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THE FIRST GENUINE FEMALE VOICE FROM ANCIENT GREECE
on 11 July 2015
Hard to believe these heady poems were written over two thousand years ago!
A friend who studied Classics at Oxford and who reads things like this in the original recommended the Penguin edition of Sappho as the best version for English readers. The translation is a delight to read, with unforced rhymes and a real sense of the sensuality of life in Ancient Lesbos. The poems are a mix of ritual songs (mostly wedding hymns) and seemingly personal musings on the gods, various aspects of love & life. It's clear from them that apart from the emphasis she places on the pagan deities, life hasn't changed that much - jealousies, infatuations...all the things that concern us today.
She was clearly well read and references to Homer abound. She in turn came to be revered & quoted by later Greek & Roman writers, and the highly readable introduction and notes provide much information about this without getting bogged down.
Little of Sappho's writing has survived, so there are many instances of the fragments on the right-hand page being much shorter than the notes of the facing left-hand page.
Apparently these fragments have turned up in the unlikeliest locations, including being used as stuffing in a mummy case! Let's hope more are found - she was clearly a genius and it's one of the great tragedies of ancient literature that so much was lost over the centuries.