Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

In our youth-besotted blame culture, the newly recovered poem by Sappho (600 BC: only our fourth complete one) has a point to make. I translate in plodding prose (square brackets = restored words): 'You, children, [rejoice in] the beautiful gifts of the violet-robed Muses/ [and the] clear, song-loving lyre./ As for me - old age [has laid its hands on] my once [soft] skin./ My hair has gone from black to white./ My heart has become heavy. My knees do not carry me,/ that once were nimble to dance like fawns./ This I lament without end; but what can I do?/ It is impossible for man not to grow old./ The story was that rosy-armed Dawn, overwhelmed by love,/ once carried off Tithonus to the ends of the earth./ He was young and handsome, but grey old age still caught up with him/ in time, even though the wife he had was immortal.'

Sappho orders the young girls ('children') she trained in the fine arts of poetry, music, song and dance to enjoy it while they can. She, by contrast, is no longer up to it. With her usual vivid, unflinching precision, she looks at herself and sees body and heart as they were once, and as they are now. Far from raging against the grief this causes her, she accepts it as the price of being human and sets her situation (as often) in the context of myth. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.