Part historical fiction about the Ancient Greece and part a mythological tale, this novel tells the story of one of the most celebrated poetesses of all times – Sappho of Lesbos.
I started to explore the world of antiquity with the Feast of Sorrow, and now I decided to sail from the gorgeous Roman banquet halls into the murky horizon of the earlier ages.
Here’s what the official blurb told me:
‘As she stands poised at the edge of a precipice in the shadow of the sanctuary of Apollo, the greatest love poet who ever was or ever will be recalls the eventful fifty years that have led her to this moment. It was love that seduced her, at age sixteen, into an ill-fated plot with the poet Alcaeus to depose the despot of the island of Lesbos. It was love that made her trade the unwanted marriage bed of an old, despised, and drunken husband for a seemingly endless series of lovers, both male and female.
For Sappho, life has always been a banquet to be savored to the fullest, a strange and sensual odyssey that has carried her to the far corners of the ancient world. Devoted to the goddess Aphrodite and granted the gift of immortal song, she has followed her magnificent destiny from Delphi to Egypt, to the land of the Amazons, the realm of the centaurs, and into the stygian depths of Hades itself, often in the company of her companion and friend, the fabulist slave Aesop’.
Now, my feelings about the novel ended up being somewhat conflicted. The first third reads like a straightforward historical fiction – and I really enjoyed that part. Erica Jong definitely did a great job of drawing the world of Aeolic Greece, with its rites and its symposia, its trade and its fashions. I absolutely loved how she showed me the protagonist’s sensuality not just through love plots and sex scenes, but through her (first-person) sumptuous descriptions of food, perfumes, music and dances.
However, later the novel lurches rather unexpectedly into the mythic territory and turns into an Odysseus-like tale. It’s complete with centaurs and Amazons, improbable coincidences, a sojourn into the Land of the Dead, and skimmed-over, decades-long stays on magical islands. This part and its characters was much harder for me to connect to; to be honest, it was a relief for me when the plot steered back to the ‘real world’ once again. However, if you like Greek mythology, I’m pretty sure you would enjoy it!
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