Review

Sappho's Leap

by Erica Jong



Erica Jong leads us on a journey back 2,600 years to experience the
adventurous life of history's most famed love poetess, Sappho of
Lesbos. Sappho was seduced at the tender age of 14 by her idol, the
romantic poet Alcaeus. Pregnant and in disgrace, she is forced to
marry a lecherous old sot to keep her out of trouble, but she
instead plots to overthrow her stepfather, the island's cruel
dictator. She loses custody of her baby daughter through her
mother's treachery, and she and her female lover and slave,
Praxinoa, are banished from Lesbos, doomed to roam the islands in
search of her daughter and her true love, Alcaeus.

Aphrodite and Zeus amuse themselves by toying with Sappho to
challenge her resourcefulness and prove her worthiness. Aphrodite
has faith that Sappho is worthy of being memorialized as history's
greatest singer. Zeus scoffs that she will fail as all women do, by
throwing herself away on a man. They toss heaving ocean storms,
shipwrecks, pirates, erupting volcanoes and hordes of barbarians in
her path on an odyssey to rival Odysseus. She encounters centaurs,
the legendary Amazons, wanders aimlessly through Hades, becomes the
favorite of an Egyptian Pharaoh, vies with the Oracle of Delphi as
a seeress, winning her way into portals usually closed to women
with her enchanting songs and poetry.

The few remaining fragments of poems available to scholars stirred
Jong to research the fascinating times of ancient Greece and bring
Sappho to life in a way portrayed by no other author.

Jong says in the afterword: "Sappho is an icon to women everywhere
despite the fact that so little is known about her. She is
associated with women's sexuality and gay rights, but she may not
have been homosexual at all, or she may have loved both women and
men as was common in the ancient world, and in ours. The concept of
homosexuality as a distinct lifestyle did not exist in classical
antiquity. People were bisexual, free of sexual guilt as we know
it; it was a pagan world. Attitudes toward love, toward sex, toward
conquest, toward slavery, toward money, toward social climbing were
uncannily like our own --- and yet fascinatingly different. Women
were sexual chattel, yet, as in all times, there were rebellious,
adventurous women."

It's no wonder Erica Jong was fascinated with the multi-faceted
poet of legend. When she roared onto the bestseller lists with FEAR
OF FLYING in the 1970s she was hailed as shocking, exhilarating and
at the cutting edge of women's sexuality. Fans will relish this
creative and thoroughly exuberant historic romp through ancient
times. I had not read Jong since FEAR OF FLYING, but am now looking
for back titles. My pick for a great beach read.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 23, 2011

Sappho's Leap
by Erica Jong

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • ISBN-10: 039332561X
  • ISBN-13: 9780393325614