Remembering Sappho

The Greek poet is known as one of the first love poets to openly embrace her female homosexuality, but her work is largely overshadowed by enigma, mistranslation and untruth.

This afternoon at Hay, writer, intellectual, and second wave-feminist Germaine Greer took her audience on a journey to ancient Greece, specifically 570 BC, to recall the poet's life and work.

Unfortunately much of Sappho’s work was lost, Greer explained, and therefore there is not much known of her life other than her prolific love of poetry and desire for women. However,“we don’t need to explain the disappearance of Sappho’s work as a consequence of her femaleness or her sexual orientation”, Greer said.

Just like her suicide, the historical inaccuracies that have constructed Sappho’s existence are especially tragic. “Practically everyone mentioned Sappho. And everyone mentioned unicorns too” said Greer.

Greer told her audience there is no doubt Sappho “was real and that she was famous”, however “people misremember what Sappho did”. The feminist recited one of Sappho’s only works to survive, Ode to Aphrodite, that she expressed an intense love for.

“This poem doesn’t ask me to make allowances for it. It’s extraordinary”, she said.

If you’re interested in poetry please also see Event 196 at 7pm on Tuesday 28 May. If you like watching Hay Festival events digitally please sign up to the Hay Player for more from the world’s greatest thinkers.

Picture by: Philippa Harris