Greek Lyric Poets


Archilochus of Paros (7th cent., 680-640 B.C.?)


Frg. 5 (Porter)
My shield some Thracian now takes pride in — my blameless shield
that I left behind in a bush, having no use for it.
My self I saved. What concern that shield to me?
Let it go: I'll get another one, no worse.


Frg. 13 (Porter)
Pericles, none of the citizens now delights in festivities
or finds fault with our groan-laden grief:
Such were the men whom the wave of the murmuring sea
washed under. Our chests swell with brimming grief.
Yet the gods have established stout endurance
as a remedy to combat incurable woes.
Each man must face them in his turn: Now they have come to us
and we groan at the bloody wound;
Another time they will afflict others. So hold out,
driving off womanish grief.


Frg. 114 (Porter)
Not for me a huge general, one with long, straddling legs
vaunting in his aristocratic locks and fancy beard.
Give me a small man, knock-kneed,
but firm on his feet and full of heart.


(P.Argent. 3 fr. 1)(A.M. Miller)


  . . . driven off course by the waves;

and may the top-knotted Thracians most hospitably

            receive him, stripped to the skin,

in Salmydessos—there to endure miseries in full measure,

            eating the bread of slavery—

frozen stiff with cold, crusted with salt

            and covered thick with seaweed,

his teeth chattering like a dog;s, as he lies

            face-down in his helplessness

at the edge of the breaking waves . . .

            This is what I would like to see

Happen to the man who wronged me and trod his oaths underfoot,

            That man who was once my friend.





Fr. 128 (M.L. West)


Heart, my heart, with helpless, sightless troubles now confounded,

            up, withstand the enemy, opposing breast to breast.

All around they lie in wait, but stand you firmly grounded,

Not over-proud in victory, nor in defeat oppressed.

In your rejoicing let your joy, in hardship your despairs

            Be tempered: understand the pattern shaping men's affairs.


Fr. 130 (A.M. Miller)


All things are easy for the gods. Often out of misfortunes

they set men upright who have been laid low on the black earth;

often they trip even those who are standing firm and roll them

onto their backs, and then many troubles cone to them,

and a man wanders in want of livelihood, unhinged in mind.


Fr. 191 (M.L. West)


Such was the lust for sex that, worming in

under my heart, quite blinded me

and robbed me of my young wits.


Fr. 201 (A.M. Miller)


The fox know many things, the hedgehog only one—but big.


Alcman of Sparta (late 7th cent., c. 625 B.C.)



Now chasms and mountain summits are asleep,

and sierra slopes and ravines;

creeping things nourished by the dark earth,

hillside beasts and generations of bees,

monsters in the depths of the purple brine,

all lie asleep,

and also tribes of flying birds.


On a Poetess

Aphrodite commands and love rains

upon my body and melts my heart

for Megalostrata, to whom the sweet Muse

gave the gift of poetry.

O happy girl of the goldenrod hair!


The Journey

Narrow is our way of life

and necessity is pitiless.


Sappho of Mytilene (7th to 6th cent., 620-550 B.C. ?)


Fr. 1, Hymn to Aphrodite (H.T. Wharton)


Immortal Aphrodite of the broidered throne, daughter of Zeus, weaver of wiles, I pray thee break not my spirit with anguish and distress, O Queen. But come hither, if ever before thou didst hear my voice afar, and listen, and leaving thy father's golden house camest with chariot yoked, and fair fleet sparrows drew thee, flapping fast their wings around the dark earth, from heaven through mid sky. Quickly arrived they; and thou, blessed one, smiling with immortal countenance, didst ask What now is befallen me, and Why now I call, and What I in my mad heart most desire to see. 'What Beauty now wouldst thou draw to love thee? Who wrongs thee, Sappho? For even if she flies she shall soon follow, and if she rejects gifts shall yet give, and if she loves not shall soon love, however loth.' Come, I pray thee, now too, and release me from cruel cares; and all that my heart desires to accomplish, accomplish thou, and be thyself my ally.


Same, D.W. Myatt


    Deathless Aphrodite - Daughter of Zeus and maker of snares -

    On your florid throne, hear me!

    My lady, do not subdue my heart by anguish and pain

    But come to me as when before

    You heard my distant cry, and listened:

    Leaving, with your golden chariot yoked, your father's house

    To move beautiful sparrows swift with a whirling of wings

    As from heaven you came to this dark earth through middle air

    And so swiftly arrived.


    Then you my goddess with your immortal lips smiling

    Would ask what now afflicts me, why again

    I am calling and what now I with my restive heart


            Whom now shall I beguile

            To bring you to her love?

            Who now injures you, Sappho?

            For if she flees, soon shall she chase

            And, rejecting gifts, soon shall she give.

            If she does not love you, she shall do so soon

            Whatsoever is her will.

    Come to me now to end this consuming pain

    Bringing what my heart desires to be brought:

    Be yourself my ally in this fight.


Fr. 2 (Anon.)


Peer of all the gods unto me appeareth

He of men who sitting beside thee heareth

Close at hand thy syllabled words sweet spoken,

         Or loving laughter--


"That sweet laugh which flutters my heart and bosom.

For, at sight of thee, in an instant fail me

Voice and speech, and under my skin there courses

         Swiftly a thin flame;


"Darkness is on my eyes, in my ears a drumming,

Drenched in sweat my frame, my body trembling;

Paler ev'n than grass--’tis, I doubt, but little

         From death divides me.


Same (H.T.Wharton)


That man seems to me peer of gods, who sits in thy presence, and hears close to him thy sweet speech and lovely laughter; that indeed makes my heart flutter in my bosom. For when I see thee but a little, I have no utterance left, my tongue is broken down, and straightway a subtle fire has run under my skin, with my eyes I have no sight, my ears ring, sweat pours down, and a trembling seizes all my body; I am paler than grass, and seem in my madness little better than one dead. But I must dare all, since one so poor ...


Fragment 16 (D.W. Myatt)


    For some - it is horsemen; for others - it is infantry;

    For some others - it is ships which are, on this black earth,

    Visibly constant in their beauty. But for me,

    It is that which you desire.


    To all, it is easy to make this completely understood

    For Helen - she who greatly surpassed other mortals in beauty -

    Left her most noble man and sailed forth to Troy

    Forgetting her beloved parents and her daughter

    Because [ the goddess ] led her away ....


    Which makes me to see again Anactoria now far distant:

    For I would rather behold her pleasing, graceful movement

    And the radiant splendour of her face

    Than your Lydian chariots and foot-soldiers in full armour ....




Anacreon of Teos (late 6th cent., 560-490 B.C. ?)


Frg. 417 (Porter)
Thracian filly, why glance at me askance and
flee so stubbornly? Do you think I don't know a trick or two?
I tell you, I'd slip the bridle on you nicely
and, reins in hand, I'd take you round the course.
But as it is you graze the meadows, lightly skipping in your play.
You have no skillful rider experienced in horses' ways.


On their hindquarters horses

  Are branded oft with fire,

And any one knows a Parthian

  Because he wears a tiar;

And I at sight of lovers

  Their nature can declare,

For in their hearts they too

  Some subtle flame-mark bear.


Theognis of Megara (6th-5th cent.)


Theognis Gnomai, lines 237-254, (G. Lowes Dickinson)


Lo, I have given thee wings wherewith to fly

  Over the boundless ocean and the earth;

Yea, on the lips of many shalt thou lie

  The comrade of their banquet and their mirth.

Youths in their loveliness shall make thee sound

  Upon the silver flute's melodious breath;

And when thou goest darkling underground

  Down to the lamentable house of death,

Oh yet not then from honor shalt thou cease,

  But wander, an imperishable name,

Kurnus, about the seas and shores of Greece,

  Crossing from isle to isle the barren main.

Horses thou shalt not need, but lightly ride

  Sped by the Muses of the violet crown,

And men to come, while earth and sun abide,

  Who cherish song shall cherish thy renown.

Yea, I have given thee wings I and in return

  Thou givest me the scorn with which I burn.






Pindar of Thebes (6th-5th cent., 526-446 B.C.?)


First Olympian Ode (for Heiron of Syracuse, Horse Race, 476 B.C.) (Hubbard, ed. Svarlien)


[1] Water is best, and gold, like a blazing fire in the night, stands out supreme of all lordly wealth. But if, my heart, you wish to sing of contests,

[5] look no further for any star warmer than the sun, shining by day through the lonely sky, and let us not proclaim any contest greater than Olympia. From there glorious song enfolds the wisdom of poets,1 so that they loudly sing

[10] the son of Cronus, when they arrive at the rich and blessed hearth of Hieron,  [12] who wields the scepter of law in Sicily of many flocks, reaping every excellence at its peak, and is glorified

[15] by the choicest music, which we men often play around his hospitable table. Come, take the Dorian lyre down from its peg, if the splendor of Pisa and of Pherenicus placed your mind under the influence of sweetest thoughts,

[20] when that horse ran swiftly beside the Alpheus, not needing to be spurred on in the race, and brought victory to his master,  [23] the king of Syracuse who delights in horses. His glory shines in the settlement of fine men founded by Lydian Pelops,

[25] with whom the mighty holder of the earth Poseidon fell in love, when Clotho took him out of the pure cauldron, furnished with a gleaming ivory shoulder. Yes, there are many marvels, and yet I suppose the speech of mortals beyond the true account can be deceptive, stories adorned with embroidered lies; 

[30] and Grace, who fashions all gentle things for men, confers esteem and often contrives to make believable the unbelievable. But the days to come are the wisest witnesses.

[35] It is seemly for a man to speak well of the gods; for the blame is less that way. Son of Tantalus, I will speak of you, contrary to earlier stories. When your father invited the gods to a very well-ordered banquet at his own dear Sipylus, in return for the meals he had enjoyed,

[40] then it was that the god of the splendid trident seized you,  [41] his mind overcome with desire, and carried you away on his team of golden horses to the highest home of widely-honored Zeus, to which at a later time Ganymede came also,

[45] to perform the same service for Zeus. But when you disappeared, and people did not bring you back to your mother, for all their searching, right away some envious neighbor whispered that they cut you limb from limb with a knife into the water's rolling boil over the fire,

[50] and among the tables at the last course they divided and ate your flesh.  [52] For me it is impossible to call one of the blessed gods a glutton. I stand back from it. Often the lot of evil-speakers is profitlessness. If indeed the watchers of Olympus ever honored a mortal man,

[55] that man was Tantalus. But he was not able to digest his great prosperity, and for his greed he gained overpowering ruin, which the Father hung over him: a mighty stone. Always longing to cast it away from his head, he wanders far from the joy of festivity.  [59] He has this helpless life of never-ending labor,

[60] a fourth toil after three others, because he stole from the gods nectar and ambrosia, with which they had made him immortal, and gave them to his drinking companions. If any man expects that what he does escapes the notice of a god, he is wrong.

[65] Because of that the immortals sent the son of Tantalus back again to the swift-doomed race of men. And when he blossomed with the stature of fair youth, and down darkened his cheek, he turned his thoughts to an available marriage, 

[70] to win glorious Hippodameia from her father, the lord of Pisa. He drew near to the gray sea, alone in the darkness, and called aloud on the deep-roaring god, skilled with the trident; and the god appeared to him, close at hand.

[75] Pelops said to the god, “If the loving gifts of Cyprian Aphrodite result in any gratitude, Poseidon, then restrain the bronze spear of Oenomaus, and speed me in the swiftest chariot to Elis, and bring me to victory. For he has killed thirteen

[80] suitors,2 and postpones the marriage  [81] of his daughter. Great danger does not take hold of a coward. Since all men are compelled to die, why should anyone sit stewing an inglorious old age in the darkness, with no share of any fine deeds? As for me, on this contest

[85] I will take my stand. May you grant a welcome achievement.” So he spoke, and he did not touch on words that were unaccomplished. Honoring him, the god gave him a golden chariot, and horses with untiring wings.  [88] He overcame the might of Oenomaus, and took the girl as his bride. She bore six sons, leaders of the people eager for excellence.

[90] Now he has a share in splendid blood-sacrifices, resting beside the ford of the Alpheus, where he has his attendant tomb beside the altar that is thronged with many visitors. The fame of Pelops shines from afar in the races of the Olympic festivals,

[95] where there are contests for swiftness of foot, and the bold heights of toiling strength. A victor throughout the rest of his life enjoys honeyed calm,  [99] so far as contests can bestow it. But at any given time the glory of the present day

[100] is the highest one that comes to every mortal man. I must crown that man with the horse-song in the Aeolian strain. I am convinced that there is no host in the world today who is both knowledgeable about fine things and more sovereign in power,

[105] whom we shall adorn with the glorious folds of song. A god is set over your ambitions as a guardian, Hieron, and he devises with this as his concern. If he does not desert you soon, I hope that I will celebrate an even greater sweetness, 

[110] sped by a swift chariot, finding a helpful path of song when I come to the sunny hill of Cronus. For me the Muse tends her mightiest shaft of courage. Some men are great in one thing, others in another; but the peak of the farthest limit is for kings. Do not look beyond that!

[115] May it be yours to walk on high throughout your life, and mine to associate with victors as long as I live, distinguished for my skill among Greeks everywhere.


1On this line see F. J. Nisetich, "Olympian 1.8-11: An Epinician Metaphor," HSCP 79, 1975, 55-68.

2 reading μναστῆρας, with the mss.

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Dates for lyrics according to Richmond Lattimore, Greek Lyrics.


Sappho's poems: