Translator: John Maxwell Edmonds
Publisher: Dover Publications
First Published: 15 February 2018
Rating: 5 stars
“For those I have done good to
Do me the greatest wrong,”
I will start by saying that I was given an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own. Thank you so much to Dover Publications and NetGalley!
Plato hailed her as “the Tenth Muse,” and 2,500 years later her voice remains dazzling as well as direct and honest. Sappho, a lyric poet from the Greek island of Lesbos, wrote verse that sings to both sexes of desire, rapture, and sorrow. Praised for their simplicity and sincerity, her poems nevertheless evoke powerful and memorable images as well as a sense of unreserved eroticism. Her focus on emotion and individualism sets her work apart from that of her contemporaries, lending it an intimacy that foreshadows modern poetry.
Details about Sappho’s life are largely unknown; she is thought to have lived sometime between 612–570 B.C.E., and her poetry was read and admired throughout the ancient world. Today her poems survive in fragmentary form, and she is best known as a symbol of female homosexuality, having inspired the terms “sapphic” and “lesbian.” This concise collection of her surviving works features an informative Introduction by translator J. M. Edmonds.
This was my first taste of Sappho’s poetry and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It amazing just how much emotion comes across in these fragments. Of her 9 books, we only have 1 complete poem with the rest surviving in a mix of single lines and short stanzas.
Sappho’s style is quite different from the other ancient poets who survived like Homer or Virgil. Sappho’s poems feel more at home with modern poets. The gods do make an appearance in these lines but what is more prominent, isn’t the famous Greek heroes or monsters but is her sense of self and the ‘I’. Her rhythm and melody are direct and highly personal that it’s hard to imagine these lines are thousands of years old. Just goes to confirm that humanity at its core hasn’t changed much over the centuries. Her work is, I find, more relatable and accessible then other ancient literature I’ve read.
I enjoyed John Maxwell Edmonds’ translation I was never drawn out of the reading experience, which I’m thankful for. I will say, in the copy I received, the introduction felt disjointed. I’m not sure if that was a deliberate style choice to reflect the fragmented nature of Sappho’s work or my copy was missing pages.
It is really sad that all that remains of her work are these fragments and 1 whole poem. Also, it’s amazing that we have this much to cherish. I can only imagine the number of poets whose work hasn’t survived in any shape or form. If you haven’t read any of Sappho’s poetry, I highly recommend you do! She is all kinds of wonderful.