Discussing the New Sappho poems

This discussion is devoted to the recent discovery of the new poems of Sappho edited by Dr Dirk Obbink, University of Oxford. A preliminary text is now available online. We invite further discussion, questions, and comments.

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  1. What a discovery! Maybe not the most intelligent question, but I’m having trouble with τὰν κεφάλαν ἀέργη. Why the ending on ἀέργη if it’s from ἀεργός? Why the genetive (or is it accusative?) on κεφάλαν? And what precisely does κεφαλή mean here? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  2. This is a very exciting discovery!

    If I might suggest an alternative reading: in the first line of the last stanza of the first poem, Dr. Obbink reads τὰν κεφάλα̣ν ἀέργ̣η. But surely this should be ἀέρρη, “raises his head”?

    Are there any plans to make a photograph of the papyrus available?

    1. Wouldn’t that be ἀέρρει, rather than ἀέρρη? And even that would make a nonsense of the sequence of tenses, wouldn’t it?

      1. Well, it would be subjunctive, so the full spelling would be ἀέρρηι; it seems unclear whether this text consistently writes out iota adscript, so that final ι might or might not be present.

    2. That’s exactly why I was concerned about l. 17 and I think Tom and Stavrakius hit on the right explanation. The subjunctive form seems in order: we find both forms with and without -ι on the papyri (θέληι and θέλη), and the oldest Sappho’s papyrus (Pap. Haun. 301) has ἔχη (98a 3).

      1. This is just about spelling (and presumably pronunciation): Aeolic 3rd sing indic endings are regularly spelled -η, so ἔχη = ἔχει

      2. ἔχη (S. 98a 3) is unlikely to be 3rd sing indicative and is probably subjunctive (κε can be omitted). 3rd sing. thematic indicatives are regularly spelled with -ει, cf. ἀθύρει A. 70.3, κακχέει S. 101a.2, ἄσδει A. 347.6, ἐπίσχει S. 96.9-10, ὔει A. 338.1, etc., while 3rd sing. thematic subjunctives (present or aorist) are regularly spelled with -η(ι), e.g. θέλη S. 5.3, ἔλθη Α. 340, perhaps καλλίπηι A. 400, etc. There is no confusion between indicative and subjunctive. Same holds for epichoric Lesbian where we find ἄρχηι and ἄρχη (whatever the exact relationship between the Lesbian vernacular and the language of Sappho’s poetry).

        My point was to reinforce Tom’s statement that “final ι might or might not be present”, while my own concern about l. 17 referred to Dr Obbink’s reading ἀέργη.

  3. line 24 needs to start with a long so πόθον should be changed. θῦμον, δῶρον? Ewen Bowie suggests ἔργον.

  4. Congratulations!
    I believe ἀέργη must be ἀέρρηι, the lesbian subjuntcive of άέρρω = ἀείρω. So κεφαλάν ἀέρρηι must mean litteraly “raise his head”, metaphorically “gain hight”, thus “grow up”.

      1. Or it might mean “if he ever lifts up his head” in the sense of “becomes active, asserts himself”, which might fit better with the next line’s “and becomes a man”.

  5. ἀέργη was conjectured by Franco Ferrari when the first draft of Dr Obbink’s article was published on the Papyrology website. A brief discussion and Prof Ferrari’s translation of the poem (into Italian) can be found in an article by Roberto Rossi, the first website to have picked up the exciting news a couple of weeks ago (19th January):


    Gauthier Liberman initially commented (in the comments thread) that he believed the poem not to be genuine, but reportedly he has since changed his mind and offered a note of his own in the same website (30th January):


      1. We read the poem two weeks ago at Radboud University Nijmegen (the Netherlands) with a group of colleagues and also conjectured ἀέρρη. But according to Dirk Obbink in personal correspondence, this does not fit the traces of the papyrus (which does obviously not mean that it could not have been in Sappho, but just that it was not in the papyrus fragment).

  6. OK: at the moment, I am bothered by 14-15. As I read it, it needs to mean something like (paraphrase, not translation) “Blessed are those for whom Zeus sends a god as a helper to get them out of their difficulties”.
    But can περτρόπην mean this? I think it can’t. Can anybody supply a parallel? Problem with that ἐπάρωγον that was subject to correction in the papyrus?
    Additional stream-of-consciousness observations:
    the περ of περτρόπην echoed by PERmitte at Hor. c. 1.9.9, which otherwise corresponds to ΕΠΙτρέπω (at 10) (two different friends have pointed out the general parallel with this bit of the Soracte ode to me)
    περιτρέπω does actually come up with sense “capsize” (late authors acc to LSJ and I have not looked for an earlier attestation than they give)!

    PS I think there is something splendid about the way in which this new discovery has been moving through social media; I’ve been learning so much from my friends, and I am very pleased to find this blog!

    1. (περι)τροπέω can also be intransitive, as in Homer, in which case the sentence could mean “those of whom Zeus wishes that their daimon turns around from toils [so as to be] a helper” with ἐπάρωγον (acc. of ἐπάρωγος, Lesbian accent?) or – if the ancient correction is wrong – ἐπαρήγονα (acc. of ἐπαρήγων) construed predicatively. One could also read ἐπ’ἀρωγόν (neuter of adj. ἀρωγός) ‘to help’. The latter might work better if δαίμων is taken to mean “fate, fortune” (as in Prof. Whitmarsh’ translation), but note δαιμόνεσσι above.

      1. ἐπ’ ἀρωγόν (or rather presumably ἐπ’ ἄρωγον) with the neuter adjective is an attractive reading, as the ἐπί helps make sense of περτροπήν: “turn around *from* troubles *to* succor” or something like that. But can ἀρωγός be used in this way? In Homer at least it seems always to have a personal sense, “helper”. Maybe that sense works here too — “turn around their daimon from toils to be a helper”, as you suggest, but still reading ἐπ’ ἄρωγον (as masc. noun)? Not sure if there are parallels for such a use of ἐπί + acc., though.

      2. You’re right that τὸ ἀρωγόν (Lesb. ἄρωγον) ‘help’ is entirely hypothetical, but it would not be any different from any other substantivized neuters of the type τὸ σφάγιον ‘sacrificial victim’ <- σφάγιος 'slaying' <-σφάζω 'slaughter'. Since there are other uncertainties about the stanza, I would not bet my money on this particular theory; in general, however, since we are dealing with archaic poetry, I would not be averse to operating with unattested words, as long as they are correctly formed. Under the assumption that ἐπ' is an elided preposition and not a prefix, one could even toy with the idea that the ancient correction of η to ω is wrong and read ἐπ'ἄρηγον where τὸ ἄρηγον 'help' would be a deverbal neuter of the type τὸ ἔργον 'work'.

        As to ἐπὶ+acc., there are examples in the LSJ s.v. τρέπω 3: "Pass. and Med. turn or betake oneself", ἐπὶ ἔργα Il.3.422, etc."

        Note finally, that περτρόπην may also be aor. *pass.* infinitive, = περιτραπῆναι (Aeolic -ρο- = Attic-Ionic -ρα-): there are no examples in the corpus, but there are reasons to believe that the ending would have been a bare -ν (thus -η-ν).

  7. Perhaps περτρόπην has its regular meaning of ‘turn away’? Something like “Those whose guardian spirit Zeus wishes to turn away from toils”. Is this possible?

    I would suppose the correction in the papyrus is due to no more than confusion between ἐπάρωγον and ἐπαρήγων᾽, which would be equally possible if I am not mistaken; but it may be that the mistake goes deeper than this.

  8. Dear Dr. Obbink, Enricoprodi, Alexander, William, and all,

    Not to criticize Prof. Whitmarsh’s translatio princeps in The Guardian–I’m grateful it was there to distribute to friends who don’t know Aeolic Greek. I didn’t have time Thursday to take a stab at it, so I was glad I found Whitmarsh’s translation of the first, better preserved, “Brothers poem” at least. Like others on Ancient Greek online discussion boards, this one especially, I suspect there is at least one misreading of the traces in a Greek word. I don’t know the name of the scholar to suspect this first, but like more than one of you I suspect strongly that v. 17 should read ἀέρρη (3d person singular present subjunctive active of ἀέρρειν, αἴρειν: ἀέρρετε is attested for Sappho, F. 111 L-P (this is presumably the Sapphic attestation in LSJ s.v. ἀέρρω), rather than ἀέργη or some other form of the adjective ἀεργός,ά,ον (“not working, idle”). So I would translate “We should immediately be relieved of very great distress (βαρύθυμια) if Larichos should lift his head and at last become a man”. That incidentally eliminates a gap in the last stanza of Whitmarsh’s translation.

    The second poem is not as well preserved. I wish we had good images so that we could compare what we think Sappho might have written again the traces and distribution of the ink on the page. This is a poem about burning Sapphic passion and goddess Aphrodite, who may be addressed by Sappho as “Κύπρι δε [....]“. Obbink’s supplement δέσ[ποιν'] (the usual feminine of δεσπότης (Aeolic δέσποτα), doesn’t scan, however. I don’t see δέσποτα attested for goddesses in LSJ, so I’m not sure how an editor gets this right without more data than I have.

    Of what little I can make of the second poem I would venture to translate the beginning “How would one not be very distraught, Lady Kypris, at things she loves and would like very much to call back? Do you have a desire[25] when you call me, for me to burn in vain of desire unravelling … of my knees … ?” After that I would guess πέρησθα at v. 27 means, approximately ” you are superior”.

    There may be a lot more on the internet by now. I’m sorry I don’t have images of all the papyri to consider or Eva-Marie Voigt’s edition of Sappho and Alkaios. But I hope this helps forward momentum towards better solutions and better appreciation of the poems when they become more definitively available, such as the condition of the tradition is.
    Any views, in either relevant acceptation of the word, will be welcome here.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, ideas, and excitement over the new new Sappho. And thanks, Dr. Obbink, if you are listening.


    1. I’m probably just being silly, but – why does δέσποιν᾽ not scan? I would have thought two longs were acceptable in that position in the verse. Rather, I am perplexed by ἄσαιτο: if we take it as a part of ἀάω, then the α should be long, while the metre requires a short. Or am I wrong?

      As for the sense of the stanza (laying aside the question mark over ἄσαιτο), could it mean something like (paraphrasing rather than translating) “how could he (she) not be miserable, whom you, Aphrodite, force to love again even against his (her) will”, κωὐ] θέλοι ? Even though I am not quite sure I can propose any actual supplements to the end of the second and third verse yet, this supposition (which is nothing more than that) produces a well-known commonplace and seems to go quite well with whatever can be gathered from the second stanza. It would also give a particular point to δέσποινα, if that is the correct reading.

      1. I’m at a social event, but thanks so . Yes it’s an an eps position more later. Sorry fory bad.

        See Maas (trs Lloyd-Jones) sec 54 nö 6

        Cheers Jack

        On substance more when I’m free tomorrow

        Sent from my iPhone

      2. Dear Enrico,

        Thanks again.  I’m still not in a good place to look at your suggestions and comment.  It’s past my bedtime in Houston, but before turning in I see that thumb-typing on my iPhone in a poorly lit area I didn’t say clearly what I meant and would like to at least apologize for that.  Yes, the οι in δέποιν’ is in an anceps position in the Sapphic strophe.  Thank you so much.   Remembering the ypsilon in λύσαντι as long, I meant to check myself on my (as you point out, wrong) impression concerning δέσποιν’before sending that out (ugh!), but somehow in my excitement over many new beauties being observed sadly neglected to do so.  The reference in my email was, of course, to Paul Maas, Greek Metre, trs. Hugh Lloyd-Jones (Oxford 1962), section 54, no. 6 (“Sapphic strophe”)(that’s at p. 39 in my printing).  I normally would refer to a later book by M.L. West, but I was rushing out the door to a social event when I saw your email and Maas was handy for a quick look-see.

        I took ἄσαιτο as aorist middle of ἀσάω, which gives you the short alpha.  Ι don’t have my translation in front of me, but I think with οὐ it means “would not feel loathing” or “would not be disgusted”, or something to that effect.

        I have one or two other metrical questions.  Let me study the matters more closely before risking making another mistake.

        Thank you so much again for engaging me in this for me helpful dialogue, which may be helpful to others.  I plan to look at the Kypris poem again tomorrow with a fresh mind in light of your suggestions.   Until next time, happy reading and interpreting!

        As for our mistakes and aporias along the way working together let’s console ourselves with the advice of a wise old scholar who edited a lot of papyri in his day: “Fortiter pecca”. 

        Best regards, Jack V.


      3. Forget about my supplement, which would presumably need αἰ to appear somewhere (or a participle instead of the optative) – but what do people think of the general sense of that stanza?

      4. Sorry Jack, I hadn’t seen your second comment before posting my own – my apologies. Thanks for your clarifications. As I was saying, my earlier suggestion doesn’t really seem to work, and my metrical objection falls if the verb is ἀσάω. I’m still slightly perplexed by the text as restored (why should one feel loathing or surfeit at things one loved and wanted to call back? – part of my earlier objection was due to my unwarranted interpretation of ὄττινα as M/F singular instead of neuter plural) but this is probably just being overly picky.

        And indeed – all this work is FUN! A couple of very silly mistakes is a price I’m honestly quite happy to pay for it. Apologies to whoever may be irritated by it…

  9. Hello,

    I think ἀέρρη, as Dr Obbink has it, makes perfect sense. “τὰν κεφάλαν ἀέργη” would be accusative of respect, “τὰν κεφάλαν ἀέργη Λάριχος” would mean “lazy headed Larikhos”. Compare Homeric πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς. As to κεφαλη, this sort this sort of periphrastic expression (‘head of Larikhos = Larikhos) is quite common in poetry. καὶ in καὶ δήποτ᾽ would not be connective “and” but strengthen δήποτ᾽. The beginning of the last stanza would then mean “As for us, if lazy-headed Larikhos were ever/finally to become a man…”

    Well, however it may be, this is fascinating discovery!

    1. But why the nominative feminine singular on ἀέργη then? Wouldn’t it be either the accusative feminine singular dependent on κεφάλαν or the nominative masculine singular dependent on Larikhos?

      1. I was taking it as fem acc sg of ἀέργης (a variant of ἀεργός given in the paper version of LSJ but which I couldn’t find in the online version). However, this word’s regular Lesbian Aeolic fem acc sg would appear to be ἀέργην or ἀέργεα, so things are more complicated. I wonder how Obbink interpretes this form.

    1. They say they’re fixing it – I’m sure they’ll either retrieve the document or upload a newer draft soon. In the meantime, you can also find a text (with an Italian translation) at


      and Tim Whitmarsh’s translation and notes as


      These are both about the first and more complete poem only, but you can find a tentative translation of the fragmentary opening of the second poem in Jack Vaughan’s comment above.

      1. body{font-size:10pt;font-family:arial,sans-serif;background-color:#ffffff;color:black;}p{margin:0px;}Thank you,Nina

  10. Like Nina above, I want to read the poems. I am a Classicist and a poet, do you need to sign in here somewhere? Or please reinstate the link that was there a few days back.

  11. Could the author of the article or the journal editor please comment on the provenance of the papyrus fragment itself? At what point did it come into the hands of this private collector? And by what means? Were there other fragments associated with it?
    These questions regarding provenance go beyond simply authenticating the papyrus fragment as a work of Sappho, as there are fairly significant cultural heritage issues as well.

    1. I would like to publicly second Prof. Tronchin’s questions. If the fragment is authentically ancient (which is yet to be proven), it has a provenance in some licit or illicit excavation. Dr. Obbink has been said in one online posting to believe the fragment might be from Oxyrhynchus. Is this an accurate statement about his beliefs? If so, when was it excavated, and by whom? Does the owner possess a valid export permit for the papyrus? Given the now-common reports of looting of Egyptian sites within a context of political turmoil, the origins of the fragment must be identified and plainly stated. I wonder, too, whether Prof. Eck or other members of the ZPE editorial board ever asked any of these questions, and, if so, what answers were supplied to them which were satisfactory?

  12. Not a query about the Greek, but about the English!

    In the second poem ‘whomever’. There is no such word as whomever, it is a hypercorrection. In English the word is ‘whoever’ whether subject or object.

  13. One thing on which I think all posters would agree. It would be good to see a clear digital image of the papyrus. Will we have to await the publication of the ZPE article(s). Note, there was a reference in the draft article to the “previous article” (or something to that effect, which seemed to me nonsensical unless there was another Sappho-related article in ZPE just before the article of which we saw the draft article on new new Sappho, concerning the beginning of F. 5, invoking just Nereids, not Aphrodite and Nereids (that’s of course F 5, L-P, or Page, *Sappho and Alcaeus* (Ch. IV, on F. 5)). The questions of cultural property seem to me interesting generally, but I trust Dr. Obbink to be doing the right things. All those questions of provenance will have been answered to his satisfaction, or we wouldn’t have seen a draft article. With all respect to Tronchin and Walsh and their questions, Dr. Obbink is a very experienced and distinguished papyrologist, who should be given time to publish a full article and the benefit of any doubts in the meantime. Thanks, all, for wonderful discussion including fine academic and citizen scholars. I feel blessed to have been part of this.

    1. Distinguished or not, the questions that are being asked are really pretty simple, and they actually go to the heart of the discovery’s significance. I’ve written directly to Dr Obbink twice in the last six days and received no response whatsoever; I’m hardly the only person who has asked. Check the Storify feed to see the extent of similar reactions by similarly serious and well-regarded scholars: http://storify.com/tronchin/new-fragments-of-poems-by-sappho .

      1. Dear Dr. Walsh,
        I understand your concerns and I am sure everyone here agrees that the questions you raise are important and absolutely valid. However, this particular forum is devoted to the text of the poems (which is why it’s called “discussing the new Sappho poems”), not to the papyrus: the discussion here has focused on possible supplements and corrections, questions of meter and dialect, etc. It is also not Dr. Obbink’s pocket forum (you will have noticed that there are no posts from him here, including on the question of ἀέρρη proposed by most Hellenists). I hope you understand that the contributors of this forum are not in the position to answer your questions. I agree with Dr. Vaughan that in the meanwhile Dr. Obbink should be given the benefit of the doubt.

      2. Since the forum apparently won’t let me reply to Professor Nikolaev below, I’ll post here instead.

        I understand that you want to discuss the text. But since you have absolutely no assurance so far that the text is even authentically ancient, let alone actually Sappho, because NOTHING IS KNOWN ABOUT THE FRAGMENT’S ORIGINS, such discussion seems premature.

        As for this not being Dr. Obbink’s forum, I think I’ve already mentioned that it has been impossible to get him to respond in any manner. This seems as good a place as any to discuss important problems.

      3. This brings us to a different but equally interesting topic: how can classicists be sure of this (or any) fragment’s authenticity without the information about the papyrus?

        Ultimately they cannot, but it is important to remember that there are other things besides the physical carrier: language, meter, poetics, biographical data… Some could even say that textual criticism was brought to life precisely by the need to expose forged texts (think Lorenzo Valla and Constantine’s Donation), the task that people like Joseph Scaliger or Casaubon handled with such a mastery. Note that much of this development took place before papyri entered the scene (with the excavation of Herculaneum in 1752, and the publication of the first Greek papyrus in 1787). Basically, over past centuries Classical philology has accumulated a lot of experience and knowledge struggling with questions of text authenticity. It’s not just about the object: we are able to evaluate the text. (In particular, sometimes people even talk about an authentic text transmitted on an unauthentic object, think of the Fibula of Praeneste).

        So is there a possibility that our text is a fake and the discussion is, as Prof. Walsh suggests, premature? This suggestion, I think, can be evaluated and others are invited to contribute. The starting assumption, I believe, will be that Dr Obbink is not a Thomas Wise and would not risk his reputation in order to pull a prank on the scholarly world (as was Wise’s intention, at least according to Bernard Shaw). Prof. Walsh may disagree, but on the one hand, the amount of important contributions Dr Obbink has already made in his career would satisfy any scholar’s thirst for fame, and on the other hand, in the digital age the risk of being exposed is much higher than it used to be.

        I therefore think that under the hypothesis that the text is unauthentic one would need to assume that Dr Obbink was misled by an unknown villain, who managed to 1) prepare ink and prepare (or obtain) a sheet of papyrus, 2) imitate the script, and 3) mutilate the papyrus. None of this is impossible, although this would have been a remarkable feat.

        But the villain would also have to have composed the poem in impeccable Aeolic dialect and meter, and — this is very important, to me at least, — his or her command of Sappho’s Lesbian does not seem to be entirely derivable from the existing handbooks and descriptions: the poem seems to contain several forms that have not been previously attested in the corpus of the Lesbian poets or in the epichoric Lesbian dialect.

        This brings us to following: if this text is a fake, the forger must have been an outstanding papyrologist with vast knowledge of papyri- and ink-preparation technology; a brilliant paleographer; his or her knowledge of Greek dialectology must be staggering; and of course the villain in question would have to be second to few as far as their expertise in the corpus of Lesbian poets is concerned. One or two possible candidates may exist, but in general it seems to me that the chance that the text is a fake is rather negligent, which is why the classical philologists may discuss the text, however provisional these discussions may be. I hope I answered at least some of your question.

  14. Dear Dr. Walsh,

    Thank you for the additional information. Both your note and the three links I opened drilling down a bit added to my information and helped explain your discomfort. I had wrongly taken you to mean that you were calling Dr. Obbink on the carpet publicly, without having attempted to satisfy your understandable caution and concerns through private correspondence. The maxim “Inclusio unius est exclusio alterius” doesn’t apply in this case, obviously. I should have asked you if you had attempted to contact Dr. Obbink directly, as I wondered why wouldn’t you have done so. Please accept my sincere apology for not crediting you with those good initial steps. I still don’t want to criticize Dr. Obbink, but I understand your exasperation. Given that you have distinguished yourself with your expertise in this area of cultural property and its proper custody, I would have thought Dr. Obbink would have welcomed your correspondence as an opportunity to address concerns early on. But I don’t want to draw any more (potentially wrong) conclusions ex silentio. What if Dr. Obbink is sick or incommunicado for some good reason?

    Thank you for all you are doing to fight looting and other crimes against cultural property. Please excuse me if this is a bit off the topic of the New New Sappho specifically, but I would be interested in hearing your view on what went wrong in Iraq (2003). Where were the Monuments Officers? Where was UNESCO? Where is UNESCO now? State Departments and Foreign Offices of countries that are signatories to the Convention on Cultural Property? If you have a blog on this subject, please post the link. I’m sure many of us will be interested.

    Thank you again and all the best in your work and your life!

    Jack Vaughan

    1. Those of us who are concerned about the status of the papyrus fragments regarding their status as archaeological artifacts rather than simply evidence for new poetry by a famous writer tend to have backgrounds in field archaeology and cultural heritage management. I know I am concerned about the journal’s editorial policy in particular–major archaeological journals like the AJA do not permit the publications of newly-surfaced finds with no provenance. What astonished me most about this story is how papyrology seems to be a bit behind the curve as far as such policies go.
      It’s not only incumbent upon the individual scholar to make these ethical calls about such material, but the journal needs to be a check as well. I can empathize with Dr. Obbink, excited about the prospect of new Sappho fragments, perhaps unaware of material cultural policies given his expertise in the literary world, and not pausing to consider the implications of widespread looting in Egypt and the market for illicit antiquities.
      The journal in question has also published the controversial Fordham mosaics. So rather than calling out an individual scholar, I am more concerned with ZPE’s policies concerning such objects with murky, troubling provenance.

      1. I feel I should point out that perhaps, rather than demanding immediate explanations as to all sorts of things even before the first publication of the artifact, we might wish to give Dr Obbink the necessary time to prepare that publication and see it to print (after all we are talking about the next issue of ZPE, not a wait of years or decades), and then see whether what he says is to our satisfaction or not. At that point, if necessary, one can call him out on what he may have omitted to say, but one can hardly do that before he has had a chance to say anything definitive at all.

        Until that time – until we see whether there are satisfactory explanations or not – it seems quite exaggerated to me, as well as quite unfair to Dr Obbink, to assume that the papyrus has a “murky, troubling provenance” and draw inferences from silence as thought Dr Obbink was positively hiding something instead of simply preparing his findings for publication (which, as we all know, takes time).

        As for private correspondence and the lack of a reply, we ought to remember that Dr Obbink is an extremely busy person (as a recent supervisee of his I can testify to this fact first-hand): if he is in the last stages of publishing his findings and dozens of scholars and non-scholars from all over the world are bombarding him with questions and suggestions (as they are), then I suppose it is excusable that he may be unable to answer every single email straightaway, especially if this would entail repeating over and over at some length things that may appear shortly in the publication itself.

        In all this, I am interested in the question of provenance too, and I look forward to seeing what data are available, if any. I am just saying we should give the publication the time it needs to happen before setting out to judge its author. Just my two cents – of course I am happy with people to disagree.

        Incidentally, if I am not mistaken, if the papyrus does come from Oxyrhynchus and is not a part of either the British or the Italian finds, then it must have been excavated – and possibly nicked from the excavation ground, as the various excavators often complained back then – between the late nineteenth century and the first couple of decades of the twentieth, which is when the Oxyrhynchus digs took place. If so, it will have been on the antiquarian market – and potentially already in Europe – several decades before the ban on papyrus exports came into force. But I too am interested in knowing on which grounds the fragments – let’s not forget that there’s also “P.GC. inv. 105″, a fragment of the same manuscript which I understand is going to be published at the same time, cf. n. 7 of the now-disappeared PDF – are assigned to Oxyrhynchus.

      2. When major news outlets world-wide publish the sensationalist headlines about the new fragments, when the AIA and APA both broadcast the story, and when ZPE itself releases an advance copy of the article, it should be expected that scholars and non-scholars alike have a few follow-up questions about the article and its main subject.

  15. Dr. Prodi – Dr. Obbink has clearly had time to talk to numerous members of the media about his discovery, but has refused to respond to repeated requests from scholars, public and private, for more information. Moreover, none of the drafts which were posted made any reference to provenance or collection history — which is presumably the very first thing a scholar would want to mention about the object they’re analyzing. Third, looting has been documented as rampant in Egypt particularly since the “Arab Spring,” so a lack of association with British or Italian projects at Oxyrhynchus means absolutely nothing about the date of the fragment’s discovery. And fourth, it is becomingly increasingly clear that a new cache of papyri has emerged on the market since 2009: http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2014/02/freshly-surfaced-sappho-papyrus-where.html?m=1 .

    As for ZPE, there is no ethics statement to be found on their website, and when pressed on the Fordham mosaics, Werner Eck told me that my “accusations” (which were, in fact, questions, just as the posts here have been questions rather than accusations) were “unfounded.” Yet now Fordham has decided to hire an “independent” expert to vet the provenance of the mosaics. Professor Tronchin has identified a set of ethical guidelines for papyrologists, but it is remarkable that these guidelines preclude only work on pieces discovered to have been stolen from existing collections and not work on pieces which are likely to have been looted. I think those of us in cultural heritage protection are wondering: is that a technicality…or a loophole?

    1. Dr Walsh –
      Please take a minute to carefully re-read Dr Prodi’s post above. For your convenience I am copying here the excellent point he made: “[the papyrus may] have been on the antiquarian market – and potentially already in Europe – several decades before the ban on papyrus exports came into force”. You’re correct about the rampant looting in Egypt, but your repeated references to it in the context of the present discovery are irrelevant until we know more from the actual publication. As Dr Prodi has said, it is going to be a matter of weeks, not years. Basically, you may be right or you may be wrong, but in my opinion it’s definitely too soon to jump to conclusions the way you did.

      Also, at the risk of repeating myself, I’d like to point out that this forum has not been about analyzing the object (but thanks for pointing out to the members of the profession what our real concerns should be), but about analyzing the poems.

      1. Scrolling back up to the top of this page, I see it is a forum for “the recent discovery of the new poems of Sappho.”
        Some readers might take that to mean discussion of the *discovery* of the fragments is in fact just as significant and relevant as the content of the fragments themselves.

      1. I quote from the AIP guidelines (link in Prof. Walsh’s post above):

        §3: “That all members observe scrupulously not only the laws applicable to them in their home countries, including those implementing the UNESCO convention, but also the laws of Egypt and other countries from which ancient textual artifacts come”.

        §12: “That papyrologists who identify material for sale or held in private collections as having been stolen from Egyptian museums or magazines should so advise its owner and urge the owner to return it to the Egyptian authorities; they should not assist in the marketing of such material in any way”.

        Therefore it does not seem to me that the AIP condones looting in any way, any more than any other criminal activity. Even on the hypothesis that the Sappho papyrus was illegally excavated from a site rather than a “museum or magazine” (thus falling outside §12) and then illegally exported, this nonetheless certainly falls under §2. This said, if the AIP decided to amend §12 so as explicitly to include excavations it would clearly be even better.

        Again, I am not saying that the provenance of this papyrus must certainly be crystal-clear in some way that only Dr Obbink knows. Like everybody else on this discussion board, I simply don’t know. The matter must certainly be investigated; if something illegal has been carried out, then it must be rectified; I hope that all relevant details will be published and that all those involved – Dr Obbink first and foremost – will fully cooperate with any investigation that may take place.

        What I found disconcerting was how easily misdeeds appeared to be supposed – both at the origin and on the editor’s part – despite, at present, the absence of any real evidence for or against this notion. Personally, I feel that before publicly calling into question a person’s integrity, one should need something more than doubt and suspicion. But this is, again, only a personal opinion.

        My apologies for taking your time.

      2. Forgive my cynicism (unfortunately derived from observation of the illicit antiquities market), but there are certainly ways in which papyrologists could work with looted scrolls and still feel themselves technically within the AIP guidelines. For example, a papyrologist in a country which has not implemented a cooperative agreement with Egypt could work on a scroll without breaking Egyptian law in the sense that Egyptian law does not govern activities external to that nation. Of course this is specious reasoning, but we’ve seen similar kinds of behavior in other arenas of the world of antiquities.

        As for Professor Nikolaev’s suggestion that it would be practically impossible to fake the fragment, I would say that first of all, the motive is clear: there’s plenty of money to be made and spread around a dedicated team. For raw materials, all you need is a small scrap of ancient papyrus with nothing on it (surely cheap and not that hard to find — see forgeries of ancient coins for the same process), and a handwriting expert who could produce the letters seen on other scrolls (likewise not so hard to find). As for the poetry, should we regard the previously-unknown word forms as the real deal? What about the appearance of a name previously known? The meters used in Sappho’s poems are well-published, but there’s not so much of her work preserved, so the audience is probably prepared to accept some things that don’t fit what we know…

        I want to be clear that I am making no claims at all about the anonymous owner’s scroll’s authenticity or lack thereof. Without *real* provenance info (not “from an old German collection, findspot unknown”), we will probably never know for sure, which will be a real shame if the piece truly is authentic. I also make no claims about Obbink’s conscious complicity in any wrongdoing. But I’ll end on this note: the comments by philologists here who accept Obbink’s publication of this piece, at least so far without provenance, as well as his conclusions as they appear in the draft article and the news media, form an impressive example of the power of a powerful scholar’s name alone to legitimate an antiquity which cries out for intense scrutiny of its origins. This is, quite frankly, something to be worried about. It also shows the desire for any little bit more of something held in esteem, regardless of potential consequences. How much looting are people (really, deep down) willing to accept if it gets us a few more lines of Sappho, or Pindar, or Bacchylides, I wonder? Given what we know from countless examples about the corruption associated with the antiquities market and the large sums of money which change hands over pieces such as these, I think there’s room for plenty of soul-searching.

        It’s been a week. I’m tired of hearing from Obbink’s defenders saying we just need to wait him to give answers to some incredibly simple questions — let’s hear from the man himself.

      3. I’d like to reply to some of Professor Walsh’s statements addressing the argument I made in my previous posting.

        “Power of a powerful scholar’s name alone to legitimate an antiquity” – this is not true under any definition of a scholar’s power. The present situation is not about influence: Dr. Obbink is simply a very good papyrologist with laser-like intuitions about Greek writing, scribal hands, etc.; the people contributing to this and other fora take Dr Obbink’s word a) that the papyrus exists (the “Thomas Wise” argument I made above) and b) that the sequence of letters offered in the left column of the preprint is the best one could make of the papyrus. The rest — even though Dr Obbink makes the attribution in no uncertain terms – is our decision.

        “should we regard the previously-unknown word forms as the real deal?” – I don’t understand the argument. In fact, previously unknown forms can be the clinching argument when deciding about forgery. Professor Walsh says that “the audience is probably prepared to accept some things that don’t fit what we know” – no, this has nothing to do with the argument at hand. The decision of whether or not this is authentic Lesbian poetry is not about accepting things that don’t fit – it’s about finding things that *perfectly* fit the linguists’ theory of the dialect despite being absent from handbooks from which the alleged forger would take them (the assumption Professor Walsh does not make, to be sure). In other words, the dialect of the poem is more than just the Lesbian that we know: the poem features forms that are absent from the lexica or the handbooks, but still conform perfectly to our expectations.
        In this light I might just as well correct my statement in the previous post: in order to produce this piece, the purportedly highly paid dedicated team of professionals would need to have a Greek dialectologist gone rogue on their payroll. Again, this has nothing to do with the provenance of the scroll or being a “defender” of Dr Obbink.

        As an illustration of my point about language facts serving as proof of authenticity, it may be useful to recall the story of Old Russian epic “Slovo o Polku Igoreve”: since the sole manuscript of the poem was said to have perished in 1812, it was widely assumed that the poem is a forgery. It took almost two centuries of close study of comparative Slavic syntax to show (in 2004) that this poem uses the enclitics (things like particles or unaccented pronouns) in an astonishingly correct way, just as they had to be used in the 13th cent.: these rules could simply not have been known to a hypothetical forger.

        I’d like to make one more point clear: as most people here, I hope, I am against looting of antiquities. Moreover, as a historical linguist, I am aware of this issue not just in relation to Graeco-Roman antiquities, but also in regard to Hittite tablets excavated in Turkey, manuscripts of the Vedas discovered in Cashmir, Zoroastrian manuscripts in Bombay, and Novgodod birch-bark letters. In general, classical philologists are painfully aware of the issues involved; we’re not the backwards group the media are trying to paint us as. But I take the possibility indicated by Dr. Prodi (as well as other options) quite seriously: there is no evidence that this papyrus recently left Egypt and it may well be the case that it came to Europe more than a hundred years ago and recently changed ownership.

        Moreover, I am still not sure what it is exactly Profs. Walsh and Tronchin would like all of us here to do: publicly chastise Dr Obbink? refrain from any discussion of what for reasons independent of the provenance of the papyrus seems to be a piece of authentic Lesbian poetry? The way things are, the discussion on this forum does not add extra value to the artefact.

        Yes, it’s been a week – but only two days since Professor Walsh hi-jacked this little philological forum. They sure did feel like a week.

      4. Yes, let’s hear from the man himself – which should hopefully be soon.

        Just one brief note about authenticity, to add to what Prof. Nikolaev has already said. I’ve never tried, of course, but I don’t think faking an ancient papyrus would be quite as easy as Prof Walsh suggests. You would need not only a piece of ancient papyrus, but one so well-preserved – with a surface so intact, smooth, and supple – as to be capable of being written on just as though it were new. Writing with a reed pen on a rugged, dry, dusty surface that has been buried in sand for some eighteen centuries is physically not the same as writing on the clean, new thing; it would take a very good craftsman indeed to perform the task without leaving traces of the counterfeiture. In this regard, I think that credibly faking writing on a potsherd – or an equally resistant surface, perhaps even parchment – would be rather easier than on a papyrus.

        In short, although questions about provenance must be answered, they are not necessarily strictly related to the question of the authenticity. A clear provenance would remove doubt from the start, of course, but even without provenance – as is the case for several unprovenanced papyri that legally entered private and public collections in the early decades of the twentieth century – the authenticity should be able to be established on the balance of probability judging from the papyrus itself.

        (I should point out that am making a general point here; for all I know, it may well be the case that hints of counterfeiture do exist on the papyrus itself in this specific case. Only further research on the original can establish that – hoping that it does not disappear from the radar after publication, as a privately-owned item is unfortunately at risk of doing.)

  16. Just to add to the provenance discussion, it would be useful to know why Dr Obbink was chosen to receive this piece. Did the ‘collector’ suspect it was Sappho? Were these the only fragments brought to Dr Obbink? Where are the fragments now? Are more to come? A very important discovery is being taken in other directions because some obvious (to many of us) questions haven’t been publicly answered.

    1. I suppose one simple answer could be that, as the head of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri project, at least as far as literary papyri were concerned, he was presumably the most obvious person to ask. But we don’t know whether other papyrologists were approached before him, so this is just speculation on my part.

      At the moment it does not seem we can know for sure whether the owner had already identified the author, but this is not that unlikely: if he had any notion of Greek literature, however vague, he should have recognised even simply from the layout of the papyrus that it was a series of Sapphic stanzas, which gave at least a hint towards authorship.

      As far as there being other fragments, I take Dr Obbink’s draft to imply that other fragments of the same papyrus (those classed as “P.GC. inv. 105″) have been identified and will be published at the same time, but apparently they do not belong to the same collector; the “GC” bit in the inventory number has been taken by some to refer to the Green Collection, on whose editorial board – or something of that kind – Dr Obbink reportedly sits.

      Needless to say that I look forward to seeing answers to all the questions that have been (rightly) posed in this discussion.

      1. Ahhh … so things will be getting worse before they get better. If there is a common source for these AND some belong to one collector while others belong somewhere else, even more suspicions are raised, especially in the timing of things … did the GC items come first? Were they paid for? If so, did that provide incentive to ‘the collector’ to bring his bit forward? What is the relationship between ‘collector’ and the GC collection? Again, this is suggesting that there is a good possibility of more to come. Time to start following the money????

        I’m seriously hoping Dr Obbink sees how the optics are bad on this. This would probably be a good time to sit down for a chat with the Classics Confidential folks… I doubt the paper media is interested any more.

  17. I’m very much in favor of preserving the cultural heritage of all nations from looting–who isn’t?–but when I read a condescending and self-righteous dismissal of those who are interested in a scrap of ancient papyrus “simply” as evidence of a new poem by a “famous writer,” and not as an “archaeological artifact,” I’m taken aback.

    It’s as if the material of the papyrus represents a more important item of cultural heritage than what’s written on it, as if the recovery of a poem by Sappho has no more cultural significance than the publication of a new novel by a “famous writer” like Dan Brown.

    1. Exactly. One may want to investigate the provenance of the artefact, rectify any wrongdoings that may have occurred in its excavation, export, and/or purchase, *and* study it and publish its text at the same time. One thing does not necessarily exclude the other.

  18. The point is not that the material of this particular papyrus is so important — it’s everything else that gets destroyed in the looting process (which can never be retrieved or fully reconstructed)!

    Does anybody actually find Obbink’s “full legal provenance” enough of an answer!

    1. That there is “documented legal provenance” and that provenance is not being revealed despite repeated requests for same from various sources casts strong suspicions on it. It genuinely appears that the folks dealing with this don’t want provenance to be known — and probably questioned — before publication. It seems to be among the things that killed the formal publication of the Gospel of Jesus Wife (so called). When a similar misunderstanding surfaced a few years ago over the reported “discovery” of bits of Epicurus’ per physeos via multispectral imaging, Dr Obbink did post a message to the papy-l list clarifying matters as reported in the press. I don’t find that this recent TLS piece serves the same function …

  19. I have no insider knowledge whatsoever, but I think it is unlikely that Dr Obbink would have said “documented legal provenance” if he did not believe that he could back it up. From what is said in the TLS piece, it appears that one factor is that the owner of the papyrus did not want to be personally identified.

    There are perhaps interesting questions here about the way in which pre-prints should be handled (they are after all rather uncommon in the humanities compared with the natural sciences). In the normal way of things, what might have happened might have been that information about the papyri would have been shared informally among a small group of people associated with the first editor, there would have been some rumour among a larger group of people associated with papyrology or Greek poetry, and then ZPE 189 would have come out and we would all have seen the full publication (with photo, etc.). It would doubtless have been at this stage that it made it into the print media, blogs, etc. (as happened with the previous “new Sappho” i.e. the Köln papyrus).

    What has happened this time is that a clearly very partial draft of the publication has been pre-circulated on open web, and has resulted in very extensive coverage online and in print media prior to full publication. The response to this has featured demands that *all* relevant information (effectively, almost full publication) should be released tomorrow, this minute, maybe yesterday. Yet we know that it takes time to get something in a proper state for full publication, and it is perhaps not too surprising that, in the context of a huge amount of sudden interest a scholar may be slow with email or may prefer to release information in a systematic way rather than in all directions in pieces. Impatience is understandable, since there are genuinely important questions at stake. Repeated assertions that perceived delays in the release of further information are evidence of bad faith seem to me rather more unfair and unfortunate.

    As far as I am aware, it is about a month since the pre-print was first circulated; the broader media caught on more recently and the recent flush of accusations has been happening over little more than a week. In the greater scheme of things, this is perhaps not really all that slow. If there has been a bit of a mismatch between the kind of speed of response associated with scholarly communication on such a matter and the blogosphere’s demand for much faster information flow, there is an interesting question whether that *should* be dealt with by slicker, faster news management by scholars, or by other people recognising that not everything has to happen at twitter speed. However, that does not need to entail the assumption that slow information management is evidence of dishonesty.

    Any chance of more discussion of the poems?!

    1. Exactly. All this inventing of suspicious questions is mere mudslinging, and arguably libellous. Let whoever thinks the text even possibly a modern forgery compose a poem in seventh-century Lesbian–remembering to enjamb some of the stanzas, to observe synapheia between the third and fourth lines (which are really single long lines), and never to admit a short syllable before mute and liquid–and then submit the composition for judgement; if it should pass that text, the next task is to transcribe it in the appropriate script for the chosen date onto a piece of suitably aged papyrus using ink compounded in the ancient manner. If you think you can do all that, or know someone else who can, go ahead and show us; if not, I commend silence.

      1. “If you think you can do all that, or know someone else who can, go ahead and show us;”

        There actually one living person capable of all that: M.L. West. (Not that I’m suggesting he forged the poems.)

      2. In the world of archaeology, material culture studies, scholars are not permitted to publish in reputable journals, objects which do not have clear provenance. So any question regarding the source of the Sappho fragments is entirely rational and, in fact, required by any thoughtful scholars who values antiquity and the archaeological sites which provide us with gems like the ones at hand.
        My lines of questioning here and elsewhere had much less to do with forgery than with archaeological provenance, especially considering what a dodgy market the antiquities trade can be in general, and more specifically with regard to Egyptian artifacts since the Arab Spring.

      3. Nah, Hylaeus. He’d have made a better job than that. More seriously, beyond the technical issues of composition and material forging, “rosemary85″ makes a strong argument from textual tradition against the hypothesis of a fake:


        Prof. Tronchin, your questions are indeed entirely rational and very much worth asking, and I do hope that they all will be satisfactorily answered by the publication, as I said (and I fully agree with Richard re. the timing issues). What I really cannot accept is the happy broadcasting of unsubstantiated allegations of bad faith (only some of which thinly disguised as questions) that has been taking place elsewhere on the web and was unfortunately referenced here too.

      4. Dr. Holford-Stevens: it sounds like you said the same thing I did about the possibility of forgery, only you are framing it as an acceptable risk, while I was asking about certainty. In fact, given the detail you and others were able to supply about what might need to be done, it sounds like many people possess the knowledge necessary to create a fake.

        In any case, I don’t suspect that the fragment is a fake, nor have I ever said that I had these suspicions (no matter what rosemary85 on Reddit might claim — and at least I use my real name). I have no way of deciding the issue, because without information about the fragment’s provenance, nobody can know one way or the other with the same certainty as if the fragment had appeared through proper excavation. This is not mudslinging. This is asking appropriate questions about a piece of data which is being held up as significant. Similarly, the questions about looting and provenance are important because there is *demonstrably* no reason to have faith in the antiquities market. This is not to say that Dr. Obbink is a conniving villain, but instead to try to understand the mechanisms by which a piece of papyrus like this ends up in a (purportedly clueless) collector’s hands.

        I might note, too, that Paul Barford has now raised good questions about the cartonnage issue, which I think are worth exploring (I’ve never torn apart mummy-wrappings myself).

      5. I do not know what may have happened in this case, but the following extract from Jaakko Frösén’s chapter “Conservation of Ancient Papyrus Materials” in the Oxford Handbook of Papyrology can help putting the cartonnage question into context:

        ” The new techniques of papyrus restoration, combined with methods of conserving wall paintings, have made it possible to extract papyrus successfully while safeguarding the mummy portraits and other paintings made on papyrus cartonnage. The frequently very bad state of preservation of the cartonnage has been caused partly by the archaeological surroundings and partly by poor storage conditions later on. A good deal of the cartonnage material still unconserved in the archaeological depots comes from excavations carried out at the beginning of the twentieth century. When the paintings have been removed from their papyrus support and fixed on a new, more stable support, the waste papyri of the gesso cartonnage can also be extracted and conserved (cf., e.g., M. Fackelmann 1985, 67–74).

        ” The recovery of papyrus from cartonnage is still the subject of controversy. Admittedly it interferes with the integrity of the cartonnage as an artifact. However, as the adhesive in particular that is used in some cardboards is prone to attack by insects and microorganisms, the cartonnages are in many cases in a very poor state of preservation. More often than not, in order to save the paintings, the papyrus cardboard has to be replaced. (Cf. the later section titled “Conservation of Book Bindings.” See Donnithorne 1986, 8; Frösén 1997; Horak 1997; and especially Janis 1997.) ”

        (I don’t have the page nos. as I am only looking at the online version: http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199843695.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199843695-e-004)

        Also, Paul Burford’s musings on the practicalities of the cartonnage neglect one thing, namely that nothing guarantees that the papyrus was straight and unfolded when used in the cartonnage. I seem to remember (but I don’t have the edition in front of me) that the Milan papyrus of Posidippus, one of the most illustrious cartonnage papyri, shows evidence of having been folded over and over when used for the cartonnage, which also explains why such a large papyrus could fit in it.

        Needless to say, there is much one looks forward to knowing about this papyrus – including how much of Bettany Hughes’ account of its discovery comes straight from Dr Obbink and how much (if any) is her own literary embellishment.

    2. Does anyone know why the TLS article reads ἀέρρη (without subscript), not ἀέργ̣η, as Dr. Obbink originally proposed? There was some mention earlier that he thought ἀέρρη wasn’t a possible reading of the papyrus, even though nearly everyone seems to think that ἀέρρη makes much better sense. Has he changed his mind on this point? ἀέργ̣η would seem to be the difficilior lectio, but difficilior almost to the point of impossibility.

      1. I don’t have an answer to this and I am, too, curious, but it would seem that Dr. Obbink now thinks that the sentence cannot be construed to yield a plausible sense with ἀέργη. I would, however, be careful about using textual criticism terminology here: the concept of lectio difficilior is most useful when there are two or more actual securely transmitted lectiones in different sources to compare and weigh.

  20. “the concept of lectio difficilior is most useful when there are two or more actual securely transmitted lectiones in different sources to compare and weigh.”

    Yes, you’re quite right. I used difficilior lectio as shorthand for the underlying idea: it’s easy to see how ἀέργ̣η could be changed to ἀέρρη in the course of transmission, but it’s hard to see how ἀέρρη could be changed to ἀέργ̣η, if that’s what the papyrus reads.

  21. This evening at the University of Lausanne, Olivier Thévenaz organised a gathering of Hellenists and friends of the Greek language and literature, presenting the new Sappho fragments and asking David Bouvier and myself our opinions. I gave a short talk mainly on the two brothers’ names, long known, but never looked deeper into as far as I know. This may be worth while doing.

    Χάραξ-ος is a typical hypocoristic in -ος, cut after the consonants that follow the second syllable, just like Πάτροκλ-ος from Πατροκλέης (see Non-Attic Vase Inscriptions, §228). In the latter example, the final consonant cluster is from the beginning of the second member of the compound, in Χάραξος we remain entirely in the first member. The original compound is of the τερψί-μβροτος type (Risch, Wortbildung der hom. Sprache, pp. 191–3, §41a), and to my knowledge there is only one χαραξι- compound attested: χαραξί-ποντος ‘ploughing the sea’ in Simonides. He will not have invented it in view of our name. Χάραξος is therefore a perfect name for a young nobleman from Lesbos, indeed for Sappho’s elder brother as we know him from our new poem as well as from other sources, it is almost a speaking name.

    The same may be true of Λάριχος. This name is derived by means of a rather popular suffix, -ιχος, attested mainly in Boeotian and Doric hypocoristics (NAGVI, §234). Up to now it could be thought to be derived from λάρος ‘sea-gull’. This is now no longer possible since the first syllable must be long. Thus it is most likely from λῆρος ‘trash, idle talk, babbling; silly babbler’. Here we will remember that Sappho, in the first line preserved on the new papyrus, is blaming one such babbler of repeating ever the same thing: that the elder brother is arriving with his ship full of precious merchandise. Where did the babbler have his ‘news’ from? It will have been said in the lost first part of the poem. Perhaps from some kind of superstitious everyday oracle? Or was it merely wishful thinking? What I mean to say is: Could the addressee have been teenage Larichos? An eventual change from 2nd to 3rd person would be easily acceptable. Larichos was presumably the oldest male family member in the house at the moment, the father being dead and the eldest brother abroad. Sappho would have preferred him to take action and send her to the sanctuary to pray instead of his childish babbling. (Dirk Obbink would say—and I rather like his reading of the poem—: She wanted him to turn into a man just as young Telemachos started to ‘manage’ his mother.) At the same time she wanted to teach Larichos a lesson in proper religious thinking. The daimon she evokes is intriguingly similar to Mentor pushing Telemachos.

    But what are we to make of speaking names for Sappho’s brothers? I don’t think this is a problem. Nicknames were current in Antiquity, not only on Lesbos (Alc. fr. 129.21, fr. 429). Sappho may have given her family members names of her own and may have stuck to them.

  22. For giggles, I tried my hand at a translation into English Sapphic stanzas (I have from the beginning believed that Obbink’s ἀέργη should be read ἀέρρη[ι]):

    … But, you only ever repeat Charaxos
    went with his ship full, which I know that Zeus knows—
    as do all the gods—so you shouldn’t have to
    contemplate these things.

    Rather, you must send me, command me so that
    I shall often supplicate Empress Hera
    that Charaxos pilot his ship in safety
    when he arrives here

    and discovers I am all safe and sound; but
    let’s give charge of everything else to daimons:
    out of great gales times of harmonious weather
    suddenly happen,

    Those for whom the monarch of Mt. Olympus
    right away desires to divert a spirit
    as a helper out of their troubles are quite
    happy and lucky;

    I, as well, if Larichos ever raises
    up his head and ever becomes a real man,
    in an instant would be released from very
    many a heartache!

  23. Who is the addresse of the Brothers Poem? Can it be that it is Sappho who the lyrical subject is talking to? And why do poeple translate πέμπην in line 5 as ‘send’? ‘Send’ where and what for? Can πέμπην be understood here as ‘to convoy’, ‘to conduct’ as in Il. 23.137? (so the meaning of πέπμην ἔμε would be ‘go with me’) Please, anyone respond.

    1. Prof. Benedetto Bravo pointed out to me that πέμπην most likely means ‘escort’ here (‘go with me’ would be correct); the implication is that the woman speaking is addressing a man, whom she expects to accompany her on her way to the temple. Perhaps the addressee of the poem is, as Prof. Rudolf Wachter suggested above, Larichos – I find it tempting to see a correspondence between what can be inferred about the addressee from the first two preserved stanzas and how Larichos is characterized in the last stanza.

      1. This is a very interesting suggestion, although I am not entirely sure that the third-person description of Larichos in the last stanza is compatible with a second-person address to Larichos himself in the first few. I am also worried about seeing the poem as addressed to a man: he can hardly be a male relative (or she would scarcely be able to say that the family’s hopes rest on the younger Larichos rather than on him), and what other male could it be? I believe Martin West suggested Sappho’s mother, but I wonder whether it would have been proper to address a parent in the really quite patronising tone Sappho adopts in the first stanza. My personal preference is Kleis jr., Sappho’s daughter: “you should stop chattering about all the fancy merchandise you hope your brother may bring back [ἔλθην must represent an optative not an indicative] and ask me to go and pray for him instead”. I think this would fit in quite nicely with Sappho’s portrayal of the girl elsewhere. But of course I have no positive evidence for any of this.

  24. For the switch between a third-person narrative and a second-person address, cf. Alc. fr. 72 V (I owe this one to Prof. Jerzy Danielewicz). And in fact, is Larichos not addressed, even if indirectly, by the last stanza? Yet to be sure, what I offer may not be much more than just a futile intellectual exercise!

  25. May I offer a verse translation of the stanza quoted in the article from Horace’s Soracte Ode?

    Let the gods settle the rest, Thaliarchus:
    At once they’ve smoothed the boiling sea; the winds
    Retreat, and now the cypresses are still
    And the ancient ashes.

  26. Dear team in charge of this forum, the articles with the edition of the Sappho poems just published in the new issue of ZPE do not give information on the acquisition circumstances of P. Sapph. Obbink (belonging to a London anonymous owner) and P.GC. 105 (belonging to the Green Collection). It is my understanding that they seem to come from the same papyrus roll. In Dirk Obbink’s TLS article it is written that P. Sapph. Obbink comes from a mummy cartonnage panel, and similar information on the second papyrus is given at p. 1 of the edition article in ZPE (‘Four fragments, assembled from some twenty separate pieces recovered from cartonnage…). I have then the following questions: Were P.Sapph. Obbink and P.GC. 105 extracted from the same artefact? When? Who did it? What kinds of decisions were taken in dismounting the cartonnage panel? What kind of technique was used?
    I am personally concerned about the way the Green Collection has purchased papyri and other antiquities in the past through the agency of Scott Carroll and others. I think it would be reassuring to have more precise information on the acquisition circumstances of both these papyri. Thank you for consideration.

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