As the place where Orpheus’ head was washed ashore, it was to be expected that European lyric poetry was first heard on Lesbos. Alcaeus, Sappho and Terpander are the names we associate with the inspiration and the place.
Because of the yarns about her that surface d two hundred years after she died, Sappho is the most famous of the three; but except that she lived on Lesbos about 600BC, and what remains of her verse concentrates on women, we know nothing about her. Plato and Catullus became fans; various Athenian satirists, plus a line of life-hating Christians spurned her; and that is all there is to say. And yet how much is said. For has not Professor Goo-Goo ‘finally overthrown a gross perversion of the truth’? – Professor Ga-Ga ‘dispersed the male clouds that shadow her fa ir name?’ – and is not ‘a complete refutation of all former views well within the bounds of Professor Gee-Gee’s critical acumen’? Yes. Yes.
Miss Balmer is not above such tosh. After wagging her finger at an obscure heterodidact called Albin Lesky, she writes: ‘Sappho’s poems do contain references to clothing, but these are not fashion bulletins. Sappho draws attention to women’s bodies as an expression of her sensual appreciation of female beauty’ (really?),