All those who do not books return
Are thieves, not borrowers, and earn
The punishment Justice demands;
Their sacrificial loss of hands.
May God, therefore, as witness see
That it be done unswervingly.
So many people sang Sappho’s songs that she was called the tenth muse. Solon the Athenian law-giver, one of the seven sages, heard a boy singing a Sappho song. He asked the boy to teach it to him, “so that I may learn it and die.” As we pluck our guitars and banjos and do our best to sing her poems, we are in a line - a very fragmented line - of musicians who learned her songs in the centuries after she lived and some who now make songs inspired by her poems. She is so distant and so unknown to us, yet real and and achingly beautiful, like the rosy-fingered moon she described as pouring light over both the flowery fields and the salty sea. She shines her poetic light on us, as she has on so many others, across a distance of twenty-six centuries; but it’s “the same moonlight”.
Chris Mason, ‘Bright Lyre Becomes Voice: Translating Sappho into Songs’, The Antioch Review 67 (2009)
Chris Mason is a member of Old Songs, a band that translates ancient Greek poetry and sets it to music in an Appalachian folk style. You can listen to it here; it’s really, really good.