Sappho: Poems and Fragments by Sappho (Review)

Sappho: Poems and Fragments by Sappho, translated by Josephine Balmer

About the author


Sappho (Σαπφώ or Ψάπφω) was an Ancient Greek lyric poet, born on the island of Lesbos. In history and poetry texts, she is sometimes associated with the city of Mytilene on Lesbos; she was also said to have been born in Eresos, another city on Lesbos. Her birth was sometime between 630 BC and 612 BC, and it is said that she died around 570 BC. The bulk of her poetry, which was well-known and greatly admired throughout antiquity, has been lost, but her immense reputation has endured through surviving fragments.

About the translator

Josephine Balmer is a British poet, translator of classics and literary critic.


This second, expanded edition of Josephine Balmer’s classic translation of the Greek poet Sappho has new, recently-discovered fragments, including the Brothers Poem, the Kypris Song and the Cologne Fragment. In a new essay on these additions she discusses the issues raised in translating these fragmentary and ever-shifting texts. Poems & Fragments is now the only complete, readily-available translation in English of Sappho’s surviving work. Sappho was one of the greatest poets in classical literature. Her lyric poetry is among the finest ever written, and although little of her work has survived and little is known about her, she is regarded not just as one of the greatest women poets, but often as the greatest woman poet in world literature. In a comprehensive introduction, Balmer discusses Sappho’s poetry, its historical background and critical reputation, as well as aspects of contemporary Greek society, sexuality, and women.


This is another read for my Masters and I must admit I was very excited to read it as I had done a unit on Sappho and just a handful of her work so it was nice to read all her known works. Sappho’s work sadly is mainly only fragments and I will be honest I find this so depressing as from the known fragments that we do have it is evident that Sappho was an amazing talent. I just hope more of her work is found over time like it has been so far.

The introduction of this book is excellent and I really enjoyed how it was broken down into sections and was so informative. I also enjoyed the section on the new fragments that have been found recently.

I’ve always found Sappho a fascinating character and I wish more was known about this very talented poet but sadly not a lot is known and what we do know was written many years after her death and can’t be relied upon.

Sappho’s poetry although only fragmentary is full of passion and life and it was a joy to read. Her poetry is full of different forms of love; romantic love, maternal love, friendship and love for all the many wonders in this world. I love reading her poetry because it is as relevant today as it was when it was written, Sappho is timeless.

Balmer has been really sympathetic with the translation and the translation flows well which makes reading this book a joy. I will admit I could not put it down once I started reading it.

I highly recommend this book, it might be mainly fragments but it is worth the read to see how this amazing woman’s voice has survived all these years and opens up a small window to a part of history that was thousands of years ago. I really hope we continue to find more of her work and hopefully learn more about this talented poet. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons and I leave you with one of my favourite fragments.

Beauty endures only for as long as it is seen;

goodness, beautiful today, will remain so tomorrow.


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