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Responses to American Poetry

The aim of this online space is to host the research work of university students or young scholars as this emerges from larger projects focusing on the American poetry scene. The objective of this initiative is to bring this kind of research activity to the attention of the general public in an attempt to further promote the exchange of ideas with regard to the process of reading, understanding and appreciating poetry writing.


Tatiani Rapatzikou 
(Associate Professor, School of English, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece; Advisor and initiative co-ordinator


Magdalini Sdrolia


Shedding Light on Sappho’s Art

My essay is a “mirror” that reflects my approach to Sappho’s poetry, an approach which was heavily influenced by various fragments of Sappho’s poetry, to some key biographical facts which might have influenced her writing, as well as to some fables and myths from ancient times, as Sappho could have been influenced by the literary traditions of her times. Undoubtedly, H.D.’s translation attempts have helped me familiarize with the texts in addition to finding the proper way to express my feelings on Sappho’s literal feelings and experiences.

Just like Sappho, I have decided to experiment with poetry. My poems might not follow the meter and rhythm employed by Sappho, but she remains my inspiration. Fragment 171, a fragment where melancholy and loss resonate, reminded me of a theme which was very popular in Ancient times; the theme of unrequited love and the feelings of betrayal and loss that accompanied it. According to Hallet, Sappho decided to end her life due to unrequited love, to one-sided affections towards a young man, named Faonas (22-23); this anecdote inspired me to write a poem regarding a different type of unrequited love which led to tragedy. I decided to give light to a different story, a story ignored by most people, a story which revolves around the Trojan prince Paris and his first wife Oenone. Figure 1 inspired me to write the first poem shedding light on the couple’s love story and describing the tragic tale of betrayal, whereas figure 2 depicts the epic love story of Helen and Paris that is linked to the Trojan War. The Spartan Queen is associated with the concepts of love and tragedy, whereas Oenone, just like Sappho, ended her life when her beloved lost his life, due to her rival, “some Helen” (=για μιαν Ελένη). Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge was overcoming the language problem. The poem was supposed to be in English, but as the story unraveled, I figured that Greek could not be missing from a story which shaped Ancient Greek history and gave voice to passionate love and sacrifice. Apart from that, I also decided to use long dashes to “hide” some parts of the poem, some parts that will remain “unexplored” by readers, just like Sappho’s life, just like Oenone’s part in the Trojan War.

Fig. 1 Pieter Lastman. Paris and Oenone (1610).  The Loves of Paris and Oil on panel 25 3/4 x 43 3/4 in. High Museum of Art, Atlanta. Helen (1788). 

Fig. 2 David Jacques-Louis. The Loves of Paris and Helen (1788). Oil on canvas 144 x 180 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

The second poem was inspired by the concept of lesbian love, a topic which was heavily ignored in Ancient Greece, just like female sexuality. Sappho is considered the most important spokesperson of lesbian love, while ancient myths refer to the legend of Callisto, a young girl who lost her life due to her forbidden love. Callisto was a young follower to Artemis, who, just like her mistress (which was rumored to detest men), vowed to remain a maiden. Zeus, driven by lust, took the form of Artemis and impregnated her, feigning love and desire (see fig. 4); Artemis blind by rage chased the girl away (see fig. 3). This story, a tragic tale of love and betrayal, blends male and female sexuality, plays with the concept of dominance-submission. I was inspired by Sappho’s fragment 175. The biggest challenge at this point was to manage to make the lover of the girl look genderless, or if possible, androgynous; after all, Artemis’s female nature came in contrast with her stereotypically male interests. I wanted my lyrics to take readers by surprise, to break their expectations, to make them rethink their beliefs regarding sexuality and gender.

Fig. 3 Sebastiano Ricci. Diana and Callisto, (1712-1716). Oil on canvas, 64 x 76 cm. Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. 

Fig.4 Peter-Paul Rubens. Jupiter and Callisto (1613).Oil on canvas 202 x 305 cm. Museumslandschaft, Hessen Kassel, Hesse.

All in all, my main attempt was to show that Sappho’s personality and poetry is overshadowed by two rumors – her desperate love and sexuality. But, in order to know a story, all angles must be approached, all secrets should be unveiled. It was an enjoyable and unforgettable experience.



Hallett, Judith P. “Sappho and her Social Context: Sense and Sensuality.” Signs, vol.4, no.3, 1979, pp.448-449. JSTOR. doi:10.1086/493630.S2CID  143119907.
Jacques-Louis, David. The Loves of Paris and Helen. 1788. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Louvre, idNotice= 22499&langue=en. Accessed 12 Oct. 2020.
Lastman, Pieter. Paris and Oenone. 1610. High Museum of Art, Atlanta. The High, Accessed 10 Oct. 2020.
Ricci, Sebastiano. Diana and Callisto. 1712-1716. Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. Gallerie dell’Accademia, Accessed 11 Oct. 2020.
Rubens, Peter-Paul. Jupiter and Callisto. 1316. Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, Hesse. Museum Kassel, 0/100/objekt.html. Accessed 9 Oct. 2020.

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