gone under is the moon (Sappho)

Δέδυκε μὲν ἀ σελάννα
καὶ Πληίαδες· μέσαι δὲ
νύκτες, παρὰ δ’ ἔρχετ’ ὤρα·
ἔγω δὲ μόνα κατεύδω.

Hagesichorian meter: × ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ¯

Look for some of the major features of Sappho’s Aeolic dialect:

  • psilosis (ψίλωσις)—i.e. the “rough breathing” has been lost
  • recessive accent—the accent moves as far leftward in the word as is allowed
  • retention of long α, which becomes η in Attic and Ionic

At some point in the future I will upload a basic introduction to the Aeolic dialect, which will go into some depth about the phonological and morphological features of this dialect as compared to the perhaps more familiar Attic-Ionic dialects, and I will look a bit into the historical processes underlying these differences.

Also note that μέσαι νύκτες (sc. εἰσί) does not refer to nights that are in the middle, but rather to the middle parts of the night. This is the same syntactic phenomenon found in e.g. in medias res, which means not “into the events that are in the middle” but “into the middle of events.”

Gone under is the moon
and the Pleiades, it is the middle
of the night, the hour passes by,
and I am sleeping alone.

The first two lines of the Greek contain a minor disagreement between the singular verb δέδυκε ‘has gone down’ and what eventually turns out to be a plural subject ἀ σελάννα … καὶ Πληίαδες ‘the moon … and the Pleiades,’ where the latter are something of an afterthought. I have preserved this incongruity in translating it, although a different way of handling this would have been a parenthetical “the Pleiades, as well.”

(Photo by lillie kate)


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