In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviews141 Fictions of Sappho, 1546-1937, by Joan DeJean; xviii & 383 pp. Chicago: University ofChicago Press, 1989, $55.00 cloth, $16.95 paper. Joan DeJean has written a brilliant and complex account of the ways in which the poet and woman Sappho has been imagined and described in the European tradition since the Renaissance. "Sappho," DeJean writes, "is a figment of the modern imagination" (p. 1). "Fictions of Sappho" are the result of an attempt to build a person from a text, a text moreover known only in fragments and through the differing editions and translations which alter an attribute central to the European tradition of poetry and personhood, gender. Readers of Dejean's earlier work will see here both a deepening and extension of her theories of ellipses and anonymity in women's writing. In most Sappho studies, she notes tellingly, the distinction between author and narrator, now considered an elementary principle of scholarly reading, is not made. In addition, an important quality of Sappho's poetry, in Dejean's view, is the "polyphony of voices of sexual desire" (p. 20) which leads to the possibility that certain important Sapphic texts are undecidable as to the object of their sexual desire. This quality, however, is generally not recognized by Sappho's commentators, and the process ofreplacing undecidability by dogmatic certainty is at the center of Dejean's account. Three long chapters describe the uses to which Sappho has been put in France during three phases of her history. During the first two, roughly the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, male authors stress an image of Sappho as either a sexually defeated or a promiscuous heterosexual woman, whose writing is either of litde importance or is sacrified to her love. DeJean shows with compelling evidence the stakes of the struggle for this depiction ofSappho in the formation of the classical canon as codified by such writers as Boileau. Against this background of a weakened and largely controllable Sappho, the two women authors presented a strongerliterary Sappho. Madeleine de Scudéry emerged in the middle of the seventeenth century as Sappho's first real biographer . Known herselfas "Sappho," Scudéry created a feminist Sappho who subordinates relationships with men to her art or to relations with women. At the end ofthe following century, De Staël devoted three novels, Delphine, Corinne, and Sappho, to the Sapphic mythos, transferring the emphasis from biological posterity to literary posterity. Dejean's study broadens in the final chapter to describe the complicated interaction ofnationalism, the foundations ofGerman philology, and the idealized portrayal of Greekpederastia in the cleavage between a German heterosexual "chaste" Sappho and a French homosexual and passionate Sappho. This section, which is likely to be the most controversial, argues that German philology from its inception had a commitment to preserving 142Philosophy and Literature same-sex love as a noble and virile particularity of classical Greek life, a life which certain nineteenth-century Germans would resurrect in a modern translation of that ideal. Sappho had to remain chaste because women, in this view, could not experience homosexuality in its noble form, nor was heterosexuality an alternative that seems to have been thinkable within this vision of Greek life. The French, at the same time, produce a less erudite fiction of a sexually active homosexual Sappho. Here DeJean offers an opportunity to see Freudian accounts of female homosexuality as founded on the German philological tradition . This rationalistic struggle is traced up to the eve of World War II in the work of Yourcenar and the publication in Paris of the Reinach and Puech edition of Sappho. Fictions ofSappho is an erudite, provocative, and challenging work. Any study of European literature and intellectual history of the period from the Renaissance to the second World War will have to reckon with Dejean's insights. University of VirginiaJohn D. Lyons Writingfrom History: The Rhetoric ofExemplarity in Renaissance Literature, by Timothy Hampton; xiii & 309 pp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990, $42.95 cloth, $12.95 paper. In a major contribution to the study of the Renaissance fusion of rhetoric, ethics, and history, Timothy Hampton uses the concept of exemplarity to synthesize the changes which took place in authors' and readers' understanding and...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 141-142
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.