No. 223. Thursday, Nov. 15, 1711. Addison.

O suavis Anima! qualem te dicam bonam Antehac fuisse, tales cùm sint reliquiæ!

When I reflect upon the various Fate of those Multitudes of Ancient Writers who flourished in Greece and Italy, I consider Time as an Immense Ocean, in which many noble Authors are entirely swallowed up, many very much shattered and damaged, some quite disjointed and broken into pieces, while some have wholly escaped the Common Wreck; but the Number of the last is very small.

Apparent rari nantes in gurgite vasto.

Among the mutilated Poets of Antiquity, there is none whose Fragments are so beautiful as those of Sappho. They give us a Taste of her Way of Writing, which is perfectly conformable with that extraordinary Character we find of her, in the Remarks of those great Criticks who were conversant with her Works when they were entire. One may see by what is left of them, that she followed Nature in all her Thoughts, without descending to those little Points, Conceits, and Turns of Wit with which many of our modern Lyricks are so miserably infected. Her Soul seems to have been made up of Love and Poetry; She felt the Passion in all its Warmth, and described it in all its Symptoms. She is called by ancient Authors the Tenth Muse; and by Plutarch is compared to Cacus the Son of Vulcan, who breathed out nothing but Flame. I do not know, by the Character that is given of her Works, whether it is not for the Benefit of Mankind that they are lost. They were filled with such bewitching Tenderness and Rapture, that it might have been dangerous to have given them a Reading.

An Inconstant Lover, called Phaon, occasioned great Calamities to this Poetical Lady. She fell desperately in Love with him, and took a Voyage into Sicily in Pursuit of him, he having withdrawn himself thither on purpose to avoid her. It was in that Island, and on this Occasion, she is supposed to have made the Hymn to Venus, with a Translation of which I shall present my Reader. Her Hymn was ineffectual for the procuring that Happiness which she prayed for in it. Phaon was still obdurate, and Sappho so transported with the Violence of her Passion, that she was resolved to get rid of it at any Price.

There was a Promontory in Acarnania called Leucrate [1] on the Top of which was a little Temple dedicated to Apollo. In this Temple it was usual for despairing Lovers to make their Vows in secret, and afterwards to fling themselves from the Top of the Precipice into the Sea, where they were sometimes taken up alive. This Place was therefore called, The Lovers Leap; and whether or no the Fright they had been in, or the Resolution that could push them to so dreadful a Remedy, or the Bruises which they often received in their Fall, banished all the tender Sentiments of Love, and gave their Spirits another Turn; those who had taken this Leap were observed never to relapse into that Passion. Sappho tried the Cure, but perished in the Experiment.

After having given this short Account of Sappho so far as it regards the following Ode, I shall subjoin the Translation of it as it was sent me by a Friend, whose admirable Pastorals and Winter-Piece have been already so well received. [2] The Reader will find in it that Pathetick Simplicity which is so peculiar to him, and so suitable to the Ode he has here Translated. This Ode in the Greek (besides those Beauties observed by Madam Dacier) has several harmonious Turns in the Words, which are not lost in the English. I must farther add, that the Translation has preserved every Image and Sentiment of Sappho, notwithstanding it has all the Ease and Spirit of an Original. In a Word, if the Ladies have a mind to know the Manner of Writing practised by the so much celebrated Sappho, they may here see it in its genuine and natural Beauty, without any foreign or affected Ornaments.


I. O Venus, Beauty of the Skies, To whom a Thousand Temples rise, Gayly false in gentle Smiles, Full of Loves perplexing Wiles; O Goddess! from my Heart remove The wasting Cares and Pains of Love.

II. If ever thou hast kindly heard A Song in soft Distress preferr'd, Propitious to my tuneful Vow, O gentle Goddess! hear me now. Descend, thou bright, immortal Guest, In all thy radiant Charms confest.

III. Thou once didst leave Almighty Jove, And all the Golden Roofs above: The Carr thy wanton Sparrows drew; Hovring in Air they lightly flew, As to my Bower they wing'd their Way: I saw their quivring Pinions play.

IV. The Birds dismist (while you remain) Bore back their empty Carr again: Then You, with Looks divinely mild, In evry heavnly Feature smil'd, And ask'd what new Complaints I made, And why I call'd you to my Aid?

V. What Phrenzy in my Bosom rag'd, And by what Care to be asswag'd? What gentle Youth I could allure, Whom in my artful Toiles secure? Who does thy tender Heart subdue, Tell me, my Sappho, tell me Who?

VI. Tho now he Shuns thy longing Arms, He soon shall court thy slighted Charms; Tho now thy Offrings he despise, He soon to thee shall Sacrifice; Tho now he freeze, he soon shall burn, And be thy Victim in his turn.

VII. Celestial Visitant, once more Thy needful Presence I implore! In Pity come and ease my Grief, Bring my distemper'd Soul Relief; Favour thy Suppliants hidden Fires, And give me All my Heart desires.

Madam Dacier observes, there is something very pretty in that Circumstance of this Ode, wherein Venus is described as sending away her Chariot upon her Arrival at Sappho's Lodgings, to denote that it was not a short transient Visit which she intended to make her. This Ode was preserved by an eminent Greek Critick, [3] who inserted it intire in his Works, as a Pattern of Perfection in the Structure of it.

Longinus has quoted another Ode of this great Poetess, which is likewise admirable in its Kind, and has been translated by the same Hand with the foregoing one. I shall oblige my Reader with it in another Paper. In the mean while, I cannot but wonder, that these two finished Pieces have never been attempted before by any of our Countrymen. But the Truth of it is, the Compositions of the Ancients, which have not in them any of those unnatural Witticisms that are the Delight of ordinary Readers, are extremely difficult to render into another Tongue, so as the Beauties of the Original may not appear weak and faded in the Translation.


[Footnote 1: Leucas]

[Footnote 2: Ambrose Philips, whose Winter Piece appeared in No. 12 of the Tatler, and whose six Pastorals preceded those of Pope. Philips's Pastorals had appeared in 1709 in a sixth volume of a Poetical Miscellany issued by Jacob Tonson. The first four volumes of that Miscellany had been edited by Dryden, the fifth was collected after Dryden's death, and the sixth was notable for opening with the Pastorals of Ambrose Philips and closing with those of young Pope which Tonson had volunteered to print, thereby, said Wycherley, furnishing a Jacob's ladder by which Pope mounted to immortality. In a letter to his friend Mr. Henry Cromwell, Pope said, generously putting himself out of account, that there were no better eclogues in our language than those of Philips; but when afterwards Tickell in the Guardian, criticising Pastoral Poets from Theocritus downwards, exalted Philips and passed over Pope, the slighted poet took his revenge by sending to Steele an amusing one paper more upon Pastorals. This was ironical exaltation of the worst he could find in Philips over the best bits of his own work, which Steele inserted (it is No. 40 of the Guardian). Hereupon Philips, it is said, stuck up a rod in Buttons Coffee House, which he said was to be used on Pope when next he met him. Pope retained his wrath, and celebrated Philips afterwards under the character of Macer, saying of this Spectator time,

When simple Macer, now of high renown, First sought a Poets fortune in the town, Twas all the ambition his high soul could feel, To wear red stockings, and to dine with Steele.]

[Footnote 3: Dionysius of Halicarnassus.]

Translation of motto:
PHAEDR. iii. i. 5.
'O sweet soul! how good must you have been heretofore, when your
remains are so delicious!'