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Reclaiming Sappho for the 21st Century

Click for a large cover of THE LESBIAN LYRE.

Hailed by Plato as the “Tenth Muse” of ancient Greek poetry, Sappho is inarguably antiquity’s greatest lyric poet. Born over 2,600 years ago on the Greek island of Lesbos, and writing amorously of women and men alike, she is the namesake lesbian. What’s left of her writing, and what we know of her, is fragmentary. Shrouded in mystery, she is nonetheless repeatedly translated and discussed – no, appropriated – by all. Sappho has most recently undergone a variety of treatments by agenda-driven scholars and so-called poet-translators with little or no knowledge of Greek. Classicist-translator Jeffrey Duban debunks the postmodernist scholarship by which Sappho is interpreted today and offers translations reflecting the charm and elegant simplicity of the originals.

Duban provides a reader-friendly overview of Sappho’s times and themes, exploring her eroticism and Greek homosexuality overall. He introduces us to Sappho’s highly cultured island home, to its lyre-accompanied musical legends, and to the fabled beauty of Lesbian women. Not least, he emphasizes the proximity of Lesbos to Troy, making the translation and enjoyment of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey a further focus.

More than anything else, argues Duban, it is free verse and its rampant legacy – and no two persons more than Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound – that bear responsibility for the ruin of today’s classics in translation, to say nothing of poetry in the twentieth century. Beyond matters of reflection for classicists, Duban provides a far-ranging beginner’s guide to classical literature, with forays into Spenser and Milton, and into the colonial impulse of Virgil, Spenser, and the West at large.


“A humanities degree between two covers. Brilliant.” – David Dubal, The Juilliard School

“Jeffrey Duban is one of the relatively few scholars and artists standing athwart the flood of modernism and yelling stop...” – Mark Helprin, Author, A Kingdom Far and Clear: The Complete Swan Lake Trilogy

“A half-century ago Duban’s views on the translation of Greek and Latin poetry would have been non-controversial. Now they may be as incendiary as they are desperately needed.” – Victor Davis Hanson, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University

“Jeffrey Duban’s The Lesbian Lyre is unique.... The work is magisterial in its root sense: we enjoy good teaching.” – William Nethercut, Professor of Classics, University of Texas, Austin

“The Lesbian Lyre offers a bracing and very welcome challenge to the 20th century dominance of ‘personal voice’ translations of Greek lyric, Sappho in particular.” – Niall Slater, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Latin and Greek, Emory University, Atlanta

“...Taken as a whole, the book contains a feast of sound scholarship and challenging critical judgment.” – Nicholas Ostler, Author, Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin

JEFFREY DUBAN attended the Boston Public Latin School, beginning his study of Latin in the seventh grade and Greek in the tenth. As a Classics major at Brown, he also studied Old Testament, Sanskrit, and Classics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He obtained his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins and briefly entered upon university teaching, later earning his JD from Fordham. As an attorney, he specialized in academic law. The Lesbian Lyre is the inspiration for the author’s program, in which he serves as narrator, of Sir Granville Bantock’s Sappho: Nine Fragments for Contralto (see for further information).

Published in the UK by Clairview Books, 31 May 2016

£25.00; 832pp; 23.5 x 15.5 cm; hardback; ISBN 9781905570799