Here’s a snapshot of this story. Please click the link to see the poems and other insights of the times they were written.
The link is easy to scroll through the poetry and more details about her legacy. The early Greeks are reflected as well. I also found much contributing information about her on this link: Sappho | Biography & Facts | Britannica.
Sappho, the famous lesbian poet from the island of Lesbos dating to 600 BCE. Who had not heard of her? But that was all I knew.
Sappho was a lyric poet, a songwriter, and a performer. She also played the lyre and is credited with inventing the plectrum or string pick; the poems are actually songs and as such were performed in small, salon-like settings as well as at rituals, weddings, and other festive occasions.
She traveled around her island home with a chorus of women and also had many pupils. After her death, her songs continued to be performed and requested for over 300 years before they were written down. After that, they continued to be performed. The wide appeal she experienced in her lifetime lasted for centuries after.
Sappho was a devotee of Aphrodite, the Goddess of love and often appeals to Aphrodite in her poems to help with a love interest or to help her hurting heart. She wrote of love and desire, and worship and adoration of Aphrodite.
Rayor’s process of study and translation is inspiring. Often there are only tiny fragments of the songs on parchment or other archaeological remains. Rayor informs us that she is not a papyrologist. Once found, she must wait for someone to translate those fragments into Greek before she can begin her own translation. Often there is only one word preserved.
Fragments continue to be found to this day, adding to the understanding of Sappho’s work. Each new fragment offers more information and detail, allowing Rayor to refine her translation.
Like the “Dead Sea Scrolls,” piece by piece and with new technologies, the past is being revealed. It’s why histories are being rewritten. And it’s why I write, besides giving voice to those who lost theirs.
Diane J. Rayor has translated five other books of Greek poetry and drama including Euripides’ ‘Medea’: A New Translation and Sophocles’ ‘Antigone’: A New Translation. She was a Professor in the Classics Department she co-founded at Grand Valley State University, Michigan for thirty years.
The opening page of Rayor’s latest book Sappho: A New Translation of the Complete Works, informs that:
“Of what survives from the approximately nine papyrus scrolls collected in antiquity, all is translated here: substantial poems and fragments including three poems discovered in the last two decades.”
The book includes the poems—what has been found of them and translated by Rayor. In the back of the book are notes on each poem and fragment published so one can learn where they came from, who found them, and what some of the themes are or mean.
Rayor calls Sappho a “citizen poet, a member of her community who was a beloved performer.” She reminds us that the poems are all for performance and that the audience wanted to hear them. She calls Sappho “an expression of her society.”