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"(S)he do the polis in different voices"

Joel Lidov

Paper 2: “(S)he do the polis in different voices”

Eliot’s quotation of Dickens draws attention to the familiar poetic paradox that the outstanding character of one single voice can be that it is the voice of many. The numerous additions to known poems in Sappho, Book One, published in ZPE 189 allow us to isolate this problem in the study of her work, for they make possible a fresh look at the unification of ritual repetition and personal experience in the Sapphic-stanza poems without appealing to theories that portray a uniform Sappho active in the whole corpus. Among these theories the last few decades have seen the gradual abandonment (led especially by Parker 1993) of a priori notions of the essential female poet. Most new attempts define Sappho by means of a cultural context: Williamson (1995) reintroduced the communal aspect; Aloni (1997) emphasized social “function”;  Calame (1997, most recently 2012) applied a comparative anthropology; Stehle (1997) drew conclusions from reconstructions of performance situations in a “women’s circle”; Lardinois (in a series of articles 1994 through 2008) looked for a choral presence throughout the corpus; but Ferrari (2007/2010) returned to a strict biographical method that situated the personal in the political, and Schlesier (2014) has recently proposed a total revision of the biographical persona.

The new text of fr. 17 puts into relief the failed history of reconstructions (summarized in the most recent attempt, Lidov 2004) based on an expectation of what Sappho might do. But the importance of Hera in that poem can be now appreciated in a broader context. For example, the discovery that Kypris does not begin fr. 5 requires a new motivation for her presence in the last stanza and encourages comparison with her appearance in the last stanza of fr. 15, as well as with the implication of marriage at the end of the new Brothers poem. All of these poems apparently concern the safe return of a family member away at sea. The connection of this motif to formal and organized prayer to Hera in the Brothers poem draws fr. 17 into this perspective, and now enough of fr. 9 exists to suggest strongly the presence of thematic words from this group. On this basis it is possible to hypothesize a prayer structure that is formally different from the kletic and hymnic forms made familiar by Norden. Together with examples in Alcaeus of the importance of helper gods and of the role of the Mesa precinct in prayers for safe return, a picture of a ritual occasion emerges. On the one hand the role of Kypris in this group provides a link to the seemingly personal “erotic” poems; on the other, the multiple instances discourage emphasis on the experience of any individual. A more difficult example is posed by the new confirmation that there was almost certainly a complete poem after Sa. 16 and before Sa. 17. The editors place the start of it at Sa. 16.21; this yields a statement of individual experience in a ring composition; but the textual evidence also allows placing the start of “Sa. 16a” one stanza later, so that it would provide a generalizing comment on the previous experience suitable to a ritual context (the same dilemma is posed by Sa. 31).

Alongside these appearances of generic types we have to place distinctions in tone that mark the instances. The “erotic” poems display the power of Aphrodite but are otherwise dissimilar in substance, and they vary from the passion of Sa. 31 to the cool logic of Sa. 16. The dramatic introductory rhetorical question of the new Kypris poem has no parallel. The Brothers poem shows a syntactic complexity, uses of the subjunctives, and a repetitive 2+3 structure in the adonean not elsewhere typical of Sappho. Perhaps Sappho adapted performances of a single type to a variety of situations, each with its appropriate voice.

Session/Panel Title

New Fragments of Sappho

Session/Paper Number

5.2

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