Although they are
Only breath, words
which I command
In her memoir Assault on Mount Helicon, Mary Barnard '32 writes that while working on her translation of the Greek poet Sappho, "I searched for the truly equivalent phrase in living, not lexicon English." This brief but telling remark helps explain why her translation of Sappho's poetry has been continuously in print for more than 40 years and has sold more than 100,000 copies. Barnard has taken the fragmentary remains of one of antiquity's greatest poets and made them live and breathe for a modern audience.
Only a few things are known for certain about Sappho. She was born on the Greek island of Lesbos sometime after 650 B.C. and wrote poetry in the Aeolic Greek dialect. She was one of the most famous Greek lyric poets, and a poem attributed to Plato praises her as the tenth Muse. Her poetry was collected later in antiquity into nine books. Only one complete poem and fewer than 200 fragments of her poems remain today. The majority of the fragments were preserved as brief quotations in the works of later Greek writers, with a few others surviving on badly damaged papyrus rolls from Egypt.