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A Trojan Horse? Sappho’s poetry as the battleground of compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian emancipation


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Matia Anna, Pleše. (2018). A Trojan Horse? Sappho’s poetry as the battleground of compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian emancipation. Radovi zavoda za hrvatsku povijest, 50(2). pp. 61-102. ISSN 0353-295X

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The ancient Greek poetess Sappho is widely regarded as the oldest known lesbian and feminist in the Western literary history. However, this common notion represents just one in a millennia-long series of reinventions of her persona, since before the fin de siècle her heterosexuality was viewed as an almost indisputable truth. This paper argues that, throughout history, the reception of Sappho’s poetry was inevitably faced with the question of her sexuality, which was addressed in very divergent ways. It first uses the theoretical concepts of “Trojan horse” and “compulsory heterosexuality” outlined by feminist critics Monique Wittig and Adrienne Rich to demonstrate that (homo)erotic sentimentality of Sappho’s magnificent poems produced a moral complex in Western heteropatriarchal societies, which sought to tame and reclaim that poetry by heterosexualizing it. The paper then turns to a diachronic analysis of various discursive strategies of heterosexualization within the Western literary and philological discourses from antiquity to modernity and contrasts them with the contemporary discourse of homosexualization, thus showing that the reception of Sappho’s poetry can be conceptualized as an ideological battle between traditional epistemological regime of compulsory heterosexuality on one hand and modern political aspiration for women’s and lesbian emancipation, on the other hand. Finally, the article will illustrate how contemporary philological and historical research on Sappho, in an attempt to escape that ideological battle, unconsciously falls victim to this millennia-long misogyny.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sappho, ancient Greek poetry, LGBT history, feminist history, Monique Wittig, Adrienne Rich.
Subjects: Classical philology > Greek language and literature
Departments: Department of Classical Philology
Date Deposited: 29 May 2019 11:06
Last Modified: 29 May 2019 11:06

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