Thursday, 1 June 2017

Catullus and Sappho: ode to Anactoria

As I studied Catullus in high school, I was introduced to the following carmen, whose title is the first line:

Ille mi par esse deo videtur,

Ille, si fas est, superare divos,
Qui sedens adversus identidem te
Spectat et audit,

Dulce ridentem; misero quod omnis
Eripit sensus mihi. Nam simul te,
Lesbia, aspexi, nihil est super mi
<Postmodo vocis>,

Lingua sed torpet, tenuis sub artus
Flamma demanat, sonitu suopte
Tintinant aures, gemina teguntur
Lumina nocte.

Otium, Catulle, tibi molestum'st;
Otio exultas nimiumque gestis;
Otium et reges prius et beatas
Perdidit urbes.

The line marked in <> was added in some critical edition of Catullus to complete an otherwise incomplete stanza. The matching parts of the translations are also marked thus. A consistent part of this poem is evidently modeled on a poem by Sappho, which arrived to us in an incomplete form with four complete stanzas and an extra line. So let's see the Greek text of that poem, known as the Ode to Anactoria (Ωδή εις Ανακτορία). Before anyone asks in comments, the letter ϝ (called wau or more commonly digamma) is obsolete in the typical Attic Greek texts, but survives in some dialects, for example, in Sappho's Aeolic.

Φαίνεταί μοι κῆνος ἴσος θέοισιν
Ἔμμεν’ ὤνηρ, ὄττις ἐνάντιός τοι
Ἰσδάνει καὶ πλάσιον ἆδυ φωνεί-
σας ὐπακούει

Καὶ γελαίσας ἰμέροεν. τό μ’ ἦ μάν
Καρδίαν ἐν στήθεσιν ἐπτόαισεν.
Ὠς γὰρ εὔιδον βροχέως σε, φώνας
οὖδεν ἔτ’ ἴκει,

Ἀλλὰ κὰμ μὲν γλῶσσα ϝέαγε, λέπτον
Δ’ αὔτικα χρῷ πῦρ ὐπαδεδρόμακεν,
Ὀππάτεσσι δ’ οὖδεν ὄρημμ’, ἐπιρρόμ-
βεισι δ’ ἄκουαι,

Κὰδ δέ μ’ ἴδρως κακχέεται, τρόμος δέ
Παῖσαν ἄγρει, χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίας
Ἔμμι, τεθνάκην δ᾽ ὀλίγω ’πιδεύης
φαίνομ’ ἔμ’ αὔτᾳ·

Ἀλλὰ πᾶν τόλματον, ἐπεὶ πένητα

Now, let us read these in my own English translation: Catullus on the left, Sappho on the right. To keep the meter, I chose iambic pentameters (or hendecasyllabics) for the longer lines, and shorter 5-syllable – 5 when the final word is stressed on the penultimate syllable, 4 if it's stressed on the last syllable, as typically happens in English. I threw in rhymes: all long lines in a single stanza rhyme, and the short lines rhyme between pairs of stanzas. A file created 26/11/10 15:47 and edited 7/1/11 15:47 has the English version of Sappho, while one with the same creation date and time and an edit timestamp on the same day at 20:39 doesn't. This leads me to suppose the translation dates precisely to 7/1/11.

Catullus's poem

That man equal to th’ Gods doth seem to me,
That man, if that’s allowed, o’er them to be,
Who, sitting ’fore thee, doth continuouslỳ
Begaze and hear

Thee sweetly smiling; me, sad, this to see
Robs of all senses. If I do see thee,
O Lesbia, <afterwards> immediatelỳ
No <voice> I bear,

My tongue gets numb, through th’ body thin and slight
A flame doth spread, by their own sound in spite
Of me my ears buzz, and a double night
Covers my eyes.

Otïum, Catullus, doth bring thee harm;
Otium gives thee boasting, too great’s his charm;
Otium’s done to kings and strong cities harm,
Making them flies.

Ode to Anactoria

As lucky as the Gods he seems to me,
That man who, sitting right in front of thee,
Doth listen as from your mouth you set free
So sweet a voice,

And, lovèly, you smile; which in my breast
My heart indeed doth shake, which has no rest.
I see you for a blink, and from my breast
There comes no voice:

My tongue is broke, and through my body͜ a flame
So thin there creeps, and my eyes I do blame
For seeing nothing, and I cannot tame
My buzzing ears,

And sweat pours down from me, and thoroughlỳ
Tremor doth have me, I’m – that I can see –
Paler than grass, and Death seems close to me,
Ready to pierce;

But all then can be borne, for one so poor

"Making them flies" in l. 16 on the left was probably meant as "making them easy to crush for enemies". I probably was unable to come up with a better strategy to get the rhyme in there.

But this does not end the work I did on these two poems. I also translated the Greek poem into Latin (a translation present in both above-mentioned files):

Mī vĭdētŭr īllĕ vĭr ēssĕ dīvīs
Pār quĭdēm, quī ēt sĕdĕt āntĕ tēmĕt
Prōxĭmūsquĕ dūlcĕ lŏquēntĕm a͞udĭt
A͞urĭbŭ’ tentis,

Ātquĕ sūbrīdēntĕm ămābĭli͞us. Cŏr
Pēctŏr’ īn mĕ’ hōc ăgĭtāvĭt īntŭs.
Tē brĕv’ āspēxī sĭmŭl, ātquĕ nūllă
Vōx vĕnĭt ād mē,

Līnguă a͞utēm rūmpĭtŭr, āc tĕnu͞is mī
Flāmmă dēmānāt stătĭm īntŭ’ mēmbrīs,
Me͞is ŏclīs nĭhīl vĭdĕōquĕ, tīntĭ-
nāntquĕ mĭh’ a͞urēs,

Sūdŏr ābs mē dēflŭĭt, āc trĕmōr mē
Tōt’ hăbētquĕ, pāllĭdĭōrquĕ hērbā
Sūmquĕ, īpsī mī vĭdĕōrquĕ pa͞ulŭm
Mōrtĕ ăbēssĕ;

Āt pŏtīst fērr’ ōmnĭă, pa͞upĕrēm cu̽m

And viceversa, I translated the Latin poem into Aeolic Greek, always keeping the meter:

Κῆνος ἶσος φαίνετ’ ἔμοι θέᾠμμεν,
Κῆνος, εἰ δ’ ἔξεστι, θέοις ἔχην πέρ,
Ὂστ’ ἐνάντι͞ος ἰσδόμενος σκόπει σε
Πόλλα τ’ ἀκούει τ’

Ἰμέρουν γέλαισαν· ἄ μοι πένητι
Πάντα γ’ αἰσθήτη φέρει ἄβ. Γὰρ εἶδον,
Λεσβί’, ὤς σ’, ἔμοι <μετὰ τοῦτο φώνας>
Οὖδεν ἔτ’ ἔστι,

Γλῶσσα νάρκαται δ’, ὐπὸ χρῷ δὲ λέπτον
Δεδρόμακεν πῦρ, ἴδιος ψόφος τις
Ὦσιν ἐνρόμβει δὲ, δίπλᾳ δὲ κρύπτοντ’
Ὂππατα νύκτι.

Ἀργία, Κατύλλε, βλαβής σοί ἐστι·
Ἀργίᾳ χαίρεις τε λίαν τε λύννεις·
Ἀργία πρόσθεν βασίλη͜ας πόλεις τε
Πέρσε μακαίρας.

Finally, I translated them both into Italian, with the same meter choice as in English, plus keeping the rhythm of the original sapphic stanzas in Catullus. I would have tried to do so for Sappho too, had I conceived the idea when I translated it. The Sappho to Italian translation is also in both files mentioned above, but with the variants "mee" and "tee" in stanza 2.


Quello esser pari ad un dio mi pare,
Quello, se si può, divi sorpassare,
Che, seduto innanzi a te, guardare
Vedo e te udire,

Mentre, dolce, ridi; e questo a me
Ogni senso toglie. Se vedo te,
Lesbia, all’istante ogni <voce> a me
Vedo sparire,

La mia lingua intorpida, e tenue foco
Corre su pel corpo, e di suon non poco
Fischian l’aure, e duplice notte in loco
D’occhi͜ ho sul volto. (Original: D'occhi ho 'n volto)

Ozïar, Catullo, è molesto a te;
’N ozïar ti esalti e stragodi, ve’;
Ozïare a forti cittadi e re
Tutto ha già tolto.

(Changed 12/9/21 18:42

Ode ad Anattoria

Mi sembra invero quegli pari͜ a͜ un dio,
Quell’uom ch’innanzi͜ a te ora vegg’io
Seder, e presso a te, che dolce vio
Parlare,͜ ascolta,

E͜ amabile sorridere.͜ E di ciò
Sconvolto͜ invero ’l cuore͜ in petto i’͜ ho.
Vedoti poco,͜ e voce più non ho:
Tutta m’è tolta,

La lingua è rotta, ed un sottile foco
Mi corre su pel corpo, com’ per gioco,
Gl’occhi non vedon, ronzan poi in loco
D’udir gl’orecchi,

Sudor da me giù versasi, tremore
Tutta mi tiene, più ch’erba pallore
Ho, poco manca, mi par, ch’in pallore
D’morte mi specchi;

Tutto s’ può sopportar però, ch’un miser


The adjective χλωρός means like "pale green", and then generically "pale". This is why I originally interpreted χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίας as «greener than grass», which is what «paler than grass» originally read as. The Latin originally read «Tōt’ hăbētqu’, ēt vīrdĭŏr īpsă hērbā», and the Italian read «più ch’erba verdore / I͜o ho, ci manca poco ch’in pallore / D’morte mi specchi». I had actually fixed that as above somewhere between 13/6/12 8:13 and 15/6/12 18:05 in my "tesina", which is that thing that starts your oral exam in the High School finals in Italy, where you explore any topic of your liking (I had done Sappho, and then added some Alcaeus to the mix), but all the many changes made in the tesina somehow didn't end up on the blog until I discovered the tesina because of the unappliable change mentioned at Hymn to Aphrodite. The fact that the tesina files have this nice evolution, and then the most recent file undoes all the changes, probably has something to do with this.

Critical note

Not much doubt about the text: just that missing line which is AFAIK universally agreed upon. Then again, I just trusted whatever first source I had. It is Sappho that I researched, not Catullus.

There are various variants of the text of Sappho's poem. Let's comment stanza by stanza.
  • Luckily, everyone agrees on the first stanza.
  • The third line of the second stanza is sort of controversial. I mean, all authoritative references I know of (Bibliotheca Augustana, Edmonds, Campbell) give almost the same reading, ὠς γὰρ ἔς σ' ἴδω βρόχε', ὤς με φώνας, but I say hey, is that tmesis of εἰσίδω to force in a pronoun really necessary? Yeah, OK, Aeolic would have ἐσίδω which wouldn't fit the meter, but the tmesis still sounds bad to me. This, together with the fact Catullus uses aspexi, perfect, and est super, present, is why I follow Wharton for that particular line, and also the following, where most have  εἴκει, but according to what I wrote back when I worked on these, the most authoritative Greek dictionary for us Italians, the Rocci, does not give any senses to that verb that fit the poem, whereas ἴκει, "comes", does fit. Problem is, this Wharton only puts the texts in with tons of different translations and no critical apparatus, so I can't consider that as an authoritative reference, and sadly, I can't find anything authoritative for this reading. So I asked on Quora for experts opinions, and about how this reading was produced in the first place. Since the Quora post generated many complaints from the site and no answer or comments, I investigated the most appropriate Stack Exchange site for this and eventually posted on Literature Stack Exchange, hoping for the best. Another reason to adopt this reading is that Catullus has indicative perfect vs. present, so to match that here we need indicatives, and εὔιδον is an indicative, whereas ἔς σ' ἴδω is a subjunctive. Naturally, εὔιδον would be an alternative evolution of ἔϝιδον, with the digamma being normally lost and giving εἶδον, but being retained and vocalized in Aeolic. This is the only reason I can think of to prefer εὔιδον over the obvious other solution ἐσϝίδω. UPDATE: I looked up εἴκω & ἴκω on the Rocci dictionary, and I confirm what I wrote above, adding that a Doric form εἴκω for ἴκω is reported, but this is Aeolic, so why would there be a Doric form used here?
  • The third stanza seems fairly uncontroversial. The only minor controversy is whether or not to put the digamma in ϝέαγε, which could be made into ἔαγε. I kept it to eliminate one hiatus in the line. Of course, the earlier form was a reduplicated perfect ϝέϝαγε, with the middle digamma being lost even in Aeolic.
  • The fourth stanza again has two controversies.
    • The first one is right at the start: B.A., Wharton and Edmonds all give ἀ δὲ μ' ἴδρως, which would be plausible with ἀ as an article, except ἴδρως is masculine, not feminine. This is why I followed Campbell here. Greek Wikisource suggests ἀ δὲ μίδρως, but this word seems not to exist. Apparently, some sources (which I was unable to find, since Campbell, B.A., Wharton and Edmonds all agree with me) have ψῦχρος ἔχει instead of κακχέεται. UPDATE: Apparently ἀ is an exclamation, "ah", rendering it eligible for omission in the translation, and thus rendering ἀ δὲ μ' ἴδρως perfectly fine. I still follow Campbell though, partly for laziness, partly because repeating the prefix of the verb seems like a nice alliteration, partly because this way we have the preposition for the noun and not a preposition moved after the noun it modifies (or pronoun, I mean μ') and stuck to a verb.
    • The last controversy is about the final two lines. Now, B.A. and Campbell agree with me on the penultimate line, but Wharton reads φαἰνομαι ἄλλα, I look like someone else, and Edmonds has φαίνομαι--ἀλλὰ, "I seem, but", but Edmonds is often creative in his reconstructions, and my reading seems the most sensible. Maybe Campbell had access to some extra papyrus or whatnot which ruled out Wharton and Edmonds. UPDATE: Yes, Campbell had access to another papyrus (cfr. below), which ruled out Edmonds and Wharton and any other conjecture, actually gave us the complete last line, and made it manifest that the last line is actually the words of the quoter, not a part of the poem. Of course, I have to keep it for the translations.
  • The next line is creatively solved by Edmonds, and read by all others as Ἀλλὰ πᾶν τόλματον, †ἐπεὶ καὶ πένητα†, where the cruces are because of incompleteness and metric non-scansion. My solution makes the line scan by removing what appears to be a spurious καὶ, but of course the stanza still remains blatantly incomplete, both for meter and for content.
That is it. Hope Quorans will answer me about that εὔιδον reading.

Update to Sappho
I posted a couple threads on Latin Stack Exchange too (1 and 2). Studying Bergk's edition of Sappho, one finds a huge critical note, giving us lots of uncertainties in the manuscript tradition for Longinus's De Sublimitate, the main source for this poem:
  • The κῆνος was corrected from the tradition's κεῖνος because Apollonius says «Αἰολεῖς κῆνος» (the Aeolians [say] κῆνος);
  • Some have argued this poem is what Apollonius refers to when he says «Αἰολεῖς σὺν τῷ Ϝ· φαίνεταί ϝοι κῆνος» (The Aeolians [have it] with digamma [the pronoun ϝοι, which is ο in standard Attic]: that man seems to him», but Bergk disagrees, in view of Catullus's translation;
  • Tradition reads «ἔμμεν' ὤνηρ ὄστις ἐνάντιός τοι», somewhat more Attic, which is the reason for the corrections, and some have made further corrections;
  • Manuscripts read «ἱζάνει καὶ πλησίον ἁδὺ φώνου σαῖς» or «ἱ. κ. π. ἁδυφωνούσας»;
  • Manuscripts read γελάϊς for γελαίσας and ἐμὰν for μὰν, and others have argued for other corrections;
  • Manuscripts read the big-problem line as «ὡς γάρ σ' ἴδω βρόχεως», which is inmetrical; of course, the generally-adopted solution is the one closest to the tradition; Bergk proposes his own «ὤς σε γὰρ ϝίδω, βροχέως», which I would correct by moving the comma to the right of βροχέως; it seems that my εὔιδον is not very much liked: there guys call it a "mostro verbale" (verbal monster);
  • Bergk agrees with me on ἔτ' ἴκει, reporting that the tradition has ἔτ' εἴκει / ἔτ' ἤκει / ἔθ' ἥκει;
  • Manuscripts read κἄν for κὰμ, ἔαγε for ϝέαγε, ὑπαδεδρόμακεν/ὑπεδεδρόμακεν/ὑποδεδρόμακεν for ὐπαδεδρόμακεν, ἐπιρομβεῖσι/ἐπιῥῤομβεῖσι ἐπιρρόμβεισι for (which he actually prefers to write as ἐπιβρόμεισι);
  • The line with sweat is «Κὰδ δ' ἱδρὼς ψυχρὸς χέεται», «ἐκ δέ μ' ἱδρῶς ψ. χ.», «ἔκαδε μ' ἱδρὼς ψ. χ.», «ἐκαδε μ' ἱδρῶς ψ. χ.» in the tradition, with some manuscripts having weirdly-written "κακχέεται"s; he proposes «ἀ δέ μ' ἴδρως κακχέεται», maybe even «ἀ δὲ ϝίδρως κ.», on the basis of some book called «Crameri Anecdota» reporting «ΙΔΡΩΣ· τοῦτο παρ' Αἰολεῦσι θηλυκῶς λέγεται. ἀναδέχεται κλίσιν ἀκόλουθον θελυκῷ γένει· Ἀδεμ' ἱδρὼς κακὸς χέεται, ὅμοιον τῷ ἠώς· εἶτα ἡ γενικὴ ἱδρῶς» (SWEAT: the Aeolians have it feminine. The following takes feminine inflection: [some corrupted version of part of this line], similarly to dawn; therefore the genitive ἱδρῶς); now, I couldn't find anything about this book via Google, and seeing an argument about feminine sweat being compared to dawn, which is feminine everywhere (Attic and Aeolic alika) and is anyway not ἠῶς but αὔως in Aeolic, makes me suspect this is, err, taurikopria, if you see what I mean; so I definitely keep my idea, up until someone (maybe via this post on Latin SE?) gives me more info on this «Crameri anecdota»;
  • Manuscripts read πιδεύειν, πιδεύκην, πιδεύσην, he writes 'πιδεύην; I believe this infinitive is just as acceptable as the nominative adjective I have; no point changing my text;
  • He tries to complete the poem via ἄλλα, interpreting the manuscript tradition as «φαίνομαι <missing word> <words of Longinus which make up my last line>»; I cannot say anything about his idea of that line being part of the prose; what I can say is that my second Latin SE thread linked above gives a papyrus, which Bergk probably didn't have, which completes the poem the way I have it beyond any reasonable doubt; said papyrus, known as PSI XV 1470, is fully transcribed (or will be) on A few papyri transcribed, a post I will soon publish which will start out by including all the transcriptions from posts that are already published now, i.e. Dec 7, 2017. UPDATE: The post is up and huge, and this papyrus is IIRC the first item in it.


Yes, Campbell had an extra papyrus: P.S.I. 1470, transcribed here, which I even had as a separate fragment, and translated as follows:

με ὁ βονβος, ὁ ἴλ[ιγγος
ὤτων καὶ ὁ τρόμ[ος
τοῦ σώματος κα[τέχει·
καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα τ[άδε

. . . . . . . . χλωροτ[έρα δὲ
π]οίας ἔμμι, τεθ[νάκην
δ’ ὀ]λίγω [[δ]] ἐπιδε[ύης
φα]ίνομ’ ἔμ’ αὔτ[ᾳ].

me il ronzio, la con[fusione
delle orecchie e il trem[ore
del corpo te[ngono;
e dopo queste cose p[rosegue e

. . . . . . . . Verde di [più] che
[l’e]rba sono,͜ [[e]] v[iva], sì,
ma per [p]oco invero
[se]mbro͜ a me stes[sa].

Original: [[e]] v[iva] ch’io
sia per [p]oco invero
[se]mbro͜ a me stes[sa]

Change from 2/9/21 14:44.
me tintinatio, con[fusio
aurium et trem[or
corporis h[abet;
et post hæc i[lla

. . . . . . . . vīrdĭ[ŏr] īpsă
[h]ērbā sūmquĕ, īpsī m[ī
vĭ]dĕōr[[qu’]] ĕgŏ pa͞ulŭm
mō[rtĕ] ăbē[ssĕ].

me the buzzing, the sp[inning
of the ears and the trem[or
of the body h[old;
and after these things s[he goes on and

. . . . . . . . green[er] indeed than
[g]rass I am, to be al[ive]
[[but]] fo[r] truly so [l]ittle
I to myse[lf s]eem.


  1. Hello, Michele,
    Thanks for your comment on my blog post "Sappho & Avaton".
    The lyrics and translation are from the group's own notes accompanying their work. I see your point that for a purist the mish-mash and translation may be anathema, however, given artistic licence I can see where Avaton has trie dto go with this. They have taken Sappho's intriguing fragments, trying to stutch them together to form something of a complete whole. There are multiple tracks on the CD, hence what is being sung may not be what I set down on the blog post. I was more interested in the "mood" created.
    Your blog is fascinating!
    Ciao e cordiali saluti dalla lontanissima Australia!

    1. Thanks for the compliment! So the group Avaton provided these lyrics for their own work while they (I assume) knew that didn't match the αερίων επέων άρχομαι track? That is curious indeed. I have come into contact with several other tracks from that CD (I'm only missing like 2), and I worked on transcribing the lyrics at Here is what I have:

      1. (lyrics as in the Stack Exchange post I linked to in my comment at your blog);
      2. (not Sappho, lyrics:;
      3. Not on Youtube;
      4. (can't figure out the lyrics);
      5. (can't figure out the lyrics);
      6. Not on Youtube;
      7. (lyrics: Παρθενία, παρθεία, ποί με λίποισ’ οίχῃ; twice Ούκετ’ ήξω πρός σε, ούκετ’ ήξω twice);
      8. (only scat singing)
      9. (only scat singing);
      10. (instrumental track).

    2. Oh by the way, if you want to hear some of the song translation, find me on YouTube as Mick Gorro!

    3. Honestly the bad thing is not combining the fragments per se, but rather:

      1. Smashing them together, i.e. not separating them in any way when they don't join at all;
      2. Putting them together even though they have no affinity at all and don't belong to one poem;
      3. Completely mangling the pronunciation (it's Ancient Greek FFS, you can't just pronounce it like Modern Greek!);
      4 Inventing a pretend translation that makes some sense;
      5. And all of that when the lyrics in the song are completely different.

      And making the whole thing painfully slow to the point I would listen to it at 2x speed, and filling it with way too much instrumental :). I added the song to lyricstranslate, with the correct lyrics and translation: I plan to do such a combination myself, but:

      1. Only combine fragments with some topic similarity;
      2. Make the music separate distinct fragments;
      3. Pronounce them in reconstructed classical pronunciation, respecting pitch accent and vowel lengths by following them with the tune;
      4. Give the actual lyrics and translation instead of pretend lyrics and a pretend translation for them.

      I'm also in the process of setting in the manner of point 3.