Form and Content
In classical antiquity, the standard edition of Sappho appears to have been arranged into nine books. The first book included 330 Sapphic stanzas, a total of 1,320 lines in the meter invented by her and named for her. The length of a book averaged 1,000 to 1,500 lines; the extent of Sappho’s lost works can be gauged by the fact that only about 1,700 lines have survived, most of which are fragmentary and some amounting to no more than a letter. Books 2 and 3 consisted, respectively, of poems in dactylic hexameters and poems in the Asclepiadean meter. The fourth book seems also to have been metrically consistent. Books 4 through 8 were apparently compiled on bases other than meter, although there is scant mention of any of them by ancient commentators, and on the sixth book there is no information of any kind. The ninth book, the only one given a title instead of a number, was called “Epithalamia” (wedding songs). The classical scholar Denys Page summarizes this editorial information and elucidates the contents of Sappho’s poetry as “Epithalamians,” “Aphrodite,” “Divine and Heroic Legend,” and “Political and Domestic Allusions.”
Some translators arrange Sappho’s poems and fragments in thematic groups. Paul Roche, for example, entitles his groupings “Overtures of Loving,” “Petitions and Observations,” “Converse,” “Epithalamia,” “The Taut Tongue,” and “Memory-and-Malediction.” Josephine Balmer has nine...
(The entire section is 581 words.)