SAPPHO PHAONIPhaon, a youth of exquisite beauty, was deeply enamored of Sappho, from whom he met with the tenderest returns of passion: but his affection afterwards decaying, he left her, and sailed for Sicily. She, unable to bear the loss of her lover, hearkened to all the mad suggestions of despair, and seeing no other remedy for her present miseries, resolved to throw herself into the sea from Leucate, a promontory of Acarnania, which was thought a care in cases of obstinate love, and therefore had obtained the name of the Lover's Leap. But before she ventured upon this last step, entertaining still some fond hopes that she might be able to reclaim her inconstant, she wrote this epistle, in which she gives a strong picture of her distress and misery, occasioned by his absence; and endeavours, by artful insinuations and pathetic expressions, to soothe him to softness and a mutual feeling. Strabo mentions this story in his description of Leucas (10.2.9).
Ecquid. This manner of beginning serves very much to heighten the compassion of the reader; who has here before his eyes a lady full of her tenderest sentiments of love, and yet so far neglected by the person beloved, that, notwithstanding the mutual endearments which had often passed between them, he had entirely banished her from his remembrance, insomuch that he would not know even her writing, but by seeing her name subscribed.
 Sapphus. As Sappho made a considerable figure in the poetical world, and as her remaining fragments are still in the highest esteem, the render will probably expect a particular account of her. She was of Lesbos; and as she grew up, discovered a great genius for lyric poetry. She seems to have had no great reputation for chastity, even in her youngest years: and is even taxed with an impure and guilty love towards the Lesbian ladies her contemporaries. But at last an unhappy passion for Phaon engrossed her whole soul, and proved the occasion of great calamities to her. He at first returned her passion, but afterwards neglected her. Love, however, had taken too deep root in her heart to be extinguished by this slight. She resolved to find him at all hazards, and made a voyage into Sicily for that purpose. In that island, and on this occasion, she is supposed to have written her hymn to Venus, so justly celebrated and admired. It did not procure her the happiness for which she prayed. Phaon still continued obdurate; and Sappho, raving with passion, resolved to seek the Acarnanian promontory, on the summit of which was a temple sacred to Apollo. In this temple it was usual for despairing lovers to make their vows, and beg the favor and protection of the God. This done, they threw themselves from the precipice into the sea, where they were sometimes taken up alive. Whether the fright they had been in, or the resolution that could push them to so dreadful a remedy, or the bruises which they often received in their fall, banished all the tender sentiments of love, and gave their spirits another turn, it was observed, that those who had taken this leap, never relapsed into that passion. Sappho tried the cure, but perished in the experiment. Besides the hymn to Venus, there is also preserved to us the fragment of another Ode, in no less reputation among the poets and critics. It seems to have been written in the person of a lover sitting by his mistress, and is generally allowed to be the truest picture of one in that situation, that imagination can frame. Plutarch tells us in the famous story of Antiochus, that, being enamored of Stratonice his mother-in-law, and not daring to discover his passion, he pretended to be confined to his bed by sickness. Stratonice was in the room with the amorous prince when the physicianErasistratus came to visit him; and it is probable that his symptoms were the same with those which Sappho describes of a lover sitting by his mistress in the above Ode; for it is said the physician found out the nature of his distemper by those symptoms of love which he had learned from Sappho's writings. Hence we may conclude that she had a soul made up of love and poetry. As she was one who had felt that passion in all its warmth, so she has described it in all its workings and turns. She is called by ancient authors the Tenth Muse, and, by Plutarch, is compared to Cacus the son of Vulcan, who breathed out nothing but flame. From the character that is given of her works, it may be made a question, whether it is not for the benefit of mankind that they are lost. They were filled with such bewitching ten-derness and rapture, that a perusal of them might have been dangerous. This note may perhaps appear too long; but Sappho's character required a particular illustration.
 Alterna requiras carmina; for all Sappho's compositions were written in the lyric kind: whereas this epistle is of the manner of elegiac poetry, which consisted of alternate verses; one an hexameter, the other a pentameter.
 Cum lyricis; Cum magis soleam carmina, quae ad lyram cantentur, componere, says Helvetius. It was from this ingenious lady that the Sapphic verse derived its name, as we owe the invention of it to her.
 Barbitos. This was a musical instrument nearly of the same nature with the Lyre and Cithara; and was, as we may learn of Theocritus, furnished with a great number of strings. However, the word is in this place used to express that kind of poem, which was composed to be sung in concert with this instrument.
 Pyrrhiades. Some think that this is meant of the Muses; so called from Pyrrha or Pyrrhaea, another name for Thessaly, it being usual for poets to distinguish them by the names of the places which they inhabited. But it may with more probability be referred to the young women of Pyrrha, a city of Lesbos; because she immediately after adds the Methymniades, from Methymna, a celebrated city of that island; and then in the next verse subjoins caetera turba Lesbiadum, 'the rest of the Lesbian ladies.'
 Anactorie; one of those toward whom Sappho indulged an impure flame. Instead of Anactorie and Cydno, Suidas mentions Telesippa and Megara.
 Improbe. Some commentators, out of a desire to distinguish themselves, have been very industrious to force a meaning upon these words far different from the notion which they naturally and at first sight convey. They will have it that improbus has sometimes the same signification with avidus; and that by it Phaon is here reproached as one, who, not content with a moderate share, had engrossed her affections, and robbed others of that part which they had in them. But there is little need of all this subtilty and refinement. Improl us is here put for malus; and she means to accuse Phaon of treachery in abandoning her.
 Daphnen. Daphne was the daughter of the river Peneus. To prevent her being ravished by Apollo, Jupiter transformed her into a laurel. Hence arose the fictions of the poets, of the particular regard that Apollo bears to this tree. The most beautiful green laurels grew, as we are informed by Pliny, upon mount Parnassus.Gnosida; Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, king of Crete. Theseus, after vanquishing the Minotaur, carried her off with him, and, arriving at the isle of Naxos, left her there. Bacchus afterward espoused her. Gnosus, or Gnossus, was a city of Crete: hence the epithet given her by the poet.
 Aleaeus; a lyric poet of Mitylene, a city of Lesbos. Hence he is here called by Sappho, Consors patriaeque lyraeque; as being a native of the same island and excelling in the same kind of poetry. He was remarkable for the grandeur and sublimity of his style; for which reason the ancients gave him the golden quill.
 Cepheia Andromede. Andromede was the daughter of Cepheus king of aethiopia. Her mother's name was Cassiope, who contending for the prize of beauty with the nymphs, her daughter was by them in revenge bound to a rock, and exposed to a sea-monster; but Perseus, having shin the monster, set her at liberty and married her.
 Patriae; aethiopia, where the rays of the sun are intensely hot, and the inhabitants have swarthy complexions.
 Nisiades; Sicilian matrons, so called from Nisus, who reigned in Megara, a city of Sicily, not far from Syracuse.
 Erycina. Venus was called Erycina, from Eryx, a mountain of Sicily, where Aeneas built and consecrated a temple to her.Sicanos; Sicilian mountains; for the Sicani inhabited Sicily before the Siculi arrived from Italy.
 Arsit inops frater. Sappho had three brothers, Larychus, Eurigius, and Charaxus, who all loved the courtezan Rhodope. She here refers to the last, who foolishly squandered away his fortune upon this harlot, and afterwards betook himself to piracy to repair his losses.
 Thalia; one of the nine Muses, so called from the sweetness of her voice, and her turn to phasure. She is here put for the study of poetry, and other innocent amusements.
 Cephalus. The story of Aurora and Cephalus we have already given in a note to a former Epistle. We shall only here take notice of the manner of Sappho, who seems to be emboly bewitched with Phaen's charms: she thinks them irresistible, and such as even the deities would not be able to withstand.
 Jussus erit somnos continuare. Sappho refers to the story of Endymion, a beautiful shepherd. The poets feign that Cynthia loved him, and cast him into a sound sleep, that she might kiss him without restraint. What is thought to have given rise to this story was, his being the first who discovered the course of the moon.
 Admoneat. We have here the reason, as it is observed by Domitius, why friends at parting gave and took pledges of mutual affection, that they might serve as monuments of each other, and help to recall the memory of the person absent. But Crispinus affixes another meaning to the words, which he thus paraphrases: Nec pignora quae habes mei amoris, te admonuerunt, ut saltem di cedens valediceres: 'Not all the tokens you have received of my affection, have moved you so much as to grant me the consolation of one parting farewell. This seems to be the most natural and easy sense of which the words are capable.
 Nec me flere diu. We have here one of the truest and best pictures of grief that imagination can form: all the different ways in which it can discover itself are delineated with the greatest niceness. Ovid copied exactly from nature; and this is the reason that he always succeeds so well. Any one who has observed the manner in which grief shews itself upon such a sudden surprise as Sappho here mentions, will readily subscribe in favor of the poet.
 Ante oculos itque reditque meos. These frequent goings and returnings, are always looked upon, by persons conscious of any shameful grief, as an insult upon their misfortunes; and it is observable, that, as persons who grieve in this manner are apt to fancy every thing done with a malicious design, so there are some who appear to take a particular pleasure in tormenting them, and increasing their vexation.
Non veniunt in idem pudor atque amor. This is said to serve as a reason for what follows. Love and shame, (says she,) are inconsistent; and, as I am wholly a slave to the former, the other has very little power over me. Our poet says, in the Epistle of Phaedra to Hippolytus;
“Quid deceat non videt ullus amans:
 Erichtho; a famous Thessalian enchantress.
 Agnovi pressas noti mihi cespitis herbas. This whole passage, from the 123d line, is wrought up to the greatest perfection, and shines out with innumerable beauties. Critics have observed, that this Epistle seems to be the most finished of all Ovid's works; and I am inclined to consider this passage as a strong proof of in; for I very much question whether in all his writings we meet with any thing that equals it. What can be more happily painted than her fond behaviour to her lover in her nightly dreams? or how can imagination form a more interesting scene than that of her retiring to the caves and groves which they had formerly frequented together, and soothing her mind by the remembrance of past joys? Ovid has omitted no circumstance that might serve to heighten the description, or awaken the attention of the reader; and, if some parts should seem to be too highly colored, the empassioned character of Sappho will furnish an excuse for the poet.
 Maetissima mater. This passage will be best illustrated by a short account of the story to which it refers. Tereus king of Thrace had married Progne, the daughter of Pandion king of Athens, and carried her with him into his own kingdom. She, after some time, being desirous of seeing her sister Philomela, whom she had left at Athens, prevailed upon Tereus to sail thither, with a view of conducting her to Thrace. He, becoming enamored of her in the voyage, and finding it impossible for him to obtain the gratification of his passion by her own consent, ravished her; and then, to prevent her from disclosing the secret, and drawing upon him the vengeance of Progne, cut out her tongue, and imprisoned her. However, she found means to work the whole story into a web, which she sent as a present to her sister, who took the opportunity of a festival to rescue her; then killing her own son Itys, served him up in a dish to his father; who, discovering what had been done, would have slain both. But, as he pursued them, Progne was suddenly changed into a swallow, Tereus into a lapwing, Itys into a pheasant, and Philomela into a nightingale. It is to be observed, however, that Ovid differs from common tradition, in making Progne to have been changed into the nightingale, although several others who relate that fable agree with him.Daulias ales; Philomela, or the nightingale, called here Daulias ales from Daulis, a city of Phocis, where, according to Thucydides, Tercus reigned, as well as in Thrace.
 Lotos; a remarkable tree in Africa. Its fruit was so pleasant to the taste, that they who had once eaten of it could never be prevailed upon to return into their own country, or abandon the climate in which it grew. Hence the word Lotophagus was used for one who had forgotten his native country; and letum gustavit was a proverbial phrase, to signify that a man had been long absent from home.
 Ambracias terra. Others real Ambracia. She alludes to the territory bordering upon the Ambracian gulf. The reader will better understand this speech, by consulting what we have said above with regard to Sappho.
 Deucalion. This Thessalian prince, and his wife Pyrrha, were all that survived the general deluge, so famous among the ancients.
 Pennas suppone cadenti. Helvetius upon this passage observes, that in the solemnities appropriated to the honor of Apollo of Actium, this was a part, ---- to doom some guilty criminal to be thrown down from the top of the promontory. This, it was thought, averted the anger of the God, and rendered him propitious. It was, however, the custom to furnish the delinquent with wings, and have several small boats plying beneath, that, if possible, he might be taken up alive: he was then banished. Sappho, perhaps, alludes to this custom.
 Chelyn Phaebo. Chelys comes from χέλυς, testudo, a tortoise. Testudo is often used by the Latin poets for a harp, either because the first harps were made of the shells of that animal, or because there was a great resemblance between them. The Greeks used the word χέλυς in the same sense; whence chelys is here put by Ovid for citharaCommunia. The harp properly belonged to Apollo, as the inventor of it: Sappho also calls it hers, because of her composing lyric poems to be played upon it, or sung in concert with it.
 At quanto melius. This is Sappho's last effort to move Phaon. She has acquainted him with her resolution of throwing herself headlong from Leucate: the despair she had conceived upon his neglect, had driven her upon making trial of this dangerous remedy, and nothing but a change in his behaviour could induce her to recede from her purpose; for her passion was so strong, as tomake life insupportable without him; and all other methods to remove it had proved ineffectual. 'Think then, (says she,) to what danger you expose me; think that the breast which has been so often fondly pressed to thine, is in danger of being dashed to pieces against pointed rocks.' Sappho has omitted no circumstance that might soften, or excite pity; and he must have been hardhearted indeed, who could read so pathetic a representation, without being moved to compassion.
 Ingeniumque meis substitit omne malis. Necessity is commonly reputed the mother of invention, and not without justice; yet it is not in every case equally powerful over us. There are some bounds which it ought not to pass: otherwise, instead of setting the mind upon attempts for deliverance, it will overwhelm it with such a tide of sorrow, as to render it incapable of attending to the means of self-preservation. This seems to have been Sappho's case.
 Lesbides. Sappho calls upon the Lesbian maids, whom she had formerly loved and taught. Critics have observed, that the repetition here used by the poet, is not only in tended to make the scene more affecting, but is also an imitation of Sappho's manner of writing; for she took great delight in this figure.
 O sablem. Heinsius rejects this distich as not the production of Ovid, and is not able to conceive what it can mean. Crispinus, however, is of a different opinion, and thinks that the Epistle would be imperfect without it. The sense, he says, is very evident; and he paraphrases it thus: Si valis (inquit) longe a me fugere, moneat saltem epistola, ut huic malo remedium in aquis Leucadiae quaeram.