Glimpses of Lesbos from Turkey

by tigermanifesto


As I have noted before, western Turkey is suffused not only in Muslim and Christian history but also the ever-present remains of pagan antiquity. One of the more remarkable sights I’ve seen was from the top of an acropolis in the old city of Assos. Other than the temple, which was in remarkable condition given its age, there was also a phenomenal view of the Aegean Sea. Over that sea lay the island of Lesbos, Greek territory and home of the famous poet and intellectual Sappho. Her erotic paeans to women made her an obvious candidate for feminist reclamation, especially within lesbian feminism. Her poetry is worth sharing at any time, but this was a perfect excuse to share some excellent verse along with a misty photograph I took of the island itself.

To Atthis

Though in Sardis now,
she things of us constantly

and of the life we shared.
She saw you as a goddess
and above all your dancing gave her deep joy.

Now she shines among Lydian women like
the rose-fingered moon
rising after sundown, erasing all

stars around her, and pouring light equally
across the salt sea
and over densely flowered fields

lucent under dew. Her light spreads
on roses and tender thyme
and the blooming honey-lotus.

Often while she wanders she remembers you, gentle Atthis,
and desire eats away at her heart

for us to come.

–Translated by Willis Barnstone, found at Isle of Lesbos

I can’t offer much insight into her writing since I am a new reader, but I can say that I find that the translations available convey sentiments that still resonate with a modern person. Even though almost all of her work is extant only in fragments, she has had a terrific impact on poetry to this day. I can easily see why given compelling examples like those above, which I have only begun to understand. Much like the island itself, which I could only glimpse from the hilltop in Assos.