New Poems by Sappho Discovered

One of my fondest fantasies is that some archaeologist working in Greece or Italy will find a jar of scrolls that when read turn out to be the complete works of the poet Sappho — and just to continue the fantasy, packed in with them are the commentaries of the some erudite literary critic of the later Hellenistic period, reflecting back 500 years to her lifetime.

Despite her fame for centuries, most of her poems are incomplete. One of my favorite translations carries that sadness in its title: If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho.

So it is big news when a little more is found.

“The new Sappho is absolutely breath-taking,” said Albert Henrichs, a Harvard classics professor who examined the papyrus with Dr. [Dirk] Obbink. “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 two recovered poems, Prof. Henrichs notes, speaks of a “Charaxos” and a “Larichos,” the names assigned by ancient sources to two of Sappho’s brothers but never before found in Sappho’s own writings. It has as a result been labeled the Brothers poem by Prof. Obbink.

A downloadable version of Obbink’s paper is here.

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