It took me a while to develop a taste for ancient Greek poetry, but that was probably because the shite we’re spoon-fed in school is poorly-translated, bowdlerized pablum, inoffensive to all but the most frothing of fundies.
Take Sappho. I don’t remember much of Sappho, except thinking she was horribly overrated. Well, what do you expect when all you’re given of her is a few pathetic fragments? They never had the guts to give us “Glittering-Minded Deathless Aphrodite.”
Glittering-Minded deathless Aphrodite,
I beg you, Zeus’s daughter, weaver of snares,
Don’t shatter my heart with fierce
But come now, if ever before
You heard my voice, far off, and listened,
And left your father’s golden house,
Yoking your chariot. Lovely the swift
Sparrows that brought you over black earth
A whirring of wings through mid-air
Down the sky.
They came. And you, sacred one,
Smiling with deathless face, asking
What now, while I suffer: why now
I cry out to you, again:
What now I desire above all in my
Mad heart. ‘Whom now, shall I persuade
To admit you again to her love,
Sappho, who wrongs you now?
If she runs now she’ll follow later,
If she refuses gifts she’ll give them.
If she loves not, now, she’ll soon
Love against her will.’
Come to me now, then, free me
From aching care, and win me
All my heart longs to win. You,
Be my friend.
Lessee, we have lesbian love, heathen goddesses, and intimations of mind control. Something tells me the more sheltered parents would’ve fainted.
Sappho didn’t limit her choices to women, and it’s rumored that she and her contemporary lyric poet friend Alcaeus were lovers. Whatever the truth of that, they were almost certainly friends, and one can almost imagine Alcaeus wrote this for her:
Don’t wait for the lamplighter, We’ve still the light of dusk: Come, friend, and fill your largest cups, As Dionysus taught us. We’ll drown our sorrows In two parts wine, one part water, Draining this cup, then another.
Sappho, in her fragments on the Muses, promises:
And I say to you someone will remember us
In time to come….
Alcaeus writes the epitaph for all poets:
A poet has died.
Drink and be drunk for all time.
The window of the soul
Is found in wine.
If I could travel through time, a dinner with Sappho and Alcaeus would be high on the list of destinations.