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No. 223. THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 15.
O suavis anima! qualem bonam
Antehac fuisse, tales cùm sint reliquiæ !
WHEN I reflect upon the various fate of those
multitudes of ancient writers who flourished in Greece and Italy, I consider time as an immense ocean, in which many noble authors are entirely swallowed up, many very much shattered and damaged, some quite disjointed and broken into pieces, while some have wholly escaped the common wreck; but the number of the last is very small.
Apparent rari nantes in gurgite vasto,
Among the mutilated poets of antiquity, there is none whose fragments are so beautiful as those of Sappho. They give us a taste of her way of writing, which is perfectly conformable with that extraordinary character we find of her, in the remarks of those great critics who were conversant with her works when they were entire. One may see by what is left of them, that she followed nature in all her thoughts, without descending to those little points, conceits, and turns of wit, with which many of our modern lyrics are so miserably infected. Her soul seems to have been made up of love and poetry: she felt the passion in all its warmth, and described VOL. II. A
it in all its symptoms. She is called by ancient authors the Tenth Muse: and by Plutarch is compared to Cacus, the son of Vulcan, who breathed out nothing but flame. I do not know by the character that is given of her works, whether it is not for the benefit of mankind that they are lost. They were filled with such bewitching tenderness and rapture, that it might have been dangerous to have given them a reading.
An inconstant lover, called Phaon, occasioned great calamities to this poetical lady. She fell desperately in love with him, and took a voyage into Sicily, in pursuit of him, he having withdrawn himself thither on purpose to avoid her. It was in that island, and on this occasion, she is supposed to have made the Hymn to Venus, with a translation of which I shall present my reader. Her hymn was ineffectual for the procuring that happiness which she prayed for in it. Phaon was still obdurate; and Sappho so transported with the violence of her passion, that she was resolved to get rid of it at any price.
There was a promontory in Acarnania called Leucate, on the top of which was a little temple dedicated to Apollo In this temple it was usual for despairing lovers to make their vows in secret, and afterwards to fling themselves from the top of the precipice into the sea, where they were sometimes taken up alive. This place was therefore called The Lover's Leap; and whether or no the fright they had been in, or the resolution that could push them to so dreadful a remedy, or the bruises which they often received in their fall, banished all the tender sentiments of love, and gave their spirits another turn, those who had taken this leap were observed never to relapse into that passion. Sappho tried the cure, but perished in the experiment.
After having given this short account of Sappho, so far as it regards the following Ode, I shall subjoin
the translation of it as it was sent me by a friend, whose admirable pastorals and winter-piece have been already so well received. The reader will find in it that pathetic simplicity which is so peculiar to him, and so suitable to the Ode he has here translated. This Ode in the Greek (besides those beauties observed by Madam Dacier) has several harmonious turns in the words, which are not lost in the English. I must further add, that the translation has preserved every image and sentiment of Sappho, notwithstanding it has all the ease and spirit of an original. In a word, if the ladies have a mind to know the manner of writing practised by the so much celebrated Sappho, they may here see it in its genuine and natural beauty, without any foreign
or affected ornaments.
AN HYMN TO VENUS.
O, Venus, beauty of the skies,
If ever thou hast kindly heard
Thou once did leave almighty Jove,
The birds dismist (while you remain)
And ask'd, what new complaints I made,
What phrenzy in my bosom rag'd,
Tho' now he shuns thy longing arms,
Tho' now he freeze, he soon shall burn,
Celestial visitant, once more
Madam Dacier observes there is something very pretty in that circumstance of this ode, wherein Venus is described as sending away her chariot upon her arrival at Sappho's lodgings, to denote that it was not a short transient visit which she intended to make her. This ode was preserved by an eminent Greek critic, who inserted it intire in his works, as a pattern of perfection in the structure of it.
Longinus has quoted another ode of this great poetess, which is likewise admirable in its kind, and has been translated by the same hand with the foregoing one. I shall oblige my reader with it in another paper. In the mean while, I cannot but wonder, that these two finished pieces have never been attempted before by any of our countrymen. But