7 Greeks, translated by Guy Davenport. 213 fragments in 48 pages; no Greek. Translation, essay, and notes by Guy Davenport.
If Not, Winter, translated by Anne Carson. 192 fragments; Greek included. Translation, essays, and notes by Anne Carson. 9-page glossary.
The Love Songs of Sappho, translated by Paul Roche. 171 fragments; no Greek. Translation and essay by Paul Roche. 12-page introduction by Page DuBois. 15-page glossary. 7-page bibliography.
Sappho: A New Translation of the Complete Works (2014). no Greek. Translation and essay by Diane J. Raynor.
Sappho and the Greek Lyric Poets, translated by Willis Barnstone. 141 fragments occupy 10% of this 350-page book; no Greek. Includes an essay on Sappho and a concordance.
The Sappho Companion, Margaret Reynolds. 30 fragments; Greek included. Voluminous essay by Margaret Reynolds. 6-page bibliography. 12-page index. 7-page list of extracts.
Sappho to Valéry: Poems in Translation, John Frederick Nims. 4 of the longer fragments; Greek included. Translations of many other poets.

Fragment 16

Compare these translations of the first (of five) stanzas in Fragment 16. [A fragment number is shown only where a translator used a different number from that used by Anne Carson and others.]

Sequence shows the most recent first.

Anne Carson in If Not, Winter (2002) translates the first stanza as:

   Some men say an army of horse and some men say an army on foot
   and some men say an army of ships is the more beautiful thing
   on the black earth. But I say it is
          what you love.

Paul Roche translates this as in his poem 55, in his The Love Songs of Sappho (1998) [p. 83]:

   A cavalry corps, a column of men,
   A flotilla in line, is the finest thing
   In this rich world to see -- for some ... but for me   
        It's the person you love.

Margaret Williamson (1995) make interesting use of square brackets to echo the losses from the original due to papyrus damage, giving this start, from The Sappho Companion (2000) by Margaret Reynolds [p. 37]:

   [So]me an army on horseback, some an army on foot
   and some say a fleet of ship i[s] the loveliest sight   
   o[n this] da[r]k earth; but I say it is what-
   ever you desire.

David Constantine (1983) from The Sappho Companion (2000) by Margaret Reynolds [p. 36]:

   Some say nothing on earth excels in beauty
   Fighting men, and call incomparable the lines   
   Of horse or foot or ship. Let us say rather
   Best is what one loves.

Guy Davenport in 7 Greeks (1976-1995) translates this in his poem 25, with first stanza :

   A company of horsemen or of infantry
   Or a fleet of ships, some say,
   Is the black earth's finest sight,
   But to me it is what you love.

John Frederick Nims translates Sappho's first stanza as Fragment 16 in his Sappho to Valéry: Poems in Translation (1971) [p. 289]:

   Some prefer a glory of horsemen; warships,
   some; a phalanx, some -- as the dark horizon's
   finest sight. No -- listen to me! -- the best is
        what you're in love with.

Willis Barnstone translates Sappho's first stanza in his poem 124 thus, in his Sappho and the Greek Lyric Poets (1962, 1988) [p. 66]:

   Some say cavalry and others claim
   infantry or a fleet of long oars
   is the supreme sight on the black earth.   
   I say it is
   the one you love.

7 Greeks (1976-1995) translated with an essay by Guy Davenport.


"Girl, Interrupted: Who was Sappho" by Daniel Mendelsohn

An article in The New Yorker (March 16, 2016) in response to Diane J. Rayor's recent Sappho: A New Translation of the Complete Works.

Quotes portions of the "Old Age Poem" discovery in papyrus cartonnage:

As with much Archaic Greek poetry, the newly restored Fragment 58 — the "Old Age Poem" as it is now called — illustrates its theme with an example from myth. Sappho alludes to the story of Eos, the dawn goddess, who wished for, and was granted, eternal life for her mortal lover, Tithonos, but forgot to ask for eternal youth:

   [I bring] the beautiful gifts of the violet Muses, girls,
   and [I love] that song lover, the sweet-toned lyre.

   My skin was [delicate] before, but now old age
   [claims it]; my hair turns from black [to white].
   My spirit has grown heavy; knees buckle
   that once could dance light as fawns.

   I often groan, but what can I do?
   Impossible for humans not to age.
   For they say that rosy-armed Dawn in love
   went to the ends of the earth holding Tithonos,

   beautiful and young, but in time gray old age
   seized even him with an immortal wife.
Here as elsewhere in the new translation, Diane J. Raynor captures the distinctively plainspoken quality of Sappho's Greek, which, for all the poet's naked emotionality and love of luxe, is never overwrought or baroque. Every translation is a series of sacrifices; in Rayor's case, emphasis on plainness of expression sometimes comes at the cost of certain formal elements — not least, metre. The classicist M.L.West, who published a translation in the Times Literary Supplement, took pains to emulate the long line of Sappho's original:

   But me — my skin which one was soft is withered now
   by age, my hair has turned to white which once was black . . .
Still, given how disastrously cloying many attempts to re-create Sappho's verse as "song" have proved to be, you're grateful for Rayor's directness. Her notes on the translations are particularly useful, especially when she alerts readers to choices that are left "silent" in other English versions . . .

In her translation of the "Old Age Poem," Rayor makes one very interesting choice. The Cologne manuscript dates to the third century B.C., which makes it the oldest and therefore presumably the most reliable manuscript of Sappho that we currently possess. In that text, the poem ends after the sixth couplet with its glum reference to Tithonos being seized by gray old age. But Raynor has decided to include some additional lines that appear only in the fragmentary Oxyrhynchus papyrus [found at the end of the 19th century?]. These give the poem a far more upbeat ending:

   Yet I love the finer things . . . this and passion
   for the light of life have granted me brilliance and beauty.

If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho (2002) translated with an essay by Anne Carson.


The Love Songs of Sappho (1998) translated with an essay by Paul Roche.


Sappho: A New Translation of the Complete Works (2014) essay and translation by Diane J. Raynor.

As well as including several significant fragments discovered (in papyrus cartonnage) after Carson compiled her glorious 2002 if winter, the book and the essay include the then-normal (apparently) culture of the times that would make Sappho no longer the Romantic Confessional poet writing in isolation, but a community artist representing the culture rather than herself and whose works would often be sung by a 15-singer chorus.


Sappho, the earliest and most famous Greek woman poet, sang her songs around 600 BCE on the island of Lesbos. Of the little that survives from the approximately nine papyrus scrolls collected in antiquity, all is translated here: substantial poems, fragments, single words — and, notably, five stanzas of a poem that came to light in 2014. Also included are new additions to five fragments from the latest discovery, and a nearly complete poem published in 2004. The power of Sappho's poetry — her direct style, rich imagery, and passion — is apparent even in these remnants. Diane Rayor's translations of Greek poetry are graceful and poetic, modern in diction yet faithful to the originals. The full range of Sappho's voice is heard in these poems about desire, friendship, rivalry, family, and 'passion for the light of life'. In the introduction and notes, internationally respected Sappho scholar André Lardinois presents plausible reconstructions of Sappho's life and work, the importance of the recent discoveries in understanding the performance of her songs, and the story of how these fragments survived.

Rayor aims for both accuracy and poetry of translation. Some examples:

Fragment 104A (p.72):

   Evening star who gathers everything
   shining dawn scattered —
   you bring the sheep and the goats,
   you bring the child back to its mother.

Fragment 147:

   I say someone in another time will remember us.

Fragment 168B:

   The Moon and the Pleiades have set —
   half the night is gone.
   Time passes.
   I sleep alone.

Sappho and the Greek Lyric Poets (1962, 1988) translated by Willis Barnstone.

The Sappho Companion (2000) edited and introduced by Margaret Reynolds.


  1. The fragments of Sappho.

    Thirty of the 213 then-known fragments selected "to give some indication of the flavour of Sappho's work, her themes and subjects, as well as some sense of the world for which the poetry was created". The best things about this sections are:

  2. The Tenth Muse.

    The development of Sappho's reputation among Greeks and then Romans.

  3. The Learned Lady.

    The disappearance of Sappho's poetry just before the start of the European Dark Ages. The glimpses of Sappho beginning in the Renaissance.

  4. Nymphs and Satyrs.

    17th-century Sappho studies in France and Britain.

  5. Wanton Sapphoics

    18th-century Sappho studies in France and Britain. Includes Alexander Pope.

  6. The Sapphic Sublime.

    High opinions of Sappho become expressed more widely, including by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

  7. Hellenism and Heroes.

  8. The Lady with the Lyre.

    Includes the direction for an play, an 18th-century ballet, and a 19th-century drama, all about Sappho.

  9. Daughter of de Sade.

  10. The New Woman.

  11. Return to Mytilene.

  12. Modernist Sappho.

  13. Sapphistories.

  14. Swingers and Sisters.

  15. Fragments.

Sappho to Valéry: Poems in Translation (1971) translated by John Frederick Nims.

Time Line.

630 B.C.E.
Approximate date of birth of Sappho (ψαπφο) on the Greek island of Lesbos.

Manuscripts of 8th century C.E. discovered in the oasis of Fayum in the Nile Valley. [Roche's The Love Songs of Sappho.]

Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt (from Queen's College, Oxford) study rubbish remnants at Oxyrhynchus (now Behnasa), a small town 120 miles south of Cairo, Egypt. The salvaged papyrus fragments included portions of poems by Sappho, including the astonishing Fragment 16: 'Some say a host of cavalry'. [Reynolds' The Sappho Companion.]

Extensive unearthings by Professors Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt at Aphroditopolis and Oxyrhynchus; finds include many strips of papyrus rolls "used as a kind of papier-mâché to make the cartonage of coffins, or used as a lining for mummies, or wadded into the carcasses of crocodiles and other stuffed, sacred animals". [Roche's The Love Songs of Sappho.]

Poetarium Lesbiorum Fragmenta translated by Edgar Lobel and Denys Page. Their numbering scheme later used (essentially) by Voigt.

Sappho by Mary Barnard.

First version of Sappho and the Greek Lyric Poets translated by Willis Barnstone.

Sappho et Alcaeus: Fragmenta translated into French by Eva-Maria Voigt. The numbering (1-168B) of the fragments in her edition is followed by others, particularly Margaret Reynolds for The Sappho Companion.

Greek Lyric 1: Sappho and Alcaeus edited by David A. Campbell (Loeb Classical Library). His numbering scheme is the same (essentially) as that of both Lobel and Page and later Voigt.

The Love Songs of Sappho, translated by Paul Roche; 12-page introduction by Page DuBois.

The Sappho Companion, edited and introduced by Margaret Reynolds.

First USA edition of The Sappho Companion, edited and introduced by Margaret Reynolds.

Translation by Anne Carson of the fragments of Sappho: If Not Winter.

Discovery in papyrus cartonnage of portions of Sappho's "Brothers Poem" as quoted in part by Daniel Mendelsohn in his 2015 New Yorker article "Girl, Interrupted: Who was Sappho".

Discovery in papyrus cartonnage of portions of Sappho's "Old Age Poem" as quoted in part by Daniel Mendelsohn in his 2015 New Yorker article "Girl, Interrupted: Who was Sappho".

Links and Books.

Links and Books.

[Thanks for visiting.]