Women's History and Ancient History

By Sarah B. Pomeroy | Go to book overview

thing about literacy among women of her class at this period. 51 Her efforts to imitate Sappho in the epigrammatic genre must reflect a broad admiration for the archaic poet within her own community, and her appeal to that figure as ideal reader in the epilogue to her book implies that she speaks not only as an individual woman, Nossis daughter of Theophilis, but also as emissary for a group of friends who have discovered a literary prototype of themselves in the Sapphic circle of companions. Her objective in appropriating the age-old formulas of the dedicatory epigram and infusing them with an unwonted subjectivity then becomes more intelligible: like Sappho, she attempted to transpose the public literary discourse of her time into forms more palatable to women, here blending the cool monumentality of the traditional graven inscription with the emotive urgency of the lyric moment. The misreadings of her critics, ancient and modern, are partial proof that she succeeded in this project. In turn, my cursory overview of her poetry now attempts to restore to Nossis her own proper female audience, an audience more distant in time and space than the Sappho she envisioned as an ideal reader, but one no less attentive to her woman-identified art.


Notes

This paper has been considerably revised since its initial oral presentation on 21 June 1987 at the Seventh Berkshire Conference on the History of Women. I have therefore been able to incorporate many helpful comments of the other panelists and the listening audience. Those who have contributed something to the final form of the essay include Judith Hallett, Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Amy Richlin, Eva Stehle, and my fellow presenters Joseph Russo and Jane McIntosh Snyder; and I owe particular thanks to Deborah Boedeker for her excellent literary insights and her friendly encouragement. Sarah B. Pomeroy's editorial advice has greatly improved both style and argumentation. I also appreciate the suggestions of the two anonymous referees for the University of North Carolina Press. None of these persons is responsible in any way for the faults that may be detected in this paper.

1.
The standard commentary on all epigrams of Hellenistic date, which also established the present convention of numeration, is A. S. F. Gow and D. L. Page, The Greek Anthology: Hellenistic Epigrams, 2 vols. ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), cited hereafter by the editors' names. All page references are to vol. 2, Commentary and Indexes. To facilitate references to texts, I provide the number of the poem first in Gow and Page and then in the Loeb Classical Library edition of the Palatine and the Planudean anthologies: The Greek Anthology, trans.

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