It’s truly amazing to me that any of Sappho’s words have managed to make their way to us from the sixth century BC. Heck, my paperbacks from 5 years ago have weak spines and yellowed pages and yet these papyrus rolls have survived. And what words:
“Evening, you gather back what dawn has put asunder.”
“I would not think to touch the sky with two arms.”
“You burn me.”
“You came and I was crazy for you, And you cooled my mind that burned with longing.”
These translations come from Anne Carson’s If Not, Winter which I highly recommend—it’s the least fussy translation I’ve come across—though all of the brackets she uses to acknowledge gaps in the existing original text can get a bit distracting. Reading If Not, Winter alongside Erica Jong’s novelization of Sappho’s life, Sappho’s Leap, was an excellent reminder to read the original. Actually, I’m a huge fan of historical fiction (give me I, Claudius over Suetonius any day) but Erica Jong is not Robert Graves or Mary Renault. At some point everyone has co-opted Sappho to their cause so it’s no surprise that an author much interested in women’s sexuality in the modern age would turn to Lesbos. Really, it isn’t. Have I mentioned you should read the poetry?
Anyway, reading all of this Sappho got me thinking about love, longing, desire and the book’s we’ve read. Why does love usually end so badly? Or is it just that we only write about it when it ends badly? It seems no one wants to write about sweetness and light:
Most Tragic Love
Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickock
I Really Wish This Had Ended Differently
Kitty and Nance from Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
This Wasn’t Going to End Well—and It Didn’t
Lilly “Aimee” and Felice “Jaguar” from Aimee and Jaguar by Erica Fischer
The narrator and Louise in Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
Who Are You Kidding?
Evelyn and Ann from Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule
Annie and Liz from Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
Unsurprisingly, I’m having trouble with this one:
Best Lesbian Love Story
And, in honor of Sappho in particular:
Best Unrequited Lesbian Love Story
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