Further thoughts on the singing of songs of Sappho, inspired by the collegial conversations and shared research that led to the earlier posts by Gregory Nagy and Andromache Karanika and to the more recent post by Ioanna Papadopoulou.
Epigram 55 of Posidippus, a poet who flourished in the third century BCE, refers to the songs of Sappho. That is what I argued already in my postings for 2015.11.19 and 2015.12.03. This epigram, as we can see from those postings, is about a girl named Nikomakhe whose happy young life was sadly interrupted by a premature death. Nostalgically, the words of the epigram recall the happy times when this girl together with her girlfriends were singing the love songs of Sappho, sung one after another. In the present posting for 2016.01.07, I will argue that the poet pictures the singing of Sappho’s songs by these girls as a recurrent event that is simultaneous with their weaving at the loom.
Greg Nagy poses an exciting question about the time of female weaving, and, what is more, about song that accompanies the weaving—song that alleviates the monotony of labor but also transforms the sense of time. Is girls’ weaving something that begins with the light of dawn? In Sappho 102, weaving done by girls seems to be a setting for oaroi as ‘love songs’, and the interruption of such weaving is linked with falling in love and getting married. In Epigram 55 of Posidippus, this kind of setting is re-woven to portray the interruption of female work as signifying not only love and marriage but also death. Epigram 49 of Posidippus, like his Epigram 55 about Nikomakhe, presents the interrupted weaving of another girl, called Hegedike.
Epigram 55 of Posidippus, a poet who flourished in the third century BCE, refers to the songs of Sappho. That is what I argued already in my posting for 2015.11.19. But the reference to Sappho in that epigram is even more complex than I had said in that posting. In that posting (at n8), as also in an earlier piece I had published (Nagy 2010, listed in my Bibliography), I had mentioned the idea of “girl, interrupted”—borrowing the words of the title given by Susanna Kaysen to her 1993 book, Girl, Interrupted, which was the same title used in the 1999 film version featuring Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, and Clea Du Vall. (The same title resurfaces, without any reference to its history, in an article by Daniel Mendelsohn 2015, also listed in my Bibliography.) I connected this idea of “girl, interrupted” with an idea that I saw being developed in the elliptic story told by the allusive words of Epigram 55 about a girl named Nikomakhe whose happy young life was sadly interrupted by a premature death. Nostalgically, the words of the epigram recall the happy times when this girl together with her girlfriends were singing the love songs of Sappho, sung one after another. Such singing of Sappho’s songs, I argued, promises to cancel the interruption of the girl’s happy life. But what is the context for such singing? Since my last posting for 2015.11.19, I have been reconsidering this question in e-conversations with a few dear friends, and what follows here in this posting for 2015.12.03 is a tracking of my reconsiderations.
Epigrams 52 and 55 of Posidippus, a poet who flourished in the third century BCE, contain references to the songs of Sappho. That is what I argue here. Further, I argue that these references seem to be evoking the main themes that we see Sappho’s Tithonos Song, which is quoted and analyzed in my posting for 2015.11.12.
In a book soon to be published, Anton Bierl and André Lardinois have collected a set of essays commenting on newly-discovered texts of Sappho’s songs, preserved in papyrus fragments originating from ancient Egypt in the Hellenized phase of its long history.