Keep Lesbos for the Lesbians
A tricky issue has just hit the Greek courts. Some residents of the island of Lesbos have just decided to resort to the law to prevent the "Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece" from using the word Lesbian in its title.
The idea is that the heterosexual female denizens of the island don’t much like the idea that when they claim they are Lesbian everyone assumes that they are gay. (It’s a claim that might be stronger, I think, if the appellants in this case were women, not men representing their sisters. .) But if they are successful in their suit against the Greek organisation, the plan is to try to outlaw “Lesbians" (as a word) worldwide.
The problem here is the sixth-century BCE Greek poetess Sappho (on the right): born and bred in Lesbos, she addressed some of the most passionate erotic poetry the world has known to fellow women. An achievement which in the ancient world earned her the title “10th Muse”. Almost ever since Lesbos has been synonymous with Lesbianism (in fact since the 18th century in British English).
This idea of decoupling Sappho, female homoeroticism and the island of Lesbos seems to me about as mad as trying to white out William Shakespeare from Stratford on Avon.
In fact, Sappho is the sexiest thing to have come from the island in 3000 years. Why on earth jack in the commercial possibilities?
The competition for most famous islander is not great. Alcaeus was also a Lesbian, another early poet, who famously claimed to throw away his shield on the battlefield and walk (?run) away – so giving rise to a whole tradition of ancient poetic military refuseniks.
In the modern world you might go for the poet Odysseas Elytis who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979. But that’s not quite the 10th Muse and, though his family came from Lesbos, he was actually born in Crete anyway.
So why on earth aren’t the Lesbians (islanders that is) celebrating Sappho and doing all they can to resurrect her poetry. Out of 9 volumes, only a handful of stuff survives. But more may be found. Only a few years ago another poem was discovered on an Egyptian papyrus. A nice middle-aged lyric about not having the knees to dance any more. A translation was published in the TLS.
Why don't the islanders buy into this, instead of complaining about the supposed sexual "insult"?