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Sappho, The Hymn to Aphrodite, from Wharton's Sappho, with English versions by Wharton, Philips, Herbert, Merivale, Arnold, Walhouse, Symonds, Akenside, and Swinburne, plus Wharton's context and Peitho's links.



Immortal Aphrodite of the broidered throne, daughter of Zeus, weaver of wiles, I pray thee break not my spirit with anguish and distress, O Queen. But come hither, if ever before thou didst hear my voice afar, and listen, and leaving thy father's golden house camest with chariot yoked, and fair fleet sparrows drew thee, flapping fast their wings around the dark earth, from heaven through mid sky. Quickly arrived they; and thou, blessed one, smiling with immortal countenance, didst ask What now is befallen me, and Why now I call, and What I in my mad heart most desire to see. 'What Beauty now wouldst thou draw to love thee? Who wrongs thee, Sappho? For even if she flies she shall soon follow, and if she rejects gifts shall yet give, and if she loves not shall soon love, however loth.' Come, I pray thee, now too, and release me from cruel cares; and all that my heart desires to accomplish, accomplish thou, and be thyself my ally.
Wharton's literal translation
 
O Venus, beauty of the skies,
To whom a thousand temples rise,
Gaily false in gentle smiles,
Full of love-perplexing wiles;
O goddess, from my heart remove
The wasting cares and pains of love.

If ever thou hast kindly heard
A song in soft distress preferred,
Propitious to my tuneful vow,
O gentle goddess, hear me now.
Descend, thou bright immortal guest,

In all thy radiant charms confessed.
Thou once didst leave almighty Jove
And all the golden roofs above;
The car thy wanton sparrows drew,
Hovering in air they lightly flew;
As to my bower they winged their way
I saw their quivering pinions play.

The birds dismissed (while you remain)
Bore back their empty car again:
Then you, with looks divinely mild,
In every heavenly feature smiled,
And asked what new complaints I made,
And why I called you to my aid?

What frenzy in my bosom raged,
And by what cure to be assuaged?
What gentle youth I would allure,
Whom in my artful toils secure?
Who does thy tender heart subdue,
Tell me, my Sappho, tell me who?

Though now he shuns thy longing arms,
He soon shall court thy slighted charms;
Though now thy offerings he despise,
He soon to thee shall sacrifice;
Though now he freeze, he soon shall burn,
And be thy victim in his turn.

Celestial visitant, once more
Thy needful presence I implore.
In pity come, and ease my grief,
Bring my distempered soul relief,
Favour thy suppliant's hidden fires,
And give me all my heart desires.
Ambrose Philips
A Hymn to Venus, 1711
 
O Venus, daughter of the mighty Jove,
Most knowing in the mystery of love,
Help me, oh help me, quickly send relief,
And suffer not my heart to break with grief.

If ever thou didst hear me when I prayed,
Come now, my goddess, to thy Sappho's aid.
Orisons used, such favour hast thou shewn,
From heaven's golden mansions called thee down.

See, see, she comes in her cerulean car,
Passing the middle regions of the air.
Mark how her nimble sparrows stretch the wing,
And with uncommon speed their Mistress bring.

Arrived, and sparrows loosed, hastens to me;
Then smiling asks, What is it troubles thee?
Why am I called? Tell me what Sappho wants.
Oh, know you not the cause of all my plaints?

I love, I burn, and only love require,
And nothing less can quench the raging fire.
What youth, what raving lover shall I gain?
Where is the captive that should wear my chain?

Alas, poor Sappho, who is this ingrate
Provokes thee so, for love returning hate?
Does he now fly thee? He shall soon return;
Pursue thee, and with equal ardour burn.

Would he no presents at thy hands receive?
He will repent it, and more largely give.
The force of love no longer withstand;
He must be fond, wholly at thy command.

When wilt thou work this change? Now, Venus free,
Now ease my mind of so much misery;
In this amour my powerful aider be;
Make Phaon love, but let him love like me.
Herbert
To the Goddess of Love, 1713.
 
Immortal Venus, throned above
In radiant beauty, child of Jove,
O skilled in every art of love
          And artful snare;
Dread power, to whom I bend the knee,
Release my soul and set it free
From bonds of piercing agony
          And gloomy care.
Yet come thyself, if, e'er, benign,
Thy listening ears thou didst incline
To my rude lay, the starry shine
          Of Jove's court leaving,
In chariot yoked with coursers fair,
Thine own immortal birds that bear
Thee swift to earth, the middle air
          With bright wings cleaving.
Soon they were sped--and thou, most blest,
In thine own smiles ambrosial dressed,
Didst ask what my mind oppressed--
          What meant my song--
What end my frenzied thoughts pursue--
For what loved youth I spread anew
My amorous nets--'Who, Sappho, who
          'Hath done thee wrong?
'What though he fly, he'll soon return--
'Still press thy gifts, though now he spurn;
' Heed not his coldness--soon he'll burn,
          'E'en though thou chide.'
--And saidst thou thus, dread goddess? Oh,
          Come then once more to ease my woe:
Grant all, and thy great self bestow,
          My shield and guide!
John Herman Merivale
Hymn to Venus, 1833
 
Golden-throned beyond the sky,
Jove-born immortality:
Hear and heal a suppliant's pain:
Let not love be love in vain!

Come, as once to Love's imploring
Accents of a maid's adoring,
Wafted 'neath the golden dome
Bore thee from thy father's home;

When far off thy coming glowed,
Whirling down th' aethereal road,
On thy dove-drawn progress glancing,
'Mid the light of wings advancing;

And at once the radiant hue
Of immortal smiles I knew;
Heard the voice of reassurance
Ask the tale of love's endurance:--

'Why such prayer? And who for thee,
Sappho, should be touch'd by me;
Passion-charmed in frenzy strong--
Who hath wrought my Sappho wrong?

'--Soon for flight pursuit wilt find,
Proffer'd gifts for gifts declined;
Soon, thro' long reluctance earn'd,
Love refused be Love return'd.'

--To thy suppliant so returning,
Consummate a maiden's yearning:
Love, from deep despair set free,
Championing to victory!
F. T. Palgrave
Hymn to Aphrodite, 1854
 
Splendour-throned Queen, immortal Aphrodite,
Daughter of Jove, Enchantress, I implore thee
Vex not my soul with agonies and anguish;
          Slay me not, Goddess!
Come in thy pity--come, if I have prayed thee;
Come at the cry of my sorrow; in the old times
Oft thou hast heard, and left thy father's heaven,
          Left the gold houses,
Yoking thy chariot. Swiftly did the doves fly,
Swiftly they brought thee, waving plumes of wonder--
Waving their dark plumes all across the aether,
          All down the azure.
Very soon they lighted. Then didst thou, Divine one,
Laugh a bright laugh from lips and eyes immortal,
Ask me, 'What ailed me--wherefore out of heaven
          'Thus I had called thee?
'What it was made me madden in my heart so?'
Question me, smiling--say to me, 'My Sappho,
'Who is it wrongs thee? Tell me who refuses
          'Thee, vainly sighing.'
'Be it who it may be, he that flies shall follow;
'He that rejects gifts, he shall bring thee many;
'He that hates now shall love thee dearly, madly--
          'Aye, though thou wouldst not.'
So once again come, Mistress; and, releasing
Me from my sadness, give me what I sue for,
Grant me my prayer, and be as heretofore now
          Friend and protectress.
Edwin Arnold, 1869
 
Beautiful-throned, immortal Aphrodite,
Daughter of Zeus, beguiler, I implore thee,
Weigh me not down with weariness and anguish
          O thou most holy!

Come to me now, if ever thou in kindness
Hearkenedst my words,--and often hast thou hearkened--
Heeding, and coming from the mansions golden
          Of thy great Father,

Yoking thy chariot, borne by the most lovely
Consecrated birds, with dusky-tinted pinions,
Waving swift wings from utmost heights of heaven
          Through the mid-ether;

Swiftly they vanished, leaving thee, O goddess,
Smiling, with face immortal in its beauty,
Asking why I grieved, and why in utter longing
          I had dared call thee;

Asking what I sought, thus hopeless in desiring,
Wildered in brain, and spreading nets of passion--
Alas, for whom? and saidst thou, 'Who has harmed thee?
          'O my poor Sappho!

'Though now he flies, ere long he shall pursue thee;
'Fearing thy gifts, he too in turn shall bring them;
'Loveless to-day, to-morrow he shall woo thee,
          'Though thou shouldst spurn him.'

Thus seek me now, O holy Aphrodite!
Save me from anguish; give me all I ask for,
Gifts at thy hand; and thine shall be the glory,
          Sacred protector!
T. W. Higgenson, 1871
 
O fickle-souled, deathless one, Aphrodite,
   Daughter of Zeus, weaver of wiles, I pray thee,
Lady august, never with pangs and bitter
      Anguish affray me!

But hither come often, as erst with favour
    My invocations pitifully heeding,
Leaving thy sire's golden abode, thou camest
      Down to me speeding.

Yoked to thy car, delicate sparrows drew thee
    Fleetly to earth, fluttering fast their pinions,
From heaven's height through middle ether's liquid
      Sunny dominions.

Soon they arrived; thou, O divine one, smiling
      Sweetly from that countenance all immortal,
Askedst my grief, wherefore I so had called thee
      From the bright portal?

What my wild soul languished for, frenzy-stricken?
    'Who thy love now is it that ill requiteth,
Sappho? and who thee and thy tender yearning
      Wrongfully slighteth?

Though he now fly, quickly he shall pursue thee--
    Scorns he thy gifts? Soon he shall freely offer--
Loves he not? Soon, even wert thou unwilling,
      Love shall he proffer.'

Come to me then, loosen me from my torment,
    All my heart's wish unto fulfilment guide thou,
Grant and fulfil! And an ally most trusty
      Ever abide thou.
Moreton John Walhouse
In the Gentleman's Magazine, 1877.
 
Glittering-throned, undying Aphrodite,
Wile-weaving daughter of high Zeus, I pray thee,
Tame not my soul with heavy woe, dread mistress,
      Nay, nor with anguish !

But hither come, if ever erst of old time
Thou didst incline, and listenedst to my crying,
And from thy father's palace down descending,
      Camest with golden

Chariot yoked: thee fair swift-flying sparrows
Over dark earth with multitudinous fluttering,
Pinion on pinion, through middle ether
      Down from heaven hurried.

Quickly they came like light, and thou, blest lady,
Smiling with clear undying eyes didst ask me
What was the woe that troubled me, and wherefore
      I had cried to thee:

What thing I longed for to appease my frantic
Soul: and Whom now must I persuade, thou askedst,
Whom must entangle to thy love, and who now,
      Sappho, hath wronged thee?

Yea, for if now he shun, he soon shall chase thee;
Yea, if he take not gifts, he soon shall give them;
Yea, if he love not, soon shall he begin to
      Love thee, unwilling.

Come to me now too, and from tyrannous sorrow
Free me, and all things that my soul desires to
Have done, do for me, queen, and let thyself too
      Be my great ally!
J. Addington Symonds, 1893
 

Besides these complete versions--many others there are, but these are by far the best--compare the following stanza out of Akenside's Ode on Lyric Poetry (about 1745):

But lo, to Sappho's melting airs
   Descends the radiant queen of Love:
She smiles, and asks what fonder cares
   Her suppliant's plaintive measures move:
Why is my faithful maid distressed?
Who, Sappho, wounds thy tender breast?
Say, flies he?--Soon he shall pursue.
   Shuns he thy gifts?--He soon shall give.
   Slights he thy sorrows?--He shall grieve,
And soon to all thy wishes bow.
 

And Swinburne's paraphrase--

For I beheld in sleep the light that is
In her high place in Paphos, heard the kiss
Of body and soul that mix with eager tears
And laughter stinging through the eyes and ears:
Saw Love, as burning flame from crown to feet,
Imperishable, upon her storied seat;
Clear eyelids lifted toward the north and south,
A mind of many colours, and a mouth
Of many tunes and kisses; and she bowed,
With all her subtle face laughing aloud,
Bowed down upon me, saying, 'Who doth thee wrong,
Sappho?' but thou--thy body is the song,
Thy mouth the music; thou art more than I,
Though my voice die not till the whole world die;
Though men that hear it madden; though love weep,
Though nature change, though shame be charmed to sleep.
Ay, wilt thou slay me lest I kiss thee dead?
Yet the queen laughed from her sweet heart and said:
'Even she that flies shall follow for thy sake,
And she shall give thee gifts that would not take,
Shall kiss that would not kiss thee' (yea, kiss me)
'When thou wouldst not'--when I would not kiss thee!
Swinburne's Anactoria, p. 67 f.

And his--

 
O thou of divers-coloured mind,* O thou
Deathless, God's daughter subtle-souled--lo now,
Now to the song above all songs, in flight
Higher than the day-star's height,
And sweet as sound the moving wings of night!
Thou of the divers-coloured seat--behold
Her very song of old!--
O deathless, O God's daughter subtle-souled!
* * * * *
Child of God, close craftswoman, I beseech thee;
Bid not ache nor agony break nor master,
      Lady, my spirit.


   Songs of the Spring-tides: On the Cliffs.
 

As well as Frederick Tennyson's--

   Come to me; what I seek in vain
   Bring thou; into my spirit send
   Peace after care, balm after pain;
      And be my friend.

* poikilothron = on richly worked throne, is by some read poikilophron = full of various wiles, subtle-minded.

Wharton's Context- Dionysius of Halicarnassus, writing at Rome about 25 B.C., quotes this, commonly called The Ode to Aphrodite, as a perfect illustration of the elaborately finished style of poetry, showing in detail how its grace and beauty lie in the subtle harmony between the words and the ideas. Certain lines of it, though nowhere else the whole, are preserved by Hephaestion and other authors.


Peithô's Web Index
Hymn to Aphrodite links:
· Addison's
Spectator No. 223.
· Elizabeth Van Diver Sappho's Hymn to Aphrodite (four star)
· Swinburne: Poems and Ballads by Algernon Charles Swinburne At the U. of Virginia (Bethany Nowviskie)