Er, haven’t you been dead a few thousand years?

You can’t keep a good old girl down.

Let’s get it out of the way, because what everyone is probably dying to ask you is: do you prefer men or women?

Oh unequivocally women.

And why is that?

Well women are, after all, the superior sex;  their rarified, inherent intelligence, their instinctual sensitivity, finer in senses than a rabbit; their high degree of conscientiousness in hygiene, their bathing in milk; their incredible acumen in regards to spice and fruit, their faun-like grace in movement; and, well, they just smell better, and they wiggle.

Were you a Lesbian in life?

I was of the great island of Lesbos, yes.

Oh you know what I mean, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Well there are some things I can’t reveal from the afterlife.  I’m free to offer you any impressions that do not reveal any worldly mysteries, but no more.

No worldly mysteries at all?

Well, of course not, otherwise I would have seen fit to protect my legacy by waking up some Constantinople printer of the 16th century or so, and reciting him my verses for preservation.

You said “Constantinople.”  So not “Istanbul” but “Constantinople?”

I said “Constantinople” because that’s what it was around the time I mentioned.  I try to stay above any quarrel with modern Istanbul, even though so many of classic Ionian stock were driven from the city due to ethnic riots in your last century.

And by the way, I do like the song.  It has an incantatory quality.

So no mysteries? Damn! We may never know whether you got it on with Dika? And Attis? and Anactoria? and Eirana? And maybe Abanthis and Gongyla in a threesome?

Very cheeky.  You know from what you have of my poems that I admired those sweet young girls, but even if I were inclined to kiss and tell, I’m bound to say no more.

So which contemporary woman best embodies the idea of love, and why?

Ooh, that’s a clever question.  Of course my mind flew immediately to Frida Kahlo, who is, alas no longer contemporary.  And I thought a bit of Drew Barrymore, and of Thandie Newton, but that might have been more like a rustling laugh after being tickled.  If you press me on the point, I would have to say Aung San Suu Kyi, because there is so much to love that its paragon must be a woman with so much to her.

Interesting that your choice is charged with some politics.  Why is it that your surviving poetry has so few references to the political conditions of your times? If you were to write a poem about the current state of political affairs what would it be entitled, and what would be the first line?

Ah, I must gently point out that the last request would be the equivalent of my unearthing a new fragment of my work, which I must remind you I am not free to do.

I can say what you already know, from commentators who had read my work before so much of it was lost, that there was some political content to my poetry.  That is inevitable considering my prominent family, and the times in which I lived.  I think you’ll find from those same sources that my poetry was extremely wide-ranging, covering heroic tales, love lyrics, odes, elegies, songs for prayer, songs for ritual dance, and much more.  Aristophanes of Byzantium collected 1,320 of my verses.  You may be surprised that no one theme dominated this number.  The politics of my times, as in all times, lay in all things, in love, in life, in story and song.  The politics of today, with so much more mingling of blood, and with so much intimate rubbing of far-flung nations, is more complicated.  It is not in my nature to take a narrow view through such complexity, so I enjoy as much as I can of the loves and lives, and stories and songs of your time.

There was once a United States Navy ship, commissioned from 1945 to 1946, named the USS Sappho. Do you approve of this? Why? Why not?

There was also a Navy ship USS Sappho from 1918 to 1919.  The 1945 edition was an Artemis-class ship, which also brings into the story my dear Goddess who regards the rose-fingered moon as I do.  The ship was named after a small planet, which was in turn named after me by Norman Pogson, who wrote his love for classical times into the skies.  Perhaps it is a little uncharacteristic for a warship to cry my name, but don’t forget my verses extolling the great ships of the Lesbian fleet.  I am content to be remembered, and I am specially content to be remembered in diverse circumstances.

Speaking of complex politics, what do you think about all the furore over gay marriage?

Surely you’ve read my marriage poems?  I wrote Epithalamia.  I wrote rude bits to be sung drunkenly around a wedding cash bar. Marriage is high and low, and it’s perfect and imperfect.  Young girls will find young men, and sometimes they will find fine women, and every union of lovers will take its place around a different arrangement of flowers.  The Gods will will pick their favorite households and crowd in with blessings and curses, so you might find one woman’s bed wrapped in the rose light of the moon as Artemis remembers her own night with Daphne, while the next year Hymen dances around that same woman’s bed as she lies with her new husband.  If the Gods have woven their verdicts directly into such lives, who am I to make an empty noise with my own judgments?

Whoa!  That was heavy.  Let’s lighten it up. What’s your favorite movie?

My Big Fat Greek Wedding, of course!  Well, besides the Athenian decor of Toula’s house, which was clumsy because so much else about the move was unmistakably Lesbian, even now.

And I’ll tell you my least favorite.  Mamma Mia.  A cackle of barbarians invading a gorgeous Greek island (they call it Calicos, but obviously they were thinking of Lesbos) to sing some intolerable songs by other barbarians?  Too much to take, let me tell you, even if the Sophie character made me think briefly of my beloved daughter, my Kleis.  It’s worth mentioning that the three potential fathers are all good examples of what the Suda calls Dick of Man as those comedians think of my—how is it again?—Baby Daddy.

For you, what differentiates lyric from poetry?

The music that accompanies it or does not.  Just kidding.  Lyric to my classical sense is a compact form which, given voice, can be stretched over notes in accordance with musical phrase, whereas poetry is more general, independent of external music, because it works its own song.

So do you consider yourself a poet or a lyricist?

A lyrical poet.


Recorded by the medium Uche Ogbuji, with reception assistance by Milo Martin and Rich Ferguson.

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Sappho was an Ancient Greek poetess, born on the island of Lesbos. Later Greeks included her in the canonical list of nine lyric poets. Her birth was sometime between 630 and 612 BC, and it is said that she died around 570 BC, but little is known for certain about her life. The bulk of her poetry, which was well-known and greatly admired throughout antiquity, has been lost, but her immense reputation has endured through surviving fragments. The adjectives deriving from her name and place of birth (sapphic and lesbian) came to be associated with the love of one woman for another.

Plato honored her as the tenth Muse, and the great Solon of Athens upon hearing one of her songs, asked his nephew to teach it to him, saying, "I just want to learn it and die."

8 responses to “Sappho: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. Judy Prince says:

    Thanks, Uche! “Her” voice is strong, clear, careful and informing.

    How I’d’ve liked to hear her perform—-music and all!

  2. milo martin says:

    i dig this chick and what she has to say…
    and her poetry isn’t half-bad either…
    thank you for bringing her to light…

  3. Yvonne de la Vega says:

    I don’t mean to get personal Sappho,
    but as I recall, were you not envious of Pythia?

    She at least got blessed high and often invited me down the dark
    corridors before her poetry came in trancelike prophesies…

    she taught me well and would have taught you,
    had you not been so easily seduced by the Greek “men”
    who promised you everlasting life.

    Lesbian? Traitor.
    You are the Ancestress of Lipstick Lesbianism!

    Our Sisterhood is in Honor of the Triple Goddess,
    and SHE, The White Goddess.
    Had you listened to Sybill and I,
    you would not be in the Afterlife,
    but reborn numerous times as we have been.

    Even and while we were under the influence of ethylene In light doses,
    at least we told truths and never swayed toward political favor,

    our ecstatic feelings of disembodied euphoria and visionary insight
    were of course to be envied,
    we were blessed with rebirth

    and so…

    how’s the afterlife
    (as I brush my real hair)

    see you soon when I come down again Sistah.

    Much Love,
    Ϡἐζξ ϖ

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      That was trippy! Yvonne, I had this crazy dream last night, right. Into the very fabric of the phanta woven a message, which I wrote down in a fevered bewilderment when I woke up, having no idea what it meant, until I checked e-mail, which led me to this comment. The message is unmistakeably a reply from the lady herself, or else someone poured a magnum of mugwort into my Cajun cooking last night.

      Oh honeychile, in my younger days, looking to Apollo for boon, when I wound into Phocis with my ambitious family in mind, and my adventuresome brother, I would slip in some romantic appendix. And I did admire the Pythia and her mien and the infusion of her sacred dactylic pentameters with terrible finality. I saw more than one Pythia, and I am grateful to have not seen their poetic deterioration in my own life

      But I grew out of that, into the arms of Erato, whose province is the now, not the future. I realized that I should direct my supplications to Cytherea, not to Apollon. Why should I rely on the far-shooter, when what I desire is so near?

      I am Lesbian in birth, in blood, and in my chosen home. I am not usefully found in my coincident sex and sexual aesthetics of women who have necessarily gathered sex and sexual aesthetics into socio-political action 2,500 years after my own life. These are my daughters in their quickness to action, but in no over-simplified particular. Calling me a traitor to those women is a quick hit of nepenthe that serves no proper purpose and engenders no proper understanding. The pneuma, which you call ethylene, offer more understanding and so I applaud you for your combined course with the Pythia and Brizo, both well-honored, and both of whom enriched my life, with Brizo providing much succour to my traveling family, and to the great Lesbian fleet.

      I finally want to clarify that I certainly have no quarrel with Greek men. You have seen what I have written of affection for bridegrooms, and to dear Alcaeus. You will see much more in due course. I am. I expand. I flower. I diversify. I am.

      ΣΑΡΦΩ

  4. Yvonne de la Vega says:

    I’m sorry Uchi… great voice. I too, become overtaken by ..HER.

    I don’t know if what was said is offensive to you, but all things aside, I would say this is definitely between Sapphos and Pythia. Not you or I, but forgive me if …SHE is too outspoken, such is the way between the Ancients. My gosh- the stories of nations at war caused by jealous gods!!! Y’know?

    I take it she was talking about what went down at The Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The young priestesses were accused of using hallucinogens and of course it was proved later that indeed they were inhaling ethylene omitted from deep and generous Γαῖα Herself.

    http://www.sacredsites.com/europe/greece/tholos_temple_delphi.html

    I’ll attest to the fact that after enhancement and entering into altered states caused by certain Γαῖαan herbs and gases, there is a bit of vision and prophesy involved. I don’t practice it these days, but have reoccurring dreams of having done so in the past.

    You and I are mere pawns, great work my friend. Kudos!

    Only Love,
    Yvonne

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      Hey, Yvonne,

      Oh, I love Sappho, but I am no sacerdote. As perhaps you’ve seen, she is a lively one, and doesn’t mind a good joust, and she packs a wallop. She wrote Eris as often as she wrote Aphrodite. I am just blessed to observe.

      Thanks for introducing the Delian connection to this joint, though. I had no idea, but I should mention, beside what Sapphos said in response to Pythia, that I think archaeological geology hasn’t firmly established the chemical composition of the pneuma. I see no harm in going with ethylene as the key bit, but think we might as well call it mystery.

      Someone as curious as you and I will work out the chemical composition of mystery, won’t we?

      I hope one day to hear from you your sacred shards of vision and prophesy, composed under the influence of The Triple Goddess, and of mystery.

      Love back atcha,

      Uche

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