Can Sappho be freed from receivership? Part One
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CitationNagy, G. 2021.07.19. "Can Sappho be freed from receivership? Part One." Classical Inquiries. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.eresource:Classical_Inquiries.
AbstractIn this essay, I make a distinction between, on the one hand, what I describe as a receivership of Sappho in the world of Classics today and, on the other hand, the variegated reception of Sappho in the world of ancient Greek song culture. In making such a distinction, I repeat a term I once used—only once ever before in Classical Inquiries (Nagy 2015.12.31, linked here)—and I did so with reference both to Song 1 of Sappho and to Ode 4.1 of Horace. That term was “a poetics of repetition,” which I redeploy here as a way of conceptualizing the ancient reception of Sappho, to be contrasted with today’s receivership of her songs. I will say more about my use of the term “receivership” as my argumentation proceeds, but for now I concentrate on the contrasted term “reception,” which I use in the context of describing situations in the ancient world where the songs of Sappho could be reperformed. One such situation is actually exemplified in Song 1 of Sappho, as I have argued more than once in Classical Inquiries (I said it best, I think, in the essay listed in the Bibliography as Nagy 2015.11.05, linked here). The repetition itself is signaled in two ways by the song. First, there is the adverb dēute (δηὖτε), meaning ‘once again this time’, which is used three times in this song with reference to the onset, ‘once again this time’, of passionate love. And, second, there is the adjective poikiló-thronos, which is the first word of the song and which, as I interpret this adjective, describes the goddess Aphrodite herself as ‘[you] who wear [your] pattern-woven dress’ or, more literally, ‘wearing [a dress decorated with] woven patterns’ where the primary forms of patterns tend to be floral. For those who experience love, the love itself as personified by the goddess of love is limitlessly varied, each time love happens, just as the wording of Sappho pictures a limitless variety of patterns that are woven into the exterior of Aphrodite’s dress. This exteriorization of such patterns—in most cases representing flowers—is matched by the interiorization of love felt inside the heart of the one in love. A comparable scheme of exteriorization is visible in the vase painting I have chosen as the cover image for this essay. We see pictured here the goddess Aphrodite, accompanied by the boy Himeros, who is sexual desire personified, and she is shown wrapped in a himation decorated with floral patterns.
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