The other day an interesting blog post about astronomical information in a lovely piece by the Ancient Greek poet Sappho came up in my twitter feed. After reading the translations in that post, I said to a friend, “I really should sit down and learn Greek so I can really read Sappho’s poetry. Catullus is at his best when he’s translating her.” The next morning I sat down for a few hours with my old copy of C. A. E. Luschnig’s An Introduction to Ancient Greek, a long-ago gift from a friend who felt “Old Norse will have to wait!” as she wrote inside the cover. I don’t think I’ve learned Old Norse yet.
That afternoon I ran to The Edmonton Bookstore, one of a few fine second-hand booksellers in town, hoping that in their collection of Loeb Classical Library books there would be a copy of Sappho’s poems. Sure I’d be able to find texts online, but a real book is always better. Fortunately, there was one copy of Greek Lyric I: Sappho and Alcaeus on the shelf for me to grab and clutch to my book-loving heart.
In the evening I relaxed with my old Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon and the text of Sappho’s poem:
Δέδυκε μὲνἀ σελάννα
καὶ Πληίαδες· μέσαι δὲ
νύκτες, παρὰ δ᾽ ἔρχετ᾽ ὤρα·
ἔγω δὲ μόνα κατεύδω.
Together the Moon and Pleiades
have set. It’s midnight now.
The hours in bunches run away.
But I lie down alone.
I feel satisfied that the grouped, companionable departures of the heavenly bodies and of the hours contrasting Sappho’s lonely solitude have been captured in my translation. I am not, however, satisfied with the translation of Δέδυκε, with its connotations of dedication to the gods, by the colourless “have set.” But, considering that just twelve hours before I was under the impression that I knew little Greek, I’m feeling pretty good!
I wonder now whether I actually do know Old Norse.