How Homeric poetry may help us achieve a keener appreciation of Sappho’s… Gregory Nagy
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 where I was analyzing passages selected from the Homeric Iliad another part where I analyzed passages selected from the songs of Sappho. Actually, the part about Sappho was not an addition: rather, I inserted it in the middle of analyzing the part about the Iliad. I had a good reason for doing this, since I thought then, and I still think now, that a reading of selections from Sappho’s surviving songs helps achieve a better understanding of Homeric poetry. But I also think, conversely, that Homer helps achieve a better understanding of Sappho. In this brief essay, then, I propose to turn inside-out my original project, where I analyzed Homeric poetry by way of comparing it with what I know about Sappho’s songs. That is, I will reconsider one of Sappho’s most celebrated songs by way of comparing it, however briefly, with what I know about Homeric poetry. More specifically, I will concentrate on the Homeric gesture of picturing the hero Achilles as an eternal bridegroom. This Homeric gesture, I will argue, helps us appreciate more keenly what I call the wedding songs of Sappho. Nagy's special research interests include archaic Greek literature and oral traditions. His ongoing goal is to integrate his research with collaborative as well as intergenerational mentorships and public engagement initiatives, especially in the context of his Harvard College and Harvard DCE courses on the ancient Greek hero (with almost 10,000 alumni), and his HarvardX MOOC, which has enrolled over 90,000 learners since its launch in 2013. His recent monographs include The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours (HUP 2013) and Masterpieces of Metonymy: From Ancient Greek Times to Now (HUP, fall 2015).Since 2000, he has been the Director of the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington DC, while continuing to teach at the Harvard campus in Cambridge as the Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature.