I’ve been promising to publish a post for my lesbian friends for a little while now. After I committed myself and it was too late to withdraw, I saw that it was going to be more difficult than I first realized.
As I thought about Sappho,it struck me that she was a poet of stature in an era when women didn’t even speak in public.
Poets by definition are revolutionaries and subversives. It’s in the nature of poetry to confound ones expectations and reveal new possibilities.
You’ll find poets in the forefront of every new social movement in history. You’ll also find religious fundamentalists trying to squelch poets and poetry along with any other creative expression. In the long run, poets always win, and the Fightin’ Fundies always lose.
By her words and by her deeds Sappho subverted the social laws that marked out her life’s path for her. She claimed the independence to follow the path marked out by her nature and live according to the deeper law of creation, that all things must live according to their kind.
So I stand with Sappho and her sisters, because until we’re all free, no one is free.
Most of her poetry has disappeared, partly because she wrote in a dialect that went out of use, partly because the Fundies hated her and burned her words. This fragment is particularly beautiful to me.
Some say an army of horsemen, others
say foot-soldiers, still others, a fleet,
is the fairest thing on the dark earth:
I say it is whatever one loves.
5 Everyone can understand this —
consider that Helen, far surpassing
the beauty of mortals, leaving behind
the best man of all,
sailed away to Troy. She had no
10 memory of her child or dear parents,
since she was led astray
[by Kypris] . . .
. . . lightly
15 . . . reminding me now of Anaktoria
I would rather see her lovely step
and the radiant sparkle of her face
than all the war-chariots in Lydia
20 and soldiers battling in shining bronze.
Selection from Sappho’s Lyre (University of California Press, 1991). Translation copyright 2000 Diane Rayor; all rights reserved.
There’s a lot of great stuff at this website. www.stoa.org/diotima