and lights most brightly the earth . . . .” The verb is subjunctive.

[ back ] 17. Cf. the mixture of physical description and appeal to the goddess in Homeric Hymn 32 to Selene and in 154 V: “The moon appeared full and they (female) stood as around an altar . . . .” For association of altar with dancing, Aphrodite, and erotic landscapes, see below.

[ back ] 18. Cf. 199 V and Stehle 1990, esp. 89 and n. 5 on Tithonos.

[ back ] 19. See 2.6 V for roses, 95.12 V for lotus on the banks of Acheron; Boedeker 1979:47–50.

[ back ] 20. See Williamson 1995:151–52 on this effect.

[ back ] 21. Cf. 17 V, in which Sappho prays (?) to Hera. In the prayer (or memory; see Voigt ad loc.), she refers to the Atreidai being unable to leave Troy, apparently to come to Lesbos. In line 11, with nun, she shifts from myth to her present concern, whatever that was. 62 V, a scrap with twelve line beginnings, contains pot’ and nun. Fragment 166 V reads, “They say that Leda once found a hyacinthine . . . egg.” Conversely, in 160 V we find “these delightful (?) things I now sing beautifully to my (female) companions.”

[ back ] 22. E.g., Il. 20 lines 285–87: Aeneas picks up a boulder “that even two men could not carry . . . .”

[ back ] 23. For an interesting study from the perspective of rhetorical theory see Jarrett 2002.

[ back ] 24. Cf. Stehle 1997:299–300 and 310–11.

[ back ] 25. For Sappho’s relationship to Homer see Winkler 1990:167–70, 175–77, Snyder 1997:63–78, Rosenmeyer 1997:133–47. For Hellenistic views of Sappho as a “female Homer” and bibliography on earlier studies, see Gosetti-Murrayjohn 2006:37–40.

[ back ] 26. Di Benedetto 2005:11–12 notes the connections among nun, singing, and beauty.

[ back ] 27. Cf. 147, and (by implication) 55 V and test. IV, including Aristides Or. 28.51 (=193 Lobel and Page), which refers to Sappho saying in a similar context that there will not be forgetfulness of her after death.

[ back ] 28. Conceivably a lost noun is the subject of the feminine accusative participles and adjective in 5–7. The speaker’s aeidō at the end of 8 would then belong to a short summary clause.

[ back ] 29. Skinner 1991:80–90 identifies Aphrodite as Sappho’s Muse; I would modify that conclusion to say that Aphrodite is the inspiration for Sappho’s self-mythologizing, while she associates the Muses with her poetry as artistry. For a different view of Sappho’s vision of the underworld and her continued existence, see di Benedetto 2005.

[ back ] 30. See Hardie 2005:22–27 for the idea of immortality in the underworld here.

[ back ] 31. Di Benedetto 2005:15 points out that kleos appears elsewhere in Sappho only in 44 V, a narrative in “epic” style of the wedding of Hector and Andromache. In 95 V Sappho recounts a past interchange with Hermes (?) about wishing to die and see the banks of Acheron dewy with lotus. Boedeker 1979:49 notes the similarity to Elysium.

[ back ] 32. Gronewald and Daniel 2004a:7, but see Luppe 2004:8; cf. Lidov, this volume, for another suggestion making Sappho the one with the gifts of the Muses; di Benedetto 1985:148–49. On 147 he adduces 21 V, where references to old age and a request to another to sing appear; we cannot assume that the situation there is parallel to that of the Thalia poem. West 2005:4–5 suggests ummes peda Moisan io- and spoudasdete kai ta]n for the first two lines, which yield, “you, together with the violet–breasted Muses, children, be eager for their beautiful gifts and for the song–loving, clear–voiced lyre.”

[ back ] 33. Unlike Homer, Sappho links the Muses with being remembered rather than remembering. Her “musicality” ensures her fame, another reason for her to claim the Muses’ gift.

[ back ] 34. Geissler 2005:107–8 argues that Sappho does not stress Tithonos’ immortality, since she cannot achieve that, but that the open ending can imply the survival of his voice. Cf. also 101A V, a description of a cicada pouring out “clear-voiced song.” It is not clear that Tithonos was identified with the cicada before the Hellenistic period, but the statement in the Hymn to Aphrodite (237) that “his voice flows ceaselessly,” with its present tense, implies some such transformation. So, tentatively, Rawles 2006:5–7.