Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Sappho: Erotic Poetess of Lesbos


Sappho, the archaic poet from the Greek island of Lesbos, has probably been the most influential female poet in Western civilization, although her life remains an intriguing enigma. In this class, we will read all of Sappho's surviving fragments in English and discuss all aspects of her poetry as well as the traditions referring to, or fantasizing about, her much-disputed life. We will examine the various ways in which Sappho's poetry and legend have inspired not only female authors but also great male poets such as Swinburne, Baudelaire, and Pound. We will see and analyze the many paintings inspired by Sappho in both ancient and modern times, and will listen to the various composers who attempted to put her poetry into music. We will also investigate the rich heritage of writings concerning Sappho and her circle, from ancient to contemporary times, focusing on those periods when scholars have debated the interpretation of her poetry. No previous knowledge of Greek poetry or culture is required.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Anastasia-Erasmia Peponi

"What moves us when listening to Aretha Franklin's voice singing Carole King's You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman? And how do Jane Austen's novels affect the way we think, feel, fall in love, argue, write, or talk? Do we respond to Emily Dickinson's poetry with our body or with our intellect? Such vital questions, deriving from modern cultures and from my own experiences, are the driving force of my published work on the way ancient cultures, both in Greece and Rome, debated the role that music, poetry, and dance played in the shaping of current mentalities and of one's self. Similar questions frame the discussions I have with my students about Sappho's poetry—a poetry that proved itself uniquely influential both in ancient and modern times—on issues of language and visual thinking, memory and identity, the body and the senses, cognition and emotion, taste and mood, self and place. Many of my published articles as well as my book Frontiers of Pleasure: Models of Aesthetic Response in Archaic and Classical Thought (Oxford University Press, 2012) and a volume I edited on Performance and Culture in Plato's Laws (Cambridge University Press, 2013) discuss similar issues and are attempts to bring the study of ancient cultures closer to modern concerns."

Learn more about Prof. Peponi on the Classics Department website