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Lesbian reaction shot?

March 21, 2015

Sappho’s Fragment 31

We don’t know the sexuality of the 7th century BC poet who gave her name to Sapphic love – the Greek verb “to act like someone from Lesbos” originally meant “to be a sex mad predator of men” – but fragment 31 about love between women, remains one of her most erotic poems. It is in the Sapphic metre of three long lines followed by a fourth short one, and maddeningly is missing its ending. Daniel Mendelsohn’s translation is from this week’s New Yorker.

The poet never describes the object of her affections directly; instead envy of the man talking to her lover is followed by her own emotional and physical collapse in the loved one’s presence.  As Mendelsohn puts it, the poem is “a kind of reaction shot”.

He seems to me an equal of the Gods—
whoever gets to sit across from you
and listen to the sound of your sweet speech
so close to him,

to your beguiling laughter: O it makes my
panicked heart go fluttering in my chest,
for the moment I catch sight of you there’s no
speech left in me,

but tongue gags—: all at once a faint
fever courses down beneath the skin,
eyes no longer capable of sight, a thrum-
ming in the ears,

and sweat drips down my body, and the shakes
lay siege to me all over, and I’m greener
than grass, I’m just a little short of dying,
I seem to me,

but all must be endured, since even a pauper …


One Comment leave one →
  1. aatish1 permalink
    March 21, 2015 3:41 pm
    In fact this above article in the New york Book of the times in the year 2000 details Sappho belonged to an era where the dintinction between homosexuality and heterosexuality was blurred.She composed nine volumes of work and only a few thousand survive today. Her life and work remains a mystery till today as it is incomplete say historians.

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