A Prayer to Aphrodite (Sappho)

A Prayer to Aphrodite

On your dappled throne, Aphrodite—deathless,
ruse-devising daughter of Zeus: O Lady,
never crush my spirit with pain and needless
sorrow, I beg you.

Rather come—if ever some moment, years past,
hearing from afar my despairing voice, you
listened, left your father’s great golden halls, and
came to my succor,

Yoking sparrows, lovely and swift, to drive down,
leaving heaven, chariot sailing mid- sky
over black earth, feather-thick wings densely
beating the clear air—

Quick arrival. You, O my Blessed Goddess,
ageless lips then beautifully smiling at me,
asked me what had caused me such pain and made me
cry out again now:

“What’s the secret wish of your crazy, wild heart?
Whom must Love compel with Her wily ruses
back into the glittering net of your arms?
Sappho, who hurts you?

If she flees, she’ll follow you soon as I say.
If she snubs your gifts, she will give you much more
If she loves you not, then I swear she will love—
Even unwilling.”

Come to me now, free me from bitter worry,
all I long for, deep in my spirit— do it!
You yourself be, here on this field of battle,
Sappho’s lone ally.

—Sappho (the only poem preserved in its entirety that was written by her. It was quoted in full in Literary Composition by the Greek rhetor Dionysos of Halikarnassos). Translated by David Bowles.


  1. Such beautiful devotion to the Gods! Her devoutness is truly inspiring. She was and remains respected and revered for her servitude to the Gods, even among the contemporary Pagans.

    • You could call it devotion or you could call it desperation! Anyone who wants something badly enough will call on their gods and beg for it — they needn’t be devout to do that. The saying “there are no atheists in foxholes” isn’t true — I’ve known some who were very literally in foxholes, and remained atheist! — but it does express a truth that long predates Sappho: people who desperately desire something will find or invent an entity to beg for it, if only because doing so gives them some illusion of control, and a feeling of hope.

      This doesn’t mean that Sappho *wasn’t* devout… she was probably as matter-of-factly certain of her deities as anyone else who grows up in a monolithically religious community. But you won’t prove it from the fact that she begs a deity, in verse, to hand her the heart of her beloved on a silver platter. Practically everybody who’s ever been in unrequited love since the world began has done that.

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