On first reading, I think the best possible way to encounter Sappho is lying abed on a lazy, late-summer morning and taking the fragments in with as much languor as the scene implies. So beautiful and brief. So desirous and ruined. One pictures Sappho not as a great beauty but as a woman driven by her passions and worried by nightmares. So little focused on the physical, her writing seems to come directly from the place of feeling – and what little survives of her writing stokes our desire to fill in the fragments. Images of the erotic and natural worlds combine in such fragments as:
Eros has shaken my mind,
wind sweeping down the mountain on oaks
To what should I compare you, dear bridegroom?
I shall compare you to a slender sapling
Though Sappho is also taken by beautiful crafted things – embroidery, purple silks, perfumes – all difficult to obtain and luxuriated in when they arrive:
Each description of place, person, and thing evoking a sensuality that still resonates even after two thousand years – as do her fears
When you are dead you will lie forever unremembered
and no one will miss you, for you have not touched the roses
of the Pieriean Muses. Invisible even in the house of Hades,
you will wander among the dim dead, a flitting thing.
which remind us that despite all our wars, ideologies and modern technologies – the human essence remains unchanged over time. And despite the fragmentary nature of Sappho’s remaining work, she reminds us of the full spectrum of passions that we have access to and have always had. Rather than the plasticized sex sold on television 24 hours a day, it is worth remembering that it can (and should) be so:
Eros once more limbslackener makes me shudder
sweetbitter irresistible creeping
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