The Greek poeter Ψάπφω/Ψάπφα beared an interesting name, probably not Greek. I have two questions, about the first and the last letter of her name :

(1) what was the value of the initial Ψ ? This letter was later written Σ but I read in a French edition(*) (my translation) :

Every ancient authors [...] wrote her name with [a Σ]. But when this name appears [in her own poems], it's always written "Psappho" [or maybe Psappha] . [...] However, this written form didn't transcribe a pronunciation beginning with 'ps'. Sappho herself never pronounced her name this way [since she used an old writting system, the 'Egean' one. In this writting system,] one of the signs looks like a right-angled trident and noted one of the consonants used in Asia Minor (a somehow very strong s). [The value of this letter was later misunderstood by the Greeks] who confused it with their psi. [... Same confusion occured in the name of Syrian, written Psyria].

Do other scholars agree with this analyse ? What's the so-called 'Egean' writing system ? (see my addendum, infra)

(2) In her Aeolian dialect, did her name end with -α or with -ω ? I read in the same edition as above(*) (my translation) :

When Sappho's name appeared [in her own poems], it's always written "Psappho" or rather Psappha since the Aeolian dialect uses often the a vowel (a long one) where other dialects, and especially the Attic dialect, uses ē or ō.

Do other scholars agree with this analyse ? Are there other Aelion words ending in -ā where Attic has -ē or -ō ?

(*) Edith Mora (1966), Sappho, histoire d'un poète et traduction intégrale de son oeuvre, pages 25-26.

ADDENDUM : thanks to Midas and to TKR, I may add a note. As Edwin L. Brown writes, "[...] the metrics of the Sapphic pentapody in which Alcaeus invokes Sappho by name tells absolutely against a psi-sound as the original initial in "Sappho.". As Brown points out (same remark here, page 7), since "Ἰόπλοκ' ἁγνὰ μελλιχόμειδε Σαπφοῖ" (a famous verse composed by Alcaeus) belongs to an Alcaic stanza (× ¯ ˘ ¯ × ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ), the metric shows that -δε Σα(πφοῖ) is to be read ˘ ¯, the last syllable being not taken in account.


If I may answer the second of your two interesting questions. As a rule, Aeolic, Doric and some other Greek dialects retain original /ā/ where Ionic and Attic have shifted it to η. This is a famous characteristic of Ionic/Attic. But I cannot think of any examples where Attic ω stands for η in other dialects. There might be examples, but it is certainly not a regular correspondence.

I am not aware that the name (P)sappho has an accepted Greek etymology. In the absence of an etymology this all remains rather speculative.

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  • "[...] certainly not a regular correspondence" : alas, I think you're right. – suizokukan Dec 23 '14 at 11:40

I think that the idea of a strong S is possible or better said sḫ-. I find Browns paper on Sappho's name excellent! He suggests that the name is actually Hattian (or similar language), meaning "numinous".


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    The idea of the "strong S" originates with an article by Zuntz which can be found here. – TKR Dec 29 '14 at 22:53
  • Midas, TKR : great references, thank you very much. I updated my post. – suizokukan Dec 30 '14 at 18:05

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