Saturday, July 09, 2005



In the first line of the new Sappho poem, the Muses are modified by the adjective iokolpos, a compound derived from the nouns ion and kolpos. Ion is a flower, the violet, and kolpos (like Latin sinus) has a variety of meanings, including bosom and breast. West translated iokolpos "fragrant-blossomed," which some think was a misprint for "fragrant-bosomed," in either case with an emphasis on the odor of violets. Others think that the Muses are wearing girdles or belts either dyed purple or adorned with a floral pattern (cf. Greek iozonos). Perhaps they are wearing garlands of violets around their necks, like a Hawaiian lei. Or it may be that their naked breasts are flushed, with a blush or violet-colored glow. Analysis of the iconography of the Muses in ancient art (see Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae) might help to decide. I would keep the English just as literal and ambiguous as the original Greek, and translate iokolpos as "violet-bosomed."

Here are some other adjectives derived from ion (violet) that modify the Muses in ancient Greek poetry:

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