Monday, May 9, 2022

In Praise of Sappho: Demetrius, De Elocutione III.166-167

Quare et Sappho de pulchritudine canens, utitur verbis pulchris, et tota suavis est, & de cupidinibus utique, & de aere, & de halcyone, & omnia [fere] verba pulchra ipsius poesi inexta sunt: nonnulla autem & ipsa facricata est.

Aliter autem irridet agrestem sponsum, & ianitorem qui versatur in nuptiis, valde humiliter & pedestribus potius verbis quam poeticis. Quapropter haec ipsius poemata recitationi magis quam cantui apta sunt: neque accommodari possunt ad chorum, vel ad lyram, nisi sit chorus qui rem aliquam simpliciter enarrat.


Διὸ καὶ ἡ Σαπφὼ περὶ μὲν κάλλους ᾄδουσα καλλιεπής ἐστι καὶ ἡδεῖα, καὶ περὶ ἐρώτων δὲ καὶ ἔαρος καὶ περὶ ἁλκυόνος, καὶ ἅπαν καλὸν ὄνομα ἐνύφανται αὐτῆς τῇ ποιήσει, τὰ δὲ καὶ αὐτὴ εἰργάσατο.

Ἄλλως δὲ σκώπτει τὸν ἄγροικον νυμφίον, καὶ τὸν θυρωρὸν τὸν ἐν τοῖς γάμοις, εὐτελέστατα καὶ ἐν πεζοῖς ὀνόμασι μᾶλλον ἢ ἐν ποιητικοῖς, ὥστε αὐτῆς μᾶλλόν ἐστι τὰ ποιήματα ταῦτα διαλέγεσθαι ἢ ᾄδειν, οὐδ̓ ἂν ἁρμόσαι πρὸς τὸν χορὸν ἢ πρὸς τὴν λύραν, εἰ μή τις εἴη χορὸς διαλεκτικός.

--Demetrius of Phaleron, Libro de Elocutione III.166-167; Translated into Latin by Robert Faulis (1743)

Sappho sings about beauty while using beautiful words. She is sweet, and as she sings about love and springtime and halcyon birds, she weaves together just about everything beautiful in her songs that she has composed by her own hand.

But in other poems, when she criticizes a boorish groom or his best man at the wedding, she uses more base words than poetic ones. These sort of poems should be recited, not sung; they aren’t really adequate for either a chorus or a lyre, unless the chorus uses a conversational style.



Name:  Demetrius of Phaleron

Date:  350 – 280 BCE

Works:  On Style [de Elocutione]



Region 1: Peninsular Italy; Region 2: Western Europe; Region 3: Western Coast of Africa; Region 4: Egypt and Eastern Mediterranean; Region 5: Greece and the Balkans



 Demetrius of Phaleron was an Athenian philosopher, statesman, and author who lived during the 3rd century BCE. His magnum opus, On Style [de Elocutione], is a valuable resource for preserving poetic works of authors no longer extant.


ARCHAIC: (through 6th c. BCE); GOLDEN AGE: (5th - 4th c. BCE); HELLENISTIC: (4th c. BCE - 1st c. BCE); ROMAN: (1st c. BCE - 4th c. CE); POST CONSTANTINOPLE: (4th c. CE - 8th c. CE); BYZANTINE: (post 8th c CE)

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