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Chapter 17 of The Cambridge Companion to Sappho gives an account of the papyri of Sappho discovered over the past century as historical artefacts in their own right – what do they tell us about who was reading Sappho, and where and when was this reading taking place? What do we learn from them about the transmission and eventual loss of her poetry?
For centuries what remained of Sappho’s poems lay as isolated quotations in the works of other authors who had survived antiquity. Chapter 18 of The Cambridge Companion to Sappho tells the story of how these quotations, or fragments, were gathered together from the sixteenth century on – and how the coming of the papyri in the twentieth century had a dramatic impact on editorial practice too.
This introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Sappho provides an overview of the book as a whole by examining key themes and giving an account of the different sections of which the volume is composed.
No ancient poet has a wider following today than Sappho; her status as the most famous woman poet from Greco-Roman antiquity, and as one of the most prominent lesbian voices in history, has ensured a continuing fascination with her work down the centuries. The Cambridge Companion to Sappho provides an up-to-date survey of this remarkable, inspiring, and mysterious Greek writer, whose poetic corpus has been significantly expanded in recent years thanks to the discovery of new papyrus sources. Containing an introduction, prologue and thirty-three chapters, the book examines Sappho's historical, social, and literary contexts, the nature of her poetic achievement, the transmission, loss, and rediscovery of her poetry, and the reception of that poetry in cultures far removed from ancient Greece, including Latin America, India, China, and Japan. All Greek is translated, making the volume accessible to everyone interested in one of the most significant creative artists of all time.
This chapter introduces the book by examining the place of fragments within tragic scholarship as well as scholarly trends in the tragic representation of women, and by surveying the contents of the different chapters and suggesting pathways for future work.