Lesbian Desire in the Lyrics of Sappho

Lesbian Desire in the Lyrics of Sappho

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The lyrics of Sappho are the earliest surviving examples of explicitly homoerotic literature and have often been analyzed in terms of their revelations about the island society of Lesbos. This volume examines Sappho's poetry through the lens of lesbian desire. It focuses on the active female gaze in the texts and the narrative voice - one that describes female experience and desires as primary, not secondary to the dominant (male) culture. The book provides close readings of the surviving examples of Sappho's poetry, occasionally presenting comparative material from other ancient Greek poets. In addition, a complete transliteration of the Greek verse is intended to enhance the reader's understanding of the original sound and rhythm of the texts. Sappho's influence on a number of lesbian poets, including Amy Lowell, H.D. and Olga Broumas. The text includes an appendix of the original Greek poetry.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 278 pages
  • 162.05 x 241.3 x 24.64mm | 544.31g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • New
  • 0231099940
  • 9780231099943
  • 2,239,143

Back cover copy

Sappho of Lesbos lived and wrote poetry some twenty-six centuries ago, but hers remains a persistent and effective voice for the expression of a woman's desire for a woman. Lesbian Desire in the Lyrics of Sappho is the first book to examine Sappho's poetry through the lens of lesbian desire, focusing on the active female gaze in the texts and the narrative voice - one that describes female experience and desires as primary, not secondary to the dominant (male) culture. Snyder reads Sappho's songs against a woman-centered framework in which emotional and/or erotic bonds between and among women take center stage. Her close readings demonstrate the ways in which Sappho's lyrics focus on women's emotional lives with one another and on female erotic desire for other females. In Sappho's poetic world, male figures, when they do appear, stand on the periphery. In order to make Sappho accessible to everyone, Snyder presents detailed readings of the one complete existing song and of each of the major fragments of her poetry. She provides a clear English translation and a transliteration into our alphabet; the original Greek text is included in an appendix. Rather than making claims about the specific social contexts out of which the poems may have arisen, Snyder offers a close analysis of the words themselves, with comparative material drawn from other archaic Greek poets where there appear to be appropriate parallels. The book concludes with a chapter addressing Sappho's influence on a number of modern American woman poets, particularly Amy Lowell, H.D., and Olga Broumas. Snyder sees in these three poets qualities similar to Sappho's: a strong sense of self-definition; a display of independencewithin a poetic tradition; a relishing of the erotic and the sensual; and an emphasis on the mutuality of desire; and a blurring of the gaze that disrupts the hierarchy of subject versus object.
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Review quote

"What emerges in this careful and engaging study is an explication of Sappho's work and its literary environment, which illuminates both Sappho and the ways she has been read, adopted, and co-opted over the centuries. Without polemics, and with scrupulous candor and fidelity to the originals, Snyder allows even those readers who are, as she puts it, 'Greekless' to find their connection with the vitality of the words and the poems, which often exist on the page in only the most fragmentary form. By returning often to the bits of text that contain key words and phrases, Snyder actually succeeds in intimating poems where only hints remain." -- "Choice"
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About Jane McIntosh Snyder

Jane McIntosh Snyder is professor emeritus of classics at the Ohio State University.
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