Saturday, May 3, 2014

Sappho: Poems And Fragments

This is a collection of Sappho's poems and fragments. It is organized into different topics that the translator divided them into. This is helpful particularly when trying to understand what some of the fragments would have been about. There is also an excellent introduction that is worth reading.

The introduction was very interesting to read. I liked that the translator: Josephine Balmer discussed some of the controversy surrounding Sappho, and what we actually know about her. Balmer also made some good comments about how people assume writers, particularly women authors, work is biographical. In reality we cannot know for certain most of the details of Sappho's life because we do not have the records.

Sappho's poetry is a quick read, largely because most of her work is fragmented. There is only one complete poem by Sappho that we have. I do like that Balmer does not try to insert her own interpretations into the poetry. If she seeks to clarify a section it is clearly marked in the text or in a footnote. For me, this makes reading this translation superior to many other versions.

Sappho's poetry is moving, and I can only wish that more of it had survived, and that what had survived was more of her finished work. This is a book I look forward to returning to. The danger with it being so easy to read is that you miss the beauty of what is there. I look forward to continuing to discover more when I read her poems again.

I would recommend reading Sappho's poems.


  1. I've read a bit about Sappho, & she's been on my "to-read" list for a long time, mainly because I know that her work has had some degree of influence on certain songwriters that I like (& whose work has had significant impact on me as a musician).

    1. You should read her poems. It won't take you very long to read them. I do recommend going a little slower or rereading her work to absorb what is actually there.

      Which songwriters have been influenced by her? I would be very interested in knowing more about that.