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Part I - Contexts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 April 2021

P. J. Finglass
University of Bristol
Adrian Kelly
University of Oxford
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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Further Reading

Lefkowitz 2012 (a revision of Lefkowitz 1981) provides a good overview of ancient poets’ life traditions and explains the different ways in which ancient authors constructed biographies by using mythological patterns. Snyder 1989 discusses not only ancient but also Renaissance and later reception of Sappho; Kivilo 2010 examines the narrative patterns in biographical traditions of six archaic poets, including Sappho.

Further Reading

For a compendium of sites and archaeological information, Spencer 1995c is essential; for Methymna, see Buchholz 1975. For the rural landscape of Lesbos, especially the towers, note also Spencer 1995b. For the relationship between the festival at Messon and Sappho fr. 17, see Caciagli 2016; and, for Lesbos as part of a cohesive, interlocking region within the Troad, Ellis-Evans 2019.

Further Reading

Ormand 2018 treats Greco-Roman sexuality in general. Dover 1978 and Halperin 1990 are landmark studies of homosexuality in ancient Greece, while approaches tailored to the study of female homoeroticism are well represented by Boehringer 2007, 2014, and Rabinowitz and Auanger 2002; Lardinois 2010 is a sensible treatment of ancient views on Sappho’s sexuality. DeJean 1989a and Prins 1999 remain unsurpassed as exemplary modern reception histories (in France and England) of Sappho and Sapphic sexualities; Orrells 2015 and Traub 2016 are excellent on the theoretical issues involved in writing pre-modern histories of sexuality.

Further Reading

The fundamental intertextual examination of a direct relationship between Sappho and Homer is Rissman 1983 (with counterarguments in Steinrück 1999, Kelly 2015a), while the broader epic interaction of the Lesbian poets is surveyed by West 2002 = 2011–13: i 392–407. Graziosi and Haubold 2009 comment sensibly on the relationship between epos and melos in early Greek literary history; R. Fowler 1987 remains indispensible for the whole question. The treatment of fr. 44 in Spelman 2017a is particularly illuminating, as is the commentary on early lyric, including Sappho, in Budelmann 2018.

Further Reading

The contributions in Bierl and Lardinois 2016 on the most recent (2014) Sappho fragments give manifold insights into the current trends in interpreting her work. Scholarship on Sappho has become increasingly difficult to follow, less so in Alcaeus’ case. While assessments of Sappho have never been characterised by full consensus, views widely held and accepted only a few decades ago are now met with less approval and take their place among a multitude of diverging opinions.

As a consequence, a fundamental and longer-standing disagreement has intensified while at the same time becoming less clear-cut: after the Second World War, New Criticism in the United States established the view that in archaic Greek lyric, too, the ‘I’ should be considered as a persona as a matter of principle. While the assumption that texts by Sappho and Alcaeus represented their personal beliefs initially continued to dominate in Germany and Italy (Rösler 1985), the acceptance of assuming fictional elements has significantly increased since. A search for the term ‘fiction’ in the electronic version of Bierl and Lardinois 2016, including adjectives derived from it, allows a quick overview; it is surprising how many occurrences there are. The fictionalisation of Sappho’s lyric is similarly advanced in other recent publications (Nagy 2007, on which see n. 23 above). However, clear criteria to distinguish fiction from non-fiction are not being established. The fact that Aristotle does not include lyric in his Poetics since he did not consider it to be mimetic, i.e. fictional poetry, is disregarded and does not seem to be considered as problematic.

Alongside the traditional view that Sappho’s lyric primarily had a function within the circle of girls she led and should be interpreted in this context, a more recent approach regards it as a circle of women of no specific age, a female equivalent of Alcaeus’ hetaireia or ‘band of comrades’. (Parker 1993Greene 1996b: 146–83 played a key part in initiating this discussion; see further Caciagli 2011, Selle 2012. It is now even considered possible that Sappho composed, and performed, erotic poetry directly for male symposia: E. Bowie 2016a.) This theory, however, fails to account for the various ways in which the poems reflect the girls’ youth and, crucially, their transient, temporary membership of the circle, for example by recalling previous members in retrospect.

A book of great use for the study of Sappho’s poetry deserves a final recommendation: Tzamali 1996. Anyone consulting this work – a linguistic and stylistic commentary on her most important fragments – will continue to be grateful for the plethora of instruction it offers.

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