Powell ( It Was Fever That Made the World ) has translated all 500-odd verses by the Greek poet Sappho ``that make consecutive sense, however brief, torn, or abruptly interrupted.'' Most of Sappho's writing was lost during later antiquity, but modern archeological discoveries have added much to the body of her work. In his concise and penetrating afterword, Powell states that Sappho's society was one ``which allowed her talent scope to develop, a culture which was, to judge by the evidence of her poems, markedly less misogynous and gynophobic than that of many Greek cities.'' Later centuries, however, have found her homoeroticism threatening. Eros is the dominant figure and theme of her poetry, not the glory of the Greek city state: ``Some say thronging cavalry, some say foot soldiers, / others call a fleet the most beautiful of / sights the dark earth offers, but I say it's what- / ever you love best.'' Some of the fragments are tantalizing bits of erotic observation, others shards of stories never to be completed. And some sequences are baffling, while others suggest a weird if not fully intended meaning. Powell faithfully reproduces the complex forms of Sappho's poetry, with its ``artfully precise attention to sequences of disclosure.'' (Dec.)
In this scholarly work, translator Powell arranges Sappho's surviving poems and fragments that make consecutive sense, no matter how brief or torn they are, into as much of an integrated whole as their condition allows. Until the turn of this century, all that survived of Sappho's poetry was one complete poem, the first 17 verses of another, and a hundred fragments. Since then, the discovery of an additional hundred fragments on Egyptian papyruses has increased knowledge of Sappho's poetic range as a result of several substantially complete poems. Although Powell's work may be of greatest interest to scholars, his translations are natural and faithful to Sappho's Greek, employing limpid, undecorated language consistent with the poet's distinctive personal style. According to Powell, "Sappho may be said to have invented the literate lyric for Western literature, and as an artist she is without doubt our contemporary." His afterword includes information on Sappho's life, the text of her poetry, the sapphic stanza and other Aeolic meters, and the techniques of translating Sappho.