Sappho in the Making: The Early Reception

  Yatromanolakis, Dimitrios. 2008. Sappho in the Making: The Early Reception. Hellenic Studies Series 28. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.


This book began taking shape in 2000 and was completed in June 2003. During the academic year 2003–2004 it was further revised, and I made some final bibliographical additions in January 2005. [1] The original 2003 manuscript was almost twice as large as the present book. This was partly due to the fact that in that manuscript there was a special focus on the Hellenistic and Roman reception of Sappho, while in the final version I shifted the focus to methodological and theoretical concerns that I have had since I started conducting research on archaic Greece and archaic and classical song-making. My unpublished, but forthcoming, D.Phil. thesis represented a textual and interpretive commentary on major fragments of Sappho—a commentary that focused especially on sociocultural aspects of linguistic forms. Based on a reexamination of the original papyri and medieval manuscripts preserving fragments of songs of Sappho, my plan was to prepare a new critical edition and commentary. Denys Page’s commentary in English (1955), despite its numerous merits, was idiosyncratic in scope and in the linguistic theories it adopted. Page was also vehemently criticized for his literary interpretations of the preserved texts, interpretations that to a certain extent influenced the critical edition that he along with Edgar Lobel produced in 1955. Eva-Maria Voigt’s monumental edition of Sappho and Alkaios (1971) was considerably more wide-ranging and her instinct in textual criticism more flexible; one might also say that her critical apparatus was more learned in its consideration of papyrological readings and in the attribution of emendations to scholars. Voigt did not have access to numerous original papyri when she embarked on research for her edition and, therefore, for most of the fragments of Alkaios and Sappho she was based on the papyrological work of Schubart, Zuntz, Lobel, and other towering figures in Classics in the first half of the twentieth century, that is, when new poems of Sappho were discovered in Egypt. Since then little work has been done on the papyri and other manuscripts and no critical edition has appeared that would be based on a fresh examination of the originals with the additional aid of modern microscopes and other technological devices.

That was my plan when I finished my D.Phil. thesis at Oxford. My ideas about fragments and editorial principles owe a great deal to the unparalleled papyrological acumen and critical eye of Peter J. Parsons, then Regius Professor of Ancient Greek at the University of Oxford. Although I know that I cannot reciprocate what Peter Parsons has offered in terms of my reexamination of papyri and manuscripts, as well as in elegantly insisting on the significance of interdisciplinary methods in editorial practice, I hope that my decision to publish this book first and slightly defer the publication of my commentary will not eventually disappoint him. For the numerous hours of recovering fragmentary theasis upon archaic modes of thought I shall always be indebted to him.

The years of my papyrological apprenticeship with Peter Parsons have been full of exposure to the intellectual and scholarly sagacity of other scholars too. The last decade (at least its second part that I mainly witnessed) of the twentieth century marked a special flourishing in papyrological, palaeographical, epigraphic, and text-critical activity and enterprises in Oxford. I was lucky enough to have as teachers Nigel G. Wilson, Gregory O. Hutchinson, Laetitia P. E. Parker, and Martin L. West. Revel Coles, John Rea, and Bruce Barker-Benfield kindly facilitated my research on Oxyrhynchus papyri in the Ashmolean Museum (the papyri having now been moved to the Sackler Library) and in the Bodleian Library. Further, Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood and Robert Parker fervently experimented in—and suggested new ways in approaching—ancient Greek religion in their lecture courses. To the former I also owe a special debt in guiding my research on vase-painting by providing unstinting support and her interdisciplinary insights into ancient Greek visual culture. These scholars’ criticism in the development of my ideas and approaches remains lasting and decisive.

Panagiotis Roilos, collaborator for many years, improved the diverse aspects of the theoretical Problematik advanced in this book by discussing almost every detail with me. An eminent critical theorist in Hellenic Studies and Comparative Literature, he also read different drafts of each chapter and made incisive suggestions. I owe him profound gratitude. Another collaborator has offered me more than a colleague could expect. I met him in my first week at the Johns Hopkins University—standing and smiling next to an old departmental photograph of Basil L. Gildersleeve, a philologist who played a major role in shaping the discipline of Classics at Johns Hopkins and in the United States more broadly. Since our first meetings, Marcel Detienne has been commenting on and criticizing almost everything I have written, and his comparative approaches to ancient Greek cultural and religious configurations and microfigurations are a constant source of inspiration in graduate courses and seminars I am still privileged to co-teach with him.

A number of scholars encouraged my decision to leave England after my doctoral studies and continue research in the United States. Margaret Alexiou and Gregory Nagy have been reading and commenting on drafts throughout the writing of this book. Both of them had previously read different parts of my D.Phil. commentary. With Albert Henrichs I discussed in detail certain parts and ideas at numerous meetings. From the very beginning of its conception, Gregory Nagy considerably encouraged me in advancing the methodological approaches and analyses included in this book and has provided me with decisive advice on issues historical and literary. I have further profited from discussions with Elizabeth Jeffreys, Michael Herzfeld, Henry Immerwahr, Michael Koukourakis, Stella Lianakis Yatromanolakis, Nikolaos Litinas, the late David Lewin, Richard P. Martin, David Mitten, Leonard Muellner, Gloria Pinney, Athanasios Roilos, Laura Slatkin, Stanley Tambiah, Richard Thomas, Katherine Thomson, and Irene Winter. The friendship of Evro Layton-Zeniou and John Shirley-Quirk has been invaluable throughout. In the final stages of revision the scholarly brilliance of Gregory Nagy has been significant; only those who have experienced his friendship know what this means. Michael Herzfeld has been instrumental in anthropological perspectives, which I have much appreciated; to him I owe a great deal that no words can depict. The singular efficiency of M. Zoie Lafis, as well as Emily Collinson, Jill Curry Robbins, and Kerri Sullivan, made the whole process of the production of the book smooth and rewarding. Joyce C. Nevis, a master in copyediting and a watchful (and critical) reader, sent me comments that improved the manuscript. Dr. Günter Poethke, Kustos of the Papyrussammlung on the Museumsinsel, Berlin, effectively facili-tated my papyrological research in Berlin, and helped with the production of photographs of P. Berol. 9722. Dr. Nikolaos Kaltsas, Director of the National Archaeological Museum, Athens, and Eleni Morati helped with my research in Athens. Dr. Cornelia Weber-Lehmann, Curator at the Kunstsammlungen, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, offered me valuable help with archaeological material during my stay in Bochum.

This book would have not been written without the support and intellectual vigor of a particular institution. A three-year appointment at the Society of Fellows, Harvard University, provided me with the necessary time for research and further intensive training in social and cultural anthropology and ethnomusicology. More formative were the ideal academic environment and interdisciplinarity that the Society of Fellows fosters—among natural scientists, humanists, and social scientists. Rosemarie Bernard, Diana Morse, and especially Nina Gurianova have been constant interlocutors and friends. To Peter Galison, Walter Gilbert, Martha Minow, the late Robert Nozick, Elaine Scarry, William Todd, and Helen Vendler I owe more than I can acknowledge here.

Thanks are owed to some other institutions that supported my work during and after my years at the Society. The William F. Milton Award that I received in 2001 generously funded my research on Attic vase-paintings in Germany, Greece, France, the Netherlands, and the United States. Upon my arrival at the Johns Hopkins University I realized that, leaving ideal surroundings, I found myself working in an equally inspiring research and teaching milieu that H. Alan Shapiro had established. To his scholarly incisiveness and wide-ranging expertise on ancient Greek visual and material culture I am most grateful. For their warm collegiality my thanks go to Stephen Campbell, Michael Fried, Hent de Vries, Neil Hertz, Herbert Kessler, and Richard Macksey. For valuable intellectual dialogue I should like to thank Veena Das of the Anthropology Department, Paola Marrati of the Humanities Center, and John Shirley-Quirk of the Peabody Institute. Finally during 2003 and 2004 I received two Dean’s Research Grants of the School of Arts and Sciences that facilitated my research in Germany and Greece. Thanks are owed to Daniel Weiss and particularly Adam Falk.

My grandparents, Stephanos and Stella Tsainis of Konstantinoupole and Smyrne, taught me many stories and sociolects from their homeland—snap-shots and narratives that left an imprint on my diasporic fieldwork on Greek antiquity. Ethnographic fieldwork that I conducted in Southern Italy and Crete showed me ways of describing. The insistence of Albert Henrichs, Panagiotis Roilos, and Alexandra Yatromanolakis that this book be written was invaluable. It is dedicated to my parents and to Elaine Scarry.


[ back ] 1. I have attempted to take into account 2004/2005 publications as much as possible.