Imagining a courtesan in the songs of Sappho

How the first word in Song 1 of Sappho is relevant to her reception in the ancient world—and to various different ways of thinking…

2021.01.15 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In this essay, extracting what I have learned about the meaning of the first word in Song 1 of Sappho in the overall context of studying, in previous essays, the ancient reception of Sappho, I will concentrate on the erotic power of floral perfumes—a power that is driven by Aphrodite and that is poeticized in Sappho’s songs with reference to two boy-loves of the… Read more

The theo-eroticism of mythmaking about Aphrodite’s love for boys like Adonis

2021.01.09 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In a previous study, I used the term theo-eroticism as a way of describing a kind of sexuality that gets transformed into something sublime by way of blending eroticism with divinity. In line with terminology used by exegetes of the Bible in their interpretations of some intensely erotic situations pictured in the Song of Songs, I experimented with applying the terms of such biblical exegesis to ancient… Read more

Back and forth from general to special kinds of erotic love, further variations on a theme of love-on-wings in Song 1 of Sappho and…

2020.12.25 | By Gregory Nagy §0.  In Song 1 of Sappho, as our mind’s eye views Aphrodite, goddess of erotic love, at the moment when she starts driving her chariot pulled by birds called strouthoi and travels with the speed of light, in a miraculous instant, all the way down from the bright heavens above, down to the dark soil of our earthly human existence here below, how are we to imagine these… Read more

From the heavenly to the earthy and back, variations on a theme of love-on-wings in Song 1 of Sappho and elsewhere

2020.12.18 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In this essay, I start by considering the word strouthoi, conventionally translated as ‘sparrows’, in Song 1 of Sappho. At line 10, these birds are seen at the moment when they take wing and fly off. They are pulling behind them, as they fly, the chariot of the goddess Aphrodite, conveying their divine mistress from her heavenly home and winging their way, full speed, through… Read more

Some rose-colored visions of the dancing dawn goddess in the painterly art of Sappho and beyond

2020.12.11 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In the “Tithonos Song” of Sappho, the fragmented text of which has of late been supplemented with newly-found additional papyrus fragments (text here), we read how the amorous goddess of the dawn, Eos, abducted the beautiful hero Tithonos to be her youthful lover—but she was unable to prevent him from slowly turning into an old man, deprived of his youth and beauty. This sad story… Read more

A sweet bird for the songs of Sappho

2020.12.04 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In the title of this essay, the wording ‘sweet bird’ echoes what we hear in part of a poem by John Milton, Il Penseroso (1645/1646), later set to music by George Frideric Handel (1740), whose librettist merged the poem with Milton’s symmetrical L’Allegro (1645). So, Milton’s poetry became for Handel an extended song blending the mirth of L’Allegro with the melancholy of Il Penseroso.… Read more

Thinking of further desiderata while tracing the reception of Sappho in the ancient world

2020.11.27 | By Gregory Nagy §0. Following up on my previous essay in Classical Inquiries (Nagy 2020.11.20), I offer here some further thoughts about desiderata that occur to me as I proceed in making plans to write up, as a self-standing monograph to be published by Classical Inquiries both online and as a printed “pamphlet,” the results—to date—of my attempts at tracing the reception of Sappho in the ancient world.… Read more

Some narrowings and some widenings of perspectives for viewing the reception of Sappho in the ancient world

2020.11.13, rewritten 2020.11.15 | By Gregory Nagy §0. For an illustration that is most relevant to what I have to say in this essay, I show a line-drawing of a close-up from a vase painting by the Meidias Painter, whose artistic career, in Athens, can be dated to the late fifth century BCE. In this close-up, we see the picturing of a lady named Eurynoe (ΕΥΡΥΝΟΗ), who is playfully teasing… Read more

On the reception of Sappho as a personal experience to be expressed in pictures: examples from two vase paintings produced in classical Athens, fifth…

2020.11.06 | By Gregory Nagy §0. The two images that I mention in the title of this essay are line drawings of close-ups taken from two separate vase paintings created by an artist known to art historians as the Meidias Painter, whose career as a vase painter in Athens can be dated to the late fifth century BCE. In these close-ups, shown below at the end of my introductory paragraph… Read more

Looking for references to Sappho’s songs in Athenian vase paintings: preliminary comments

2020.10.30, rewritten 2020.11.05–12 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In this essay, I am not looking for references to the text of Sappho’s songs in Athenian vase paintings. Instead, I look merely for traces of pictorial references to the contents of these songs, especially as performed in the city-state of Athens during the classical period, in the fifth century BCE and beyond. In other words, I am looking for aspects of… Read more

Girl, interrupted, and some possibilities for linking the hymeneal songs of Sappho with the etymologies of two Greek words, humḗn (ὑμήν) and húmnos (ὕμνος)

2020.10.23 | By Gregory Nagy §0. Ιn Fragment 114 of Sappho, we read the words of a girl who is lamenting her loss of girlhood: ‘where oh where, my girlhood, my girlhood, have you gone off to, leaving me behind?’ (παρθενία, παρθενία, ποῖ με λίποιc’ ἀποίχῃ). Diana Gibson (1996), in a thesis slated for re-publication online in Classical Inquiries, has convincingly shown that such examples of wistful singing by girls… Read more

How Homeric poetry may help us achieve a keener appreciation of Sappho’s wedding songs

2020.09.25 | By Gregory Nagy §0. Back in the year 2013, which was the original publication date for my book The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours (hereafter H24H), I took the risk of drastically expanding one of the 24 “Hours,” making it twice as long as the other 23 “Hours”. What made that one hour—Hour 5—really more like two hours in length is that I added to the part… Read more

Death at sunset for Sappho

2020.09.04 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In a painting that goes by the title Safo, by Miguel Carbonel Selva, dated 1880, we see the figure of Sappho at the moment when she is about to leap to her death, plunging into the sea from the heights of Leukas. Her death is timed to happen at sunset, and the timing is the same in other renditions as well. A most striking… Read more

A brief note about the picturing of apples in the poetics of Sappho

2019.03.29 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In the course of recent communications with my dear colleague Lucia Athanassaki, she has generously shared with me a wealth of further insights and bibliography concerning the poetics of Sappho as imitated by Catullus. In this brief essay, I concentrate on one detail, having to do with the picturing of apples. Image credit William M. Todd, 2006. §1. In Poem 2 of Catullus, the speaking… Read more

A Turkish Angora Cat in Paris: An insight into Catullus’ ‘Sparrow Poem’ (c. 2) arising from a Modern Greek Song

This response has been inspired by Gregory Nagy’s discussion of Catullus’ famous ‘Sparrow Poem’ (c. 2) in Classical Inquiries 2018.12.13. According to Nagy, Catullus’ model was Sappho’s ‘Sparrow Song’, lost to us but not to Catullus, in which the Lesbian poet expressed her affection for her little sparrow. Taking my lead from a Modern Greek pet song, I shall explore a slightly different path, the possibility that the ‘Sparrow Poem’ is… Read more

A scenario for exchanges of comments on a planned monograph about the ancient reception of Sappho

2019.03.08 | By Gregory Nagy “Sappho” (modeled 1862, carved 1867), by William Wetmore Story (1819–1895). Image via Flickr, under a CC BY 2.0 license. §0. As the title of this posting for 2019.03.08 indicates, I am planning to produce a monograph about the ancient reception of Sappho, and part of the plan is to organize a system for exchanging comments about this monograph, the text of which is I think… Read more

Homo ludens at play with the songs of Sappho: Experiments in comparative reception theory, Part Seven

2019.03.01 | By Gregory Nagy §0. This posting for 2019.03.01 is Part Seven of a long-term project that started with Part One at 2019.01.08. The numbering of my paragraphs here in Part Seven continues from §110 of Part Six, posted 2019.02.22, continuing from earlier posts. In Part Seven here, I attempt to round out my findings, as of now, about the reception of Sappho’s songs in the ancient world. Most if… Read more

Homo ludens at play with the songs of Sappho: Experiments in comparative reception theory, Part Six

2019.02.22 | By Gregory Nagy §0. This posting for 2019.02.22 is Part Six of a long-term project that started with Part One at 2019.01.08. The numbering of my paragraphs here in Part Six continues from §95 of Part Five, posted 2019.02.08, continuing from earlier posts. In Part Six here, I concentrate once again on the poetry of Catullus, which has been my main preoccupation in the course of this overall… Read more

Musings about a scene pictured by the Achilles Painter

2019.02.14 | By Gregory Nagy §0. On the cover of an earlier posting of mine for Classical Inquiries, Nagy 2019.01.31, we see a facsimile of a picture painted on an Attic white-ground lekythos, dated somewhere around 440–430 BCE, by an artist who is known to art historians as the Achilles Painter. In that posting, which was all about Sappho, I never explained why I chose that picture for the cover.… Read more

Homo ludens at play with the songs of Sappho: Experiments in comparative reception theory, Part Five

2019.02.08 | By Gregory Nagy This posting for 2019.02.08 is Part Five of a long-term project that started with Part One at 2019.01.08 and continued since then till now. The numbering of my paragraphs here in Part Five continues from §77 of Part Four. The primary examples in Part Five here, as earlier in Part Four, come from the poetry of Catullus. In my comments on this poetry so far,… Read more

Homo ludens at play with the songs of Sappho: Experiments in comparative reception theory, Part Four

2019.01.31 | By Gregory Nagy This posting for 2019.01.31 is Part Four of a long-term project that started with Part One at 2019.01.08 and continued with Part Two at 2019.01.16 and with Part Three at 2019.01.25. The numbering of my paragraphs here in Part Four continues from §64 of Part Three, which had continued from §51 of Part Two, which had continued from §33 of Part One. In Part Four,… Read more

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