9780312239244 / 0312239246

The Sappho Companion


Publisher:Palgrave Macmillan



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About the book:

What we know about Sappho would fit on a Greek stamp. She was born and lived on the island of Lesbos sometime in the late seventh and early sixth century BC. Her poetry survives only in fragments. But somehow she lives on, "re-incarnated, revived, resuscitated, recalled, remembered, re-invented" across the last two and a half millennia as "lesbian, mother, poet, artist, lover, suicide, warning, icon". In The Sappho Companion, Victorian literature specialist Margaret Reynolds guides us through her changing fortunes and the morphology of her poetic forms.

Nothing should be taken for granted about Sappho. Even her name--"pronounced by locals as the spitting, popping "Ppppsappoppo"--has been "eased off" for international consumption. In medieval times, Sappho is "The Learned Lady", but for the Victorians she was a "daughter of de Sade". For us sex-obsessed 21st century consumers, of course, Sappho is the archetypal lesbian--"but don't be so sure: "Sappho may or may not have been a lesbian. But she certainly was a Lesbian". As befits a writer known for fragments, Sappho's Companion is a patchwork of fragments, from her own verse through to her appropriations in the 1990s (by Eavan Boland and Jeannette Winterson among others).

Those expecting Sappho to elicit a jolly trot through a familiar litany of women writers might be shocked by the number of Sapphic men Reynolds has unearthed: from Thomas More to Tony Harrison. Each section is trailed by a learned and witty introduction by Reynolds, who somehow maintains wide-ranging erudition alongside easy accessibility. Full of the unexpected, The Sappho Companion is an entertaining and endlessly fascinating read.--Alan Stewart

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