SAPPHO Poetry: Book Review

Anyone who has been exposed to any sort of artistic material (movies, books, paintings) would notice the Greek’s tragedies and its works’ influence. But as I was becoming curious to know more about the Classical Greeks works, one name came up : Sappho. And so my search for Sappho’s work began and landed on this book translated by Mary Barnard. I call her the OG Instagram Poet for her efficiency with words, a touchstone of poetry excellence and probably one of the first feminist.

(c) Trang Tran

Earning her the title of the Tenth Muse, Sappho was highly regarded as a lyric poet in the same level as Homer to epic litterature. And while her influence is great and vast, her work doesn’t shine as much as her male pairs. Reading this book, makes you realize that. Sappho gives us an alternative opportunity to introduce the Ancient Greek world through a feminine lens.

(c) Trang Tran

Although, the most frustrating part is knowing that most of her poems are gone, but part of her fragments remained and the few of them suffice to make us swoon over her writing. So can you imagine if we get to read the whole material? I appreciate this edition because it synthetizes and link each fragment like a story. Sappho of Lesbos (the term lesbian also come from her influence since she was one of the first to depict female-female relationships in her poems) wrote about 10,000 lines of poetry; today, only about 650 survive her poems with her own experiences, all in the themes of love, depicting her own feelings with the pronoun ‘I’ and that’s refreshing for Greek classical texts.

(c) Trang Tran

One thing I tend to do now when looking back at classic poetry is read the poems first, read about the context and re-read the poems afterward. As a first read, I allow myself to dive in without any pre-conception of Sappho or who she was and simply enjoy the poems as a “virgin”. I think this part is important because it’s necessary for me to be able to enjoy her poems in its rawness then to realize that I’m mostly ignorant about the context but also it forces me to know more about the author.

Rating: 4/5

Review by Trang T.

(c) Trang Tran

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