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Recent work has drawn attention to the vital role of reception in the formation of Sappho’s poetic corpus. But the "reception” of Sappho began already in antiquity, as has been shown by, e.g., Yatromanolakis 2007. In this paper my goal is to bring the ancient testimonia on Sappho’s crafting of her posthumous legacy into dialogue with the extant fragments in which “memory” functions as code (I shall argue) for “reperformance.” Memory (μναμοσύνα), in addition to being one of the most prominent themes of Sappho’s poetry (e.g., Burnett 1979, Jarratt 2002), is an important metapoetic term, covertly alluding in at least several cases to a poet’s posthumous fame and to the reperformance of her songs. The unnamed addressee of 55V, for example, is told that when she dies there will be neither “memory” nor “longing” for her (κατθάνουσα δá½² κείσῃ ουδέ ποτα μναμοσύνα σέθεν/ á¼”σσετ᾿οὐδá½² πÏŒθα εá¼°ς ὕστερον). The speaker alludes here to the death of this woman’s poetry, a reading that is reinforced by the mention of “Pierian roses” in the next verse (οὐ γá½°ρ πεδέχῃς βρÏŒδων/ τá½¼ν ἐκ Πιερίας). By contrast, a number of Sappho’s poems—especially those addressed to a singular recipient—script their own reperformance as an act of remembering on the part of the addressee.

Eva Stehle (1997) has argued that the poems that celebrate love among women (e.g., 1V, 22V, 31V, 96V) were originally textual productions, written by Sappho to convey to others “what they should recollect about her and take as a model for themselves” (310-311). In my paper, I extend Stehle’s insight by suggesting that these and other poetic fragments both alluded to and established an all-female network of song within which the namesof female poets were circulated and preserved. Reception in this sense begins with the performance event itself. Moreover, “memory” within such a network is prescriptive, designating the mechanism for the performance and transmission of these otherwise ephemeral works. I will conclude my discussion by considering the intersection of gender and memory as it relates to reperformance. Whereas Homeric epic confers kleos on wives who remember their husbands, Sappho’s poetry self-consciously reconfigures the contours of epic remembering by celebrating instead women who remember other women. The discourse of memory that can be reconstructed from close readings of select poems in relation to their ancient reception offers, therefore, a blueprint not only for a poetics of female kleos but also for authorship in the archaic period as a gendered, and gendering, construct.


  • Burnett, A.P. 1997. “Desire and Memory (Sappho Frag. 94),” CP 74:16-27.
  • Jarratt, S.C. 2002. “Sappho’s Memory,” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 32:11-43.
  • Stehle, E. 1997. Performance and Gender in Ancient Greece: Nondramatic Poetry in its Setting. Princeton.
  • Yatromamolakis, D. 2007. Sappho in the Making: The Early Reception. Center for Hellenic Studies.

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