A depiction of Sappho
Credit: by Virginie Ancelot | Wikimedia Commons
Two new poems by the ancient Greek poet Sappho have been discovered on a papyrus owned by a private collector. The woman, who hailed from the island of Lesbos, was one of the most famous lyric poets of her day, during the seventh century B.C. But today, only one of her poems survives, along with fragments of four others.
"The new Sappho is absolutely breathtaking," Albert Henrichs, a Harvard classics professor who examined the papyrus, told The Daily Beast. "It is the best-preserved Sappho papyrus in existence, with just a few letters that had to be restored in the first poem, and not a single word that is in doubt. Its content is equally exciting."
One of the poems describes two men — Charaxos and Larichos — whom ancient scholars said were the names of Sappho's brothers. The poem expresses worry about sea-faring Charaxos' safety on his latest excursion. The other fragment is a love poem, which beseeches Aphrodite for help.
An anonymous donor gave the third century A.D. papyrus to Oxford, and classics professor Dirk Obhink soon realized the importance of the work once he began translating. Obhink has released a tentative version of the text, which should appear later this year in a peer-reviewed journal.