Saturday, January 4, 2020

For Love of a. . . Sappho, fr. 32

Dulcis mater, non possum profecto pulsare telam, desiderio domita [pueri / puellae?] gracilem per Venerem.

γλύκηα μᾶτερ, οὔτοι δύναμαι κρέκην τὸν ἴστον

πόθῳ δάμεισα παῖδος βραδίναν δι’ Ἀφροδίταν.

--Sappho fr. 32; translated from the Greek by Christian Frederick Neue, 1827.

Sweet mother, I can no longer work the loom, for I am undone by my love for a …,
thanks to the sublime Venus

* Although the narrator is clearly a woman (δάμεισα is feminine), the gender of the narrator's crush is unknown, as παῖς can mean young child, young man, or young woman. Is the narrator yearning for motherhood (literal meaning of παῖς) ? Does she love a young man (ὁ παῖς)? Does she love a young woman (ἡ παῖς)? The tantalizing ambiguity of this passage makes it one of the most poignant and universally beloved poems of the ancient world.

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