The most beautiful thing, κάλλιστον by Sappho



The tale of the Trojan war and a golden apple with the word, καλλίστῃ, to the fairest, may come to mind. However, Sappho uses Trojan war imagery to make the case that it is what you love that is fairest (ἐγὼ δὲ κῆν’ ὄττω τις ἔραται) not wars and chariots or a thousand ships. So I make the case here that it also applies to what you do. So Love what you do.

Οἰ μὲν ἰππήων στρότον, οἰ δὲ πέσδων,
οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖσ’ ἐπὶ γᾶν μέλαιναν
ἔμμεναι κάλλιστον, ἐγὼ δὲ κῆν’ ὄτ-
τω τις ἔραται

πάγχυ δ’ εὔμαρες σύνετον πόησαι
πάντι τοῦτ’· ἀ γὰρ πολὺ περσκέθοισα
κάλλος ἀνθρώπων Ἐλένα τὸν ἄνδρα
τὸν πανάριστον

καλλίποισ’ ἔβας ‘ς Τροίαν πλέοισα
κωὐδὲ παῖδος οὐδὲ φίλων τοκήων
πάμπαν ἐμνάσθη, ἀλλὰ παράγαγ’ αὔταν
οὐκ ἀέκοισαν

Κύπρις· εὔκαμπτον γὰρ ἔφυ βρότων κῆρ
] κούφως τ . . . οη . . . ν
κἄμε νῦν Ἀνακτορίας ὀνέμναι-
σ’ οὐ παρεοίσας

τᾶς κε βολλοίμαν ἔρατόν τε βᾶμα
κἀμάρυχμα λάμπρον ἴδην προσώπω
ἢ τὰ Λύδων ἄρματα κἀν ὄπλοισι


Sappho, Poem 16

The Tenth Muse, Sappho


Some say a host of cavalry, others of infantry,

and others of ships, is the most beautiful thing

on the black earth,

but I say it is whatsoever a person loves.


It is perfectly easy to make this understood by everyone:

for she who far surpassed mankind in beauty,

Helen, left her most noble husband

and went sailing off to Troy


with no thought at all for her child or dear parents,

but (love) led her astray . . . lightly . . .

(and she?) has reminded me now of Anactoria

who is not here; I would rather see her lovely walk


and the bright sparkle of her face

than the Lydians’ chariots and armed infantry…



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