I keep several translations of Sappho at hand, since each translator brings her (or his) own perspective to the fragments, and my Ancient Greek is not good enough to second-guess a single translator. Amongst these, Carson seems to be the only one with the original Greek en-face, and with a whole page dedicated to each fragment.
In terms of the translation itself, Carson's is usually my favorite, with Powell's a close second. Her translations are more direct than others', which can sometimes yield unusual phrasing in English, but Sappho's intensely personal expression comes through all the more clearly this way. See, for example, fragment 138:
stand to face me beloved
and open out the grace of your eyes
But stand before me, if you are my friend,
and spread the grace that's in your eyes.
Stand and face me, my love,
and scatter the grace in your eyes
Rayor & Lardinois:
Stand before me as a friend
and flaunt the charm in your eyes.
In terms of Sappho herself—or what we have left of her, she is an easy poet to fall in love with. Her songs, mostly love songs, ring as true today as 2600 years ago. In a good translation, they sound as fresh as if they were off top-40 radio... except no modern singer-songwriter is this good. She has the intense and insistent sensuality of Cavafy as well as his easy mixing of the mundane with the mythical, the sweet sadness of Joan Baez along with her self-aware wry humor, a sharper blade for her rivals than any rap battle, and expresses the depth of feelings as clearly as Shakespeare's sonnets. It is infuriating that so little of her work has survived.
I hope that Carson will publish an updated edition including the recently discovered papyri.
- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group; 1 edition (6 November 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1844080811
- ISBN-13: 978-1844080816
- Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 2.6 x 19.6 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 322 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 70,858 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)