THE SAPPHO COMPANION

Margaret Reynolds, Author . St. Martin's $27.50 (400p) ISBN 978-0-312-23924-4

Hailing from the island of Lesbos, which has subsequently lent its name in her honor to a good cause, the Greek poet Sappho, who lived in the 7th century B.C., has inspired centuries of admiration for her transcendent poems, which have only survived in fragments. A British teacher, critic and broadcaster with a wide range of cultural references at her disposal, Reynolds makes this reader's guide to Sappho's world and work a delightfully erudite one. She offers a selection of sapphic fragments in the original Greek, with thought-provoking contrasting translations from a plethora of (often male) writers, ranging from 18th century Englishmen like Tobias Smollett and John Addison, through 19th century efforts by John Addington Symonds and Alfred Lord Tennyson, to more modern versions by William Carlos Williams and Guy Davenport. Following the works are 14 chapters of excerpts from literary endeavors inspired by Sappho ("The Sapphic Sublime," "Daughter of de Sade," "Modernist Sappho," "Swingers and Sisters"), from ancient writers like Catullus and Ovid to the medieval works of Boccaccio and Christine de Pisan, right up to Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson. Reynolds explains that English speakers pronounce the poet's name with "soft sibilants and faded f's" but "if you hear a native speaker say her name, she comes across spitting and popping hard p's. Ppppsappoppo. We have eased off her name, made her docile and sliding, where she is really difficult, diffuse, many-syllabled, many-minded, vigorous and hard." This lively book, scholarly, yet blessedly minus any footnotes, is sure to give a wider view of this primary writer, and provide easier access to a forbiddingly remote land and work. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/14/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
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Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-312-29510-3
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