Page:Cox - Sappho and the Sapphic Metre in English, 1916.djvu/11

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
4 Sappho and the Sapphic Metre in English Sappho and the Sapphic Metre in English 5

peculiarity. During the past few years the Egypt Exploration Fund has sent indefatigable workers to the Delta of the Nile, and among other treasure trove there has been a certain number of fairly satisfactory fragments from second and third century papyri of Sappho’s works. These recovered fragments have been deciphered, translated, and from time to time published.

However, the history of her writings as far as translations into English is concerned, only begins in the seventeenth century, although before the middle of that century there was a considerable number of references of varying length and importance scattered through English books, chiefly on historical and poetical subjects. Although few of these early references to the poetess have anything to do with actual translation of the fragments, their character and occurrence have a certain interest and a bibliographical relationship with the later attempts at translation into English. Such references also serve as an indication of the mental attitude of writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries towards Sappho, and from them we acquire the impression, that there was a gradual growth in appreciation and comprehension as the eighteenth century loomed into view, though this appreciation and comprehension were often clouded by the inability of these writers, owing to their imperfect knowledge and the prepossessions of their intellectual environment, to shake themselves free from the effects of the scandals launched by the later Greek comic writers, who were undoubtedly writing down to their audiences in many of the comedies which they produced. It is to be hoped that some interest attaches to the tracing of references to Sappho in English books of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in addition to the interest of the translations of her writings, in the narrower bibliographical sense. Biographical references and translations are so intimately associated in her case that they may be satisfactorily discussed together. Though her poems in the original were known to a few Englishmen

in Elizabethan and Jacobean times, this knowledge appears to have been superficial with a large proportion of it infected with the Ovidian version of the alleged episode in connection with Phaon, for references to this and to the Leucadian rock legend, with a few doubtful biographical details from late classical sources comprise all that we have in English up to, as we shall see later, the appearance of John Hall’s translation of Longinus in 1652. There was apparently no attempt to translate the magnificent Hymn to Aphrodite, although nearly every classical writer of anything like equal importance had some attention during this period. Much that was Greek we must, however, remember came to England in French or Latin versions frequently tinctured with the personal views of the translators into those languages. It is a fact worth noting that the Sapphic metre attracted certain poets and compilers soon after it was known in England, but the first attempts to use it in our language were not in the nature of translations, but of original compositions. For example, in Barnabe Barnes’ “Parthenophil and Parthenophe,” 1593, there are two attempts at lyrics in imitation of the Greek, one in Sapphics and one in Anacreontics. The first verse of the Sapphic poem goes as follows:

O, that I could make her, whom I love best,
Find in a face, with misery wrinkled,
Find in a heart, with sighs over ill-pined
   Her cruel hatred,

and the other four verses are of the same somewhat jerky and undistinguished quality. In Davison’s “Poetical Rhapsody,” 1602, there is also an attempt at Sapphics in a set of verses supposed to be by the mysterious “A. W.,” who contributed other poems to this rare anthology. A specimen verse is as follows:

Hatred eternal, furious revenging.
Merciless raging, bloody persecuting;
Slanderous speeches, odious revilings;
   Causeless abhorring.