Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sappho, the Bible, and Feminism

This post is an update of the previous one. Nathan Stitt in a comment there kindly directed me to Mary Barnard's Sappho: A New Translation. So now (in addition to those five wonderful translations of Sappho by Edmonds, Cox, Reynolds, Barnstone, and Carson) you readers here get Barnard, Richmond Lattimore, Jane McIntosh Snyder, Diane Rayor, and Josephine Balmer. I'm putting Barnard last because she does some surprising things--you'll see why her English makes us keep Sappho's hymn going.

Now before I get to that let me also update something one principled feminist has said: "I do think that it is entirely appropriate for feminism to drive scholarship." Suzanne McCarthy goes on to explain, in Bible scholarship, how feminism has made some difference.

There have been other moments in blogging in which feminism and Bible scholarship have seemed like oil and water. I do hear my friends all around and on both sides (as if we must split) saying things like: "if it weren't for those feminists, . . . " and "if it wasn't for all the Bible believing Christians I know . . ."

One of my friends, today, has agreed to let me post some of his comments. I'm going to do this without any comment myself right now (but just want to say that we both feel a strain on our friendship). I do want to get on to the Sappho translations below. So here goes and thanks, my friend who has disagreement with me. He writes today:

"Please feel free to quote my e-mail to you, as long as I remain an anonymous (Christian male) voice crying in the wasteland.

I'm glad we can disagree and be friends. What kind of relationship would we have if we could not negotiate a theoretical difference? I say theoretical because, as you suggest, we will never know with certainty Aristotle's heart, both his struggles and virtues. We know many of his intellectual virtues, and they are justly earned.

Now let me say that I do feel offended by the train on which you are riding, but after eight years in higher education I am almost desensitized to it--people will do what they want to do. Specifically, I resent the postmodern and feminist program of attacking male heroes in all spheres of life in an effort to discredit their great contributions to culture by minimizing their known virtues and genius and by magnifying any probability of vices. This includes the Greeks as well as Hebraic heroes. I welcome and enjoy the unearthing and creation of female heroes, but I do not welcome the slander campaigns against their male counterparts. Would they condemn men that women may be justified? (applying Job 40:8). Are not the labels 'dead white males' and 'sausage party' intended to offend? Do they really value ethos that much? Does ethos discredit logos in their eyes? If they were really cultural relativists, as they say they are, would they judge past persons by their own standards? If they admitted to holding certain transcendent standards, then it would be more intellectually respectful, and we could talk about historical sensitivity.

I would say, if you can make a sound argument for your position, without relying on prejudices in your audience in higher education to justify your appeals and your inferences--which happens too often--then you will have put a more solid dart in the ethos of a sacred cow in Western civilization."
Certainly, I welcome any reader's comments on this anonymous open letter. Please know that you'll have to use at least a pseudonym because this blog was spammed again today, and I've had to restrict comments to those who will, like a human being, declare some kind of name.

Alrighty then. Sappho and more of her wonderful English translators:

Ο] μν ππων στρτον ο δ πσδων
ο δ νων φασ π γν μλαιναν
]μμεναι κλλιστον γω δ κν
ττω τς παται.

π]γχυ δ εμαρες σνετον πησαι
π]ντι τ[ο. γρ πλυ περσκπεισα
κ]λλος νθρπων λνα [τνδρα
[κρννεν ρ]ιστον,

(Sappho, Hymn to Aphrodite III, 1 and 2)


Some there are who say that the fairest thing seen
on the black earth is an array of horsemen;
some, men marching; some would say ships; but I say
_____she whom one loves best

is the loveliest. Light were the work to make this
plain to all, since she, who surpassed in beauty
all mortality, Helen, once forsaking
_____her lordly husband,

(Richmond Lattimore)


Some say that the most beautiful thing
upon the black earth is an army of horsemen;
others, of infantry, still others, of ships;
But I say it is what one loves.

It is completely easy to make this
intelligible to everyone; for the woman
who far surpassed all mortals in beauty,
Helen, left her most brave husband

(Jane McIntosh Snyder)


Some say an army of horsemen, others
say foot-soldiers, still others, a fleet,
is the fairest thing on the dark earth:
I say it is whatever one loves.

Everyone can understand this –
consider that Helen, far surpassing
the beauty of mortals, leaving behind
the best man of all,

(Diane Rayor)


Some an army of horsemen some an army on foot
and some say a fleet of ships is the loveliest sight
on this dark earth; but I say it is what-
ever you desire:

and it it possible to make this perfectly clear
to all; for the woman who far surpassed all others
in her beauty Helen left her husband --
the best of all men

(Josephine Balmer)


To any army wife, in Sardis:

Some say a cavalry corps,
some infantry, some again,
will maintain that the swift oars

of our fleet are the finest
sight on dark earth; but I say
that whatever one loves, is.

This is easily proved: did
not Helen --- she who had scanned
the flower of the world's manhood ---

choose as first among men one
who laid Troy's honor in ruin?
warped to his will, forgetting

love due her own blood, her own
child, she wandered far with him.
So Anactoria, although you

(Mary Barnard)

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