History’s Lost, Part II: Sappho


J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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6 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Autoharp, eh? Sappho – tenth Muse or sixth Marx Brother?Report

  2. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    That poem is absolutely one of my favorite depictions of erotic jealousy in literature and, of course, it has plenty of competition.Report

  3. Avatar J_A says:

    Is there anyplace in the web where I can find Sapho 31, or someother of her poens, read aloud? It’s all greek to me, but I would love to hear the rythms, and see what it feels like.

    See if it sounds as beautiful as Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible movie, where the Russian language (which i don’t understand either) is part of the esthetic experience.Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Sappho is one of those strange voices from the distant past, more quoted than preserved. The intensely personal tenor of her poems and their rigor of their construction would inspire other poets, as some musicians seem to inspire other musicians. Auden writing of Yeats:

    Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
    And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
    To find his happiness in another kind of wood
    And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
    The words of a dead man
    Are modified in the guts of the living.

  5. Avatar NormanArminger says:

    One factual point: Sappho’s Aeolic Greek is not particularly obscure, or difficult. No scholar finds anything in it which is a major puzzle syntactically, and the vocabulary that might have been hard to fathom is generally glossed somewhere in the ancient lexical and encyclopedic tradition. On linguistic issues, you could cite Page’s fine work on Sappho and Alcaeus, or Campbell’s Greek Lyric, to name only two of the linguistic and metrical commentaries on her in English. Obviously, this doesn’t mention the extensive materials on her in French, German and Italian. Interpretations of the poems and fragments vary depending on where one stands on Sappho Schoolmistress, Sappho’s Thiasos, Sappho the Wedding Singer, Sappho the Professional Poet etc etc etc. As for her love life, you can take your stand anywhere on the continuum from Wilamowitz’ furious denunciation of those who thought she was anything but a good housewife and mother all the way through to the vision of her as a sex educator who taught lesbian technique. If you want to explore more, you can try Burnett’s Three Archaic Poets, which is readable, if sometimes a bit prone to waffling adjectives, Richard Jenkyns has a nice section on her in his Three Classic Poets, and John J.Winkler has some good things to say about her work in The Constraints of Desire (worth reading overall for matters erotic and ancient).Report