Biographical criticism has ostensibly been abandoned by most classicists who consider Sappho’s role in the history of sexuality. Adjacent to this approach, however, is a historicising approach, whereby Sappho’s poetry is (tentatively) thought to reflect real-life archaic Greek social settings and norms surrounding female sexuality and homoeroticism, often involving Sappho’s circle of young women.
This paper reconsiders whether this historicising methodology is best suited for placing Sappho’s poetry in the history of sexuality, in view of Sappho’s poetics. Sappho plays with a ‘poetics of omission,’ whereby important details surrounding sexuality, identity, and desire - and frequently, even gender - are left to the audience or reader’s imagination. As such, Sappho's poetry is not necessarily fixed within an archaic Greek frame of reference. Rather than reflecting clear-cut identifiers and norms around sexuality in antiquity, instead, Sappho’s poetry provokes audiences across time to (re)imagine, inhabit, and desire the spectral figures in her poems. This paper argues, then, that a reader-response approach is a more appropriate methodology for understanding what Sappho’s poetry does for the history of sexuality.
All welcome- this seminar is free to attend, but advance registration is required.