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9 - Who, Sappho?

from PART II - THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE GREEK TRADITION

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 September 2014

Alex Purves
Affiliation:
Ucla
Douglas Cairns
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh, UK
Ruth Scodel
Affiliation:
University of Michigan, USA
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Summary

It is clear that Sappho's poems, so far as we can reconstruct them, are not ‘narratives’ in the ordinary sense, even if we do not wish to accept the argument that lyric and narrative are naturally opposed. There is an obvious difference between the kind of story being told in Sappho fr. 94, where the speaker asks a girl who is leaving to remember their gentle pleasures together, and the extended heroic narrative of the Iliad. But how are we to frame that difference in terms of narrative? More specifically, can a poem like fr. 94 (already compromised by its incomplete state) count as narrative at all?

Perhaps the easiest place to start in considering the place of narrative in Sappho is her use of named characters from Greek mythology. There are several instances of mythological narrative in Sappho's corpus, where parts of stories might be spelled out in detail or where the simple reference to a name will be enough to set a story in motion. When Sappho mentions Helen, for example, in fr. 16, or has a messenger recount Hector's return to Troy with Andromache in fr. 44, or evokes Tithonus in the New Sappho, we know that we are firmly in the world of Greek storytelling.

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Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2014

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