An Oxford papyrologist has discovered a fragment of papyrus containing two new poems about Sappho’s brothers and unrequited love in a private collection.
Dr Dirk Obbinik of Christ Church believes that these are Sappho’s poems due to a coherent style with her other work and the references to her family. Sappho, one of the few eminent female ancient Greek poets, is known for her innovations in lyrical style and her focus on the personal. Her lyrics detail love, yearning and loss. She is well-known for lesbianism due to her poems of adoration towards women. It is from Sappho that we get the terms “sapphic” and “lesbian”, which derive from her name and place of birth, Lesbos, respectively.
An Oriel Classics student, Patrick Penzo, commented on the discovery, “They allow us to add a piece to the puzzle which is Sappho, a most extraordinary and elusive figure. People sometimes too easily forget how extraordinarily fortunate we are to have the poetry of a woman living so long ago. It is a testament to female genius and a rare expression of female love. It is a beautiful sound in a world filled with the roaring of men. Discoveries such as the one by Dr Obbink add a few more pixels to that incomplete picture.”
Dr Armand D’Angour, a Fellow and Tutor of Classics at Jesus College said, “This papyrus find is hugely exciting, however it is also perplexing – classicists are wondering how it can have fallen into the hands of a private collector, and whether other papyri of this kind may come to light.”
Academics have also welcomed the news. Christopher Peller, the Regis Professor of Greek at Christ Church commented, “We’re used to admiring Sappho as the poet of passionate romantic love; but this is that other sort of love, family love, and it’s just as moving to see her as the worried big sister, concerned both for the risk-taking brother who is away and the younger one who just needs to ‘raise his head’ – whatever that may mean – and ‘be a man’.”