For a thousand years or so in Egypt, undertakers recycled paper for use in wrapping mummies. The soaked scraps of papyrus encasing the corpse, when dry, could be painted and decorated with symbols appropriate for an afterlife in the “western lands,” an eternity of drinking beer and eating cake — at least until the mummy was disturbed by a thoughtless archaeologist. When that happens, and the wrappings are peeled from the mummy, they are often found to be scraps of literary papyri containing works that would otherwise have been lost to the ages. Such is the case with the new poem of Sappho, finally pieced together and published in 2004, from a scrap known as the “Cologne papyrus.” It is only the fourth complete poem by Sappho in existence.
A part of it had been discovered back in 1926 on a mummy-wrapping of the third century A.D. The rest of the poem appeared only a few years ago on a mummy-wrapping of the third century B.C. (making it the oldest Sappho-papyrus, only three centuries younger than the poet herself). For more information, see http://www.uni-koeln.de/phil-fak/ifa/NRWakademie/papyrologie/Verstreutepub/21351_ZPE147.html
The poem is from the fourth book of Σαπφοῦς Μέλη, a collection of the Alexandrian period. It is a poem about old age and bears a similarity to Sappho’s “pathographic” poem (Φαίνεταί μοι κῆνος — see https://www.translatum.gr/forum/index.php?topic=35673.0
) in that it describes her own physical experience and ends with the gesture, “Oh well, what can we do, it’s beyond our control.”
All of the new poem can now be read, with the exception of a word or two in the third line from the end. In brackets, in the following text, I have suggested a reading of the missing letters. You can check the papyrus yourselves to see if you think it fits: http://www.uni-koeln.de/phil-fak/ifa/PK21351+21376r.JPG
|ὔμμες πεδὰ Μοίσαν ἰοκόλπων κάλα δῶρα, παῖδες,|
σπουδάσδετε καὶ τὰν φιλάοιδον λιγύραν χελύνναν·
ἔμοι δ’ ἄπαλον πρίν ποτ’ ἔοντα χρόα γῆρας ἤδη
ἐπέλλαβε, λεῦκαι δ’ ἐγένοντο τρίχες ἐκ μελαίναν·
βάρυς δὲ μ’ ὀ θῦμος πεπόηται, γόνα δ’ οὐ φέροισι,
τὰ δή ποτα λαίψηρ’ ἔον ὄρχησθ’ ἴσα νεβρίοισι.
τὰ μὲν στεναχίσδω θαμέως· ἀλλὰ τί κεν ποείην;
ἀγήραον ἄνθρωπον ἔοντ’ οὐ δύνατον γένεσθαι.
καὶ γάρ ποτα Τίθωνον ἔφαντο βροδόπαχυν Αὔων
ἔρωι [μάλ’ ἰεῖσαν] βάμεν’ εἰς ἔσχατα γᾶς φέροισαν,
ἔοντα κάλον καὶ νέον, ἀλλ’ αὖτον ὔμως ἔμαρψε
χρόνωι πόλιον γῆρας, ἔχοντ’ ἀθανάταν ἄκοιτιν.
|Come practice the gifts, beautiful gifts violet-girt Muses have given!|
Take hold of the lyre, tortoise-shell lyre, song-loving, shrill, my children!
My own tender skin — once-tender skin — taken away by age now!
My hair gone all white, all trace of black taken away by age now!
Once-vigorous life’s heavy to bear, shaky the knees that used to
Spring, making me dance, nimble and light, light as a fawn in those days …
Oh, often I make bitter complaints — what’s there for me to do, though?
There’s no way for you, no way for me, not to get old forever.
Tithonus, they say — long, long ago — rosy-armed Dawn took with her,
Right up to the last limits of earth (Love drove her on, relentless);
Young, handsome he was; nevertheless, hoary old age waylaid him
With time moving on — no help for him, claiming a goddess for bedmate!
Finally, I append my translation. Though it’s a relatively free rendering, it still tries to keep to the original rhythm of Sappho, the sensual “greater Asclepiadeian” meter, which, greatly oversimplified, goes like this: ˘ | ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ | ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ | ¯ ˘ ˘ | ¯ ˘ | ¯ ˘
I don’t know if it’s been done well into Greek so far; if not, could one of you please do it?