Sublime Sappho. The moon has set & the Pleiades (in Aeolic Greek, Linear B, Linear C, English & French): Click to ENLARGE

Sappho poetry Elihu Vedder 1836-1923 The Pleiades 1885

This is the first of many exquisite poems by the sublime Sappho (ca. 630-570 BCE), who was considered by the ancient Greeks to be second only to Homer, as well as the greatest lyric poet of their age. Indeed, even today, a great many poets and poetry critics, including myself, consider her to hold this exalted station still. You will all see this for yourselves as I post one after another of her exalted lyrics. I have decided to go all the way, by presenting you each poem in the original Aeolic Greek, as well as in Mycenaean Linear B & Arcado-Cypriot Linear C, and even English and French! Throughout history, to this very day, no one has ever done this. I am the first. I am so in awe Sappho’s consummate skill and artistry that I will do anything to broadcast her name and her sublime poetry to the whole world.

This particular poem is my absolute favourite. It flows so naturally in Aeolic Greek that it washes over me, emotionally and spiritually. Like Italian, Aeolic Greek is superbly suited for lyric poetry, as it has no aspirates. Aspiration can and sometimes does sound harsh in lyric poetry. Aeolic Greek is notable for its sublime melody. If you could only hear this stunning poem, even if you could not even read Aeolic Greek, the Harmony of the Spheres would fairly floor you. Sappho knew this perfectly well. Her lyrics were, of course, sung to the accompaniment of the lyre. I have never read any lyric poet in any language (English, French, Spanish, Italian, German or Russian) who has ever been able to rival her consummate artistry. I adore her. Click to ENLARGE her portrait.

Simeon Solomon 1840-1905 A Study of Sappho 1862

A few linguistic notes:

Being an East Greek dialect, Aeolic Greek is related to both the Mycenaean & Arcado-Cypriot dialects. There are many striking similarities and some notable differences in these three dialects.

Mycenaean Greek in Linear B:

Mycenaean Greek has no L series of syllabograms. The R series must be substituted, hence “serana” for Aeolic “selanna”. Since Linear B is an open syllabary, in which all syllabograms must end with a vowel, it is impossible to spell any word with two consecutive consonants, hence the last syllable of “serana” has only 1 N. For the same reason, final consonants, which are normative in almost all ancient Greek dialects, must be omitted in Mycenaean Greek. Hence, we have “me” for “men”. It is difficult to express the plural in Mycenaean Greek. However, there are precedents. The plural of “apore” (amphora) is “aporewe”. This allows us to write the Pleiades as “Periadewe”.

Arcado-Cypriot Linear C:

Similar bizarre (parallel) spelling conventions plague Arcado-Cypriot Linear C . Unlike Linear B, which has a dental D series of syllabograms, Linear C lacks it, and must substitute the dental T series. On the other hand, Linear C has both an L and an R series, and so both liquids can be accounted for. Since documents in alphabetic Arcado-Cypriot must express the final consonant, in line with almost all other ancient Greek dialects, Linear C has no choice but to resort to the opposite strategy from Mycenaean Linear B for the orthography of the ultimate, when it is meant to express the dative singular, the nominative plural and for all other Greek words ending with a consonant. The consonant must be expressed in Linear C, since it is always written in the alphabet. This is absolutely de rigueur, since many documents are simultaneously composed in Linear C and in the alphabet. In order to achieve this, Linear C has no choice but to use syllabograms, which still end in a vowel. It neatly skirts this annoying problem by expressing the ultimate consonant, following it with a filler vowel. A weird solution, but it works. If it works, it works. No hay problema nada.
 
Hence, we have “mene” for “men”, which is the opposite of “me” for “men” in Linear C. Likewise, the plural is always clearly expressed, as in “peleitese”, where Linear C must also insert a final filler vowel, in most cases SE (to express the consonantal plural in sigma), as well as NE for all nouns ending in the consonant N. Such nouns are extremely common in ancient Greek dialects. Notice also the “te” in “peleitese”, since Linear C has no D series of syllabograms. On the other hand, both Mycenaean Linear B & Arcado-Cypriot have no G series of syllabograms.

Mycenaean Linear B must substitute either the K or the Q series. Arcado-Cypriot has no guttural Q series either, so all words with G + vowel must be expressed by K + vowel, hence “eko” for “ego” in both Linear B & C. I can hear you who read ancient Greek well or who are ancient Greek linguistics loudly protest that there were no personal pronouns in either Linear B or Linear C. And you are right. However, I had to take liberties with the Aeolic Greek, because it does use personal pronouns, and frequently. As for the likelihood that Mycenaean Greek would have used the Q series of syllabograms to express words with guttural G + vowel, I would readily grant that this may have been true, except for one critical consideration. Mycenaean & Arcado-Cypriot were the closest ancient Greek dialects by far, being kissing cousins. So if Arcado-Cypriot expresses G + vowel with the guttural K series of syllabograms, it stands to reason that it is more likely than not that Mycenaean Greek must have done the same thing. But there is no guarantee of this. Still, the Q series of syllabograms would have fit the bill just as well.

And there you have it.

Richard