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Lost Works of Genius
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A few days ago Martin West wrote in the Times Literary Supplement about A New Sappho Poem

Since classical times, Sappho has been a source of fascination and romantic construction. The ancients, who had nine books of her poems at their disposal, were unstinting in their admiration. Some called her a tenth Muse. Strabo, writing in the time of Augustus, calls her a wonder, “for in this whole span of recorded time we know of no woman to challenge her as a poet even in the slightest degree”. In modern times, with only fragments of her poetry remaining, she has remained one of the most famous and evocative names from antiquity, a figure viewed by some with narrowed, by others with widened eyes; a socio-historical enigma, a littérateurs’ Lorelei, a feminist icon, a scholars’ maypole.

It is difficult to judge her for ourselves when so little of her work remains. What we have consists on the one hand of quotations and more general references in ancient authors, and on the other hand of torn scraps from ancient papyrus and parchment copies, mostly from the Roman period and, more often than not, so tattered that they yield only a few words or letters from any given line of verse. In modern editions the fragments are numbered up to 264. But many of these do not contain a single original word. Only sixty-three contain any complete lines; only twenty-one contain any complete stanzas; and only three - till now - gave us poems near enough complete to appreciate as literary structures.

A recent find enables us to raise this number to four. In 2004, Michael Gronewald and Robert Daniel announced the identification of a papyrus.

I shall refrain from reproducing the poem itself here. You might choose to click on the article above and read it. Then again, you might choose not to.

The idea of lost masterpieces -- or at least the lost works of geniuses -- has always excited my imagination. One can't help but wonder what else great artists might have had to say.

I recall my excitement when the Beatles "Hamburg Tapes" were released. Until the existence of the tapes was revealed, hearing those early live performances was nothing more than the stuff of a time travel tale.

As for Sappho...I can't say how much one might reasonably expect from a few lines of verse, written thousands of years ago, in a dead language and which, for most readers' to understand, must be translated into words no one in Sappho's world ever heard spoken.

Probably beats George Harrison's version of The Sheik of Araby.

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