Following are brief excerpts from "Who Sang Sappho's Songs?" by André Lardinois in READING SAPPHO: CONTEMPORARY APPROACHES, (pp 150-172), edited by Ellen Greene (Univ. of California Press, 1996); also English translations of some of the Sappho fragments mentioned by Lardinois (from GREEK LYRIC, Vol. I, English translations by David A. Campbell, Harvard University Press, 1982).

« Return to Early Music Women Composers CD Discography

Citations from Who Sang Sappho's Songs?
by André Lardinois | Related Sappho Fragments

"In recent years the traditional division of Greek lyric into exclusively choral or monodic poems has been called into question. The main subject of inquiry has been the choral poets, like Pindar, Stesichorus and Alcman. It has been argued that some or even most of their poetry was not performed by choruses, but by the poets themselves or other soloists. In this article I want to focus attention on one of the allegedly monodic poets Sappho (b. ca 612 BCE). I will argue that there are among her fragments more chorally performed songs than so far has been acknowledged."

___ ___ ___

"One of Sappho's books, probably the ninth, in the Alexandrian edition of her poems consists wholly of epithalamia, or wedding songs, at least some of which were meant to be performed by age-mates of the bride. Another type of song that is ascribed to her is religious hymns. There need not all have been choral, but some of them appear to have been genuine choral songs, such as fragment 140a, which is composed as a dialogue between a person (or group) impersonating the goddess Aphrodite and a group of young girls."

___ ___ ___

"The use of the first-person singular by a chorus can be explained in several ways: the chorus is perceived as one body, or each of its members is believed to be speaking for him- or herself, or the first-person singular represents the experiences of another person, (e.g., Sappho) with whom the chorus identifies itself.

___ ___ ___

"I have argued that three modes of performances can be detected in Sappho's poems, all public:

  • She sang while a chorus of young women danced (e.g. fragments 1, 5, 94, 95, 160?).
  • The young women did both the singing and the dancing (most epithalamia, fragments 2, 16, 17, 31? 96).
  • Exchanges between Sappho or another soloist and the group (fragments 21, 22, 58, 140a)."

___ ___ ___

"Anthropological studies of women's public or poetic voices in other cultures may be illuminating as well. One of the public speech genres associated with women both in archaic and in rural Greece today was the lament. There are echoes of this speech genre in Sappho's hymns (fr. 140a), in her wedding songs (fr. 114), and in a series of songs that are preserved among her "other" poetry. No matter how one reads Sappho's songs, it is important to realize that most of them probably were intended to be performed in public with the help of choruses."

(complete essay)


TRANSLATIONS of selected fragment texts: Sappho's Lyrics
(numbers 2-3, 16, 17, 22, 27, 30, 31, 96, 112, 114, and 140a.)
translations by David A. Campbell

    Hither, to me from Crete to this holy temple, where is your delightful grove of apple trees, and altars smoking with incense; therein cold water babbles through apple-branches, and the whole place is shadowed by roses, and from the shimmering leaves the sleep of enchantment comes down; therein too a meadow, where horses graze, blossoms with spring flowers, and the winds blow gently...;

    Come, Cypris (Aphrodite), take and pour gracefully into golden cups nectar that is mingled with our festivities, for these my friends and yours.

    Some say a host of cavalry, others of infantry, and others of ships, is the most beautiful thing on the black earth, but I say it is whatsoever a person loves. It is perfectly easy to make this understood by everyone: for she who far surpassed mankind in beauty, Helen, left her most noble husband and went sailing off to Troy with no thought at all of her dear child or dear parents, but love led her astray...lightly...and she reminded me now of Anactoria who is not here; I would rather see her lovely walk and the bright sparkle of her face than the Lydians chariots and armed infantry...

    (same papyrus as 16; possibly a hymn for a safe journey for Sappho and her companions)

    Let your graceful form appear near me while I pray, lady Hera, to whom Atridae, illustrious kings, made prayer; after accomplishing many labors, first around Ilium, then on the sea, they started out to this island, but could not complete their journey until they called on you and Zeus the god of suppliants and Thyone's lovely son (Dionysus); now be gracious and help me in accordance with that ancient precedent. Holy and fair...maidens... (to reach the shrine).

    I bid you, Abianthis, take your lyre and sing of Gonglya, while desire once again flies around you, the lovely one -- for her dress excited you when you saw it; and I rejoice: for the holy Cyprian (Aphrodite) herself once blamed me for praying ...this (word?).

    ...for you were once a tender child...come and sing this, all of you...converse and grant us...generous favors, for we are going to a wedding; and you too know this well; but send the maidens away as quickly as possible; and may the gods have (mercy?)...there is no road to great Olympus for mortals...

    ...night...maidens...all night long...might sing of the love between you and the violet-robed bride. Come, wake up: go and fetch the young bachelors of your own age, so that we may see less sleep than the clear-voiced bird (the nightingale).

    He seems as fortunate as the gods to me, the man who sits opposite you and listens nearby to your sweet voice and lovely laughter. Truly that sets my heart trembling in my breast. For when I look at you for a moment, then it is no longer possible for me to speak; my tongue has snapped, at once a subtle fire has stolen beneath my flesh, I see nothing with my eyes, my ears hum, sweat pours from me, a trembling seizes me all over, I am greener than grass, and it seems to me that I am little short of dying. But all can be endured, since even a poor man...

    ...Sardis...often turning her thoughts in this direction...she honored you as being like a goddess for all to see and took most delight in your song. Now she stands out among Lydian women like the rosy-fingered moon after sunset, surpassing all the stars, and its light spreads alike over the salt sea and the flowery fields; the dew is shed in beauty, and roses bloom and tender chervil and flowery melilot. Often as she goes to and fro she remembers gentle Atthis and doubtless her tender heart is consumed because of your fate...

    to the bridegroom
    "Happy bridegroom, your marriage has been fulfilled as you prayed: you have the girl for whom you prayed."

    to the bride
    "Your form is graceful, your eyes...gentle, and love streams over your beautiful face...

    to the bidegroom
    Aphrodite has honored you outstandingly."

    "Virginity, virginity, where have you gone, deserting me?"

    "Never again shall I come to you: never again shall I come."

    "Delicate Adonis is dying, Cytherea; what are we to do?"

    Cytherea (Aphrodite):
    "Beat your breast, girls, and tear your clothes.", a nonprofit, educational website