ElAnt v1n3 - Sappho 130 L.P.: Who's Who?

Volume 1, Number 3
August 1993


Geoffrey Barre,
5330 Hutchison #4,
H2V 4B3,
e-mail: anderson@ere.umontreal.ca

Eros deute m'o lusimeles donei,
glukupikron amakhanon orpeton.

Scholars are unanimous in construing the second line of this fragment with 'Eros' in line 1.(1) In the first line, subject and object are resolved both grammatically and logically: 'Eros - me'. In the second line, however, a phrase that can stand in apposition to either the subject or the object of the preceding line or to the sentence as a whole, we have two adjectives qualifying a neuter noun. We do indeed find 'glukupikros' used as an epithet of Eros by the Alexandrian poet Posidippus (2), and a close parallel is provided by Theognis (3). But must we assume that it can only qualify Eros here, in its first attested use? People can be 'pikros/-a' and 'glukus/-eia' (4), 'amakhanon' can be either active ('helpless') or passive ('irresistible') in sense (5), and it seems plausible that human beings can be ranged among the 'herpeta' (6). Lastly, the extreme contiguity yet separability of subject and object in line 1, 'm'o', duplicated in the compound adjective 'lusimeles' and forming a neat chiasmus with it, is thrown into the confusion of the second line where Eros and the lover are seemingly fused into one 'creature', 'irresistible' and 'helpless', literally shaken by the play of conflicting, 'sweet-bitter' emotion. (7) I would like to suggest that the ambiguity is intentional and, in the end, irresolvable. With these beautifully contrived, coalescent lines Sappho leaves us breathless and wondering.

Eros again halves and cleaves
two hands two feet
one lip bitter
one lip


1. For example, D.L. Page, Sappho and Alcaeus (Oxford, 1955), p. 136 and n. 3 or, more recently, D.A. Campbell, The Golden Lyre: Themes of the Greek Lyric Poets (London, 1983), pp. 17-18.

2. Posidippus I in A.S.F. Gow & D.L. Page (eds.), The Greek Anthology: Hellenistic Epigrams (Cambridge, 1965), Vol. 1, p. 166, l. 3057 and the commentary in Vol. 2, p. 485; cf. Meleager LXI in Hellenistic Epigrams , Vol. 1, p. 233, l. 4310, where the adjective is transferred by enallage to Eros' 'belos'.

3. Theognis 1353-1354: 'pikros kai glukus esti...eros'.

4. See Theognis 301 and Solon 13.5 W., admittedly not in erotic contexts, and Sappho 102.1 (Voigt) which begins: 'Glukea mater'.

5. For the active sense, see Odyssey 19.363 and Bacchylides I.61 (Jebb); cf. Alcaeus 364.2 (Voigt): ' . . . Amakhaniai sun adelpheai'. For the passive, h. Merc. 434: 'eros . . . amekhanos'. Generally, see LfgrE s.v. amekhanos, cols. 632-633: ' . . . charakterisiert -os eine Pers. in ihrem Handeln (ist also aktiv); . . . bezieht es sich (passivisch) auf die Art der Behandlung einer Pers., einer Situation u.a'.

6. Most lexicons define 'herpeton' as an animal or beast that goes about on all fours. Where the qualification 'on all fours' comes from, I do not know. The earliest instances of the word are, apart from this fragment, Odyssey 4.418, Alcman fr. 89.3 (Davies), Semonides fr. 13.1 W., and Heraclitus fr. 11 D. Stephanie West (in Alfred Heubeck, Stephanie West and J.B. Hainsworth, A Commentary on Homer's Odyssey Vol. I [Oxford, 1988], p. 220) on Odyssey 4.418 properly translates 'herpeta' as 'moving things'. Jean Bollack and Heinz Wismann (in Jean Bollack and Heinz Wismann, Heraclite ou la Separation [Paris, 1972\, p. 85) on Heraclitus fr. 11 D. think 'herpeta' designates 'l'ensemble des especes qui vivent a la surface de la terre . . . que ce soient les oiseaux, les hommes, ou les poissons'. The verb 'herpein' is employed to describe the motion of human beings at Iliad 17.447 (= Odyssey 18.131) and Odyssey 17.158. At Xenophon Memorabilia 1.4.11, I would argue that the distinction being made is not between 'herpeta' and 'anthropoi', but between the 'herpeta' who were given feet and the 'herpeta', specifically 'anthropoi', who were given hands as well. Finally, see Hesychius (ed. K. Latte) s.v. 'herpeta': 'ta apoda, para to eis ten eran peptokenai; katakhrestikos de kai ta loipa ton alogon zoion kai anthropoi; geina gar kai epigeia panta', which more than implies that it was used, in his opinion wrongly, of human beings.

7. Cf. Sappho 51 (Voigt): 'ouk oid' otti theo; duo moi ta noemata'.

Geoffrey Barre
e-mail: anderson@ere.umontreal.ca

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Electronic Antiquity Vol. 1 Issue 3 - August 1993
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
ISSN 1320-3606