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Appeal to Aphrodite

After Sappho, fragment 1

Aphrodite, Zeus’s artful daughter, up there
on your glittering throne, immortal: hear my prayer!

Down here! It’s me again, your damsel in distress.
My heart’s a bleeding wound, it’s nearly breaking, mistress…

Yes, I know how many times you’ve heard my cry,
the same old, far-off SOS: ‘Don’t let me die!’
Each time you’ve left your royal father’s golden hall,
jumped in the chariot, cracked the whip, and with a call
of ‘Hold on, Sappho! Mercy mission on its way!’
have galloped to your servant’s aid without delay.

Each time, a lovely flock of speeding sparrows brings
you in to land; an escort in a whirr of wings
has flown with you from heaven, through the middle air
to this dark earth, this vale of tears, this world of care.
You’ve stepped out from the carriage in the usual place
and with a blessed smile on that immortal face
have wondered what or who (as if you didn’t know)
has caused this latest supplication: ‘Sappho,
what’s the matter now? Don’t tell me. Let me guess.
You want me to induce Perfection in a Dress
to change her mind about you. Who’s to blame today?
Which naughty girl attracts you and then runs away?
But don’t you worry. I’ll bewitch her scornful eyes
and she shall be the hungry hunter, you the prize.
You shower her with gifts, which she is pleased to spurn?
Soon she’ll be wooing you with presents in return.
She loves you… not. I’ll pull a petal from that flower
and make her love you till it hurts. It’s in my power.’

Sweet mistress, you’ve done this before. Do it again,
I beg you, come down, ease my mind, blot out its pain,
grant me my heart’s desire. Your wounded warrior can abide
the heat of love’s fierce battle with a goddess on her side.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by the author

Sappho, Fragment 1

ποικιλόθρον' ἀθανάτ Ἀφρόδιτα,
παῖ Δίος δολόπλοκε, λίσσομαί σε,
μή μ' ἄσαισι μηδ' ὀνίαισι δάμνα,
     πότνια, θῦμον,

ἀλλὰ τυίδ' ἔλθ', αἴ ποτα κἀτέρωτα
τὰς ἔμας αὔδας ἀίοισα πήλοι
ἔκλυες, πάτρος δὲ δόμον λίποισα
     χρύσιον ἦλθες

ἄρμ' ὐπασδεύξαισα· κάλοι δέ σ' ἆγον
ὤκεες στροῦθοι περὶ γᾶς μελαίνας
πύκνα δίννεντες πτέρ' ἀπ' ὠράνωἴθε-
     ρος διὰ μέσσω,

αἶψα δ' ἐξίκοντο· σὺ δ', ὦ μάκαιρα,
μειδιαίσαισ' ἀθανάτωι προσώπωι
ἤρε' ὄττι δηὖτε πέπονθα κὤττι
     δηὖτε κάλημμι,

κὤττι μοι μάλιστα θέλω γένεσθαι
μαινόλαι θύμωι· τίνα δηὖτε πείθω
μαισ' ἄγην ἐς σὰν φιλότατα; τίς σ', ὦ
     Ψά]πφ', ἀδικήει;

καὶ γὰρ αἰ φεύγει, ταχέως διώξει,
αἰ δὲ δῶρα μὴ δέκετ', ἀλλὰ δώσει,
αἰ δὲ μὴ φίλει, ταχέως φιλήσει
     κωὐκ ἐθέλοισα.

ἔλθε μοι καὶ νῦν, χαλέπαν δὲ λῦσον
ἐκ μερίμναν, ὄσσα δέ μοι τέλεσσαι
θῦμος ἰμέρρει, τέλεσον, σὺ δ' αὔτα
     σύμμαχος ἔσσο.