Anne Carson's Manipulation of Fragments of Sappho

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Zaneh Williams
February 24, 2012
Manipulation of Sappho
Anne Carson’s presentation of Sappho’s surviving poetry, Fragments of Sappho heightens the eroticism and same sex-desirability that Sappho is well known for. In the text, Sappho never explicitly engages in any sort of sexual activity or intercourse, whether with a male or female. Therefore, it is unknown as to whether she ever acted on her clear sexual yearnings. Carson’s editorial choices and translation of the text, however, intensifies the already stimulating and controversial thoughts of Sappho, making them not only more sensual but more profound. In the translation of the remaining fragments of Sappho, the readers of the text can only view Sappho through a narrow lens. Anne Carson’s translation of Sappho’s poetry creates a perspective through which the readers are at the mercy of her editorial choices. Because most of Sappho’s poetry has been lost, translating it into English in a comprehensible way is very difficult. Carson states that, “on a papyrus roll the text is written in columns, without word division, punctuation or lineation. To read such a text is hard even when it comes to us in its entirety and most papyri don’t” (Carson ix). Carson’s insertion of word division, punctuation and lineation into the English translation of Sappho’s poetry as a result, may, and probably did, change the meaning, underlying message, or understanding of her thoughts. Carson has “sometimes manipulated it’s spacing on the page, to restore a hint of musicality or suggest syntactic motion” (Carson xi). The question now is: did Sappho’s remaining poetry need the assistance of Carson to retain its musicality? Or is Carson’s manipulation of the text masking other intent? Anne Carson is known to be reticent regarding her personal life, but her scholarly life has been linked with the subject of eroticism and same sex relations. Some of Carson’s works have become Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ)...
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