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Sappho's Leap by Erica Jong

Sappho's Leap (2003)

by Erica Jong

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Both Jong and Sappho carry the burden of half baked impressions and expectations. Setting that aside, 'Sappho's Leap' is simply a story of ancient Greece, colourfully told. It's a cross between Mary Renault's historical fiction, and Doris Lessing's or Tom Robbin's fantastic recreation of history. I've seen it attacked for failing to adhere to the 'facts' - by the same people who acknowledge that almost nothing is known of Sappho's life - and in any case, when a book announces itself as a novel, historians (or wanna-be's) have no business commenting upon it. One reviewer seems to take issue with dialogue attributed to Zeus (the God), as if there is a correct and incorrect way of representing it. Lighten up! It's a novel, a story, a fable. And not a bad one at all, although not really suitable for the juvenile set - and that includes some pompous literary reviewers... ( )
  nandadevi | Jul 3, 2015 |
"EXTRA! EXTRA! Famous Singer Takes Swan Dive Over Cliff!"

We all know---or think we know---the story of Sappho. Sappho was a singer famed throughout the ancient Greek Mediterranean world. Plato called her the "tenth Muse." And, like most people, all I really cared about Sappho was that she gave birth to the modern meaning of the words lesbian (her birthplace) and sapphic (her name). And if you're looking for a David McCullough-style account of her life, good luck. There is so little known about her, and given that what little we do know are gossip and fragments, anything written about Sappho is bound to be more Rorschach test than biography. And that's exactly what Erica Jong's Sappho's Leap is. It tells us more about what Sappho means to Jong than anything about Sappho herself. In this way, Sappho acts as a sort of Muse/Vessel for everything that Jong has experienced of love and sex and sexuality, feminism and motherhood, independence, adventure, and most striking of all of those, inspiration and the act of creating something, whether you're an artist, dancer, singer, writer, or programmer.

Bad as it was, I kind of liked Sappho's Leap. The plot's weak, but I was actually okay with that. I don't know why I'd make an exception for this book and not others, but---I don't know. Maybe it's Jong's candor---she didn't appear afraid to be embarrassed. So in my opinion, it's a pretty okay book. It's just---it could've been great.

I can't help but think of everything that Sappho's Leap could have been. We know that Sappho is going to eventually take a swan dive off the Leucadian cliff. Knowing that, Jong could've focused on what led to Sappho's decision and left out all the crazy, zany adventures that didn't really help except to detract from the story at the core. I mean, once you strip away all the ridiculous stuff with the centaurs and other fantastical elements, you had a story about a young girl chaffing at the strictures placed upon her by society. Who falls in love with a poet who prefers boys and is married off to an old, dying man and gives birth to a daughter she loves more than life. It's about the discovery of life. After the whole self-righteousness of her youth, Sappho comes to terms with motherhood, her love life, her career/fame, creativity/muses and her mother. And all of it was possible because we know about Sappho's rendezvous with destiny: that out of heartache, she decides to leap off the Leucadian cliffs and into the sea.

Sorry. I'm not explaining it very well. Alright, think of it this way. The movie Titanic was very boring. I mean, boy meets girl, and for two hours they do nothing except bat eyes at each other. We should've walked out half an hour into the thing. Except for the fact that every one of us in the audience knows that on this maiden voyage, the Titanic is going to sink. That's what kept us on the edge of our seats the entire time. It wasn't so much Jack and Rose falling in love as it was Jack and Rose falling in love aboard the Titanic(!) They had, as someone said, "a date with destiny." And because we all knew what was going to happen, we became invested in the Jack and Rose's story. Because we knew what where they were headed, because we were aware of that icy dagger of Damocles pointed straight at them. So this three hour film suddenly wasn't too long anymore, it was instead a too-hasty three hours between these two people snatched from this fast-approaching loss---and we measured each second like a miser counting out his gold.

And that was what Sappho's Leap could have been. Jong didn't need to take a detour to the island of the Amazons or have Sappho wash up on the island of the Centaurs. Heck, Aesop was as superfluous here as Matthew McConaughey was in Contact. You know that scene from On the Waterfront? That is why reading this book was so agonizing. I just can't help thinking that it could've worked, and that Jong had squandered this great opportunity . . . Sigh. But it's Jong's story, not mine . . . I guess Jong was trying to take this experience everyone goes through and mythologize it and she deserves credit for that, but I just can't help wondering "If only . . ." ( )
5 vote TomWaitsTables | Mar 28, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Erica Jongprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Riva, TildeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Once all our storytelling was imaginative, was myth and legend and parable and fable, for that is how we told stories to and about each other.

Walking in the Shade
In my dreams I paing
Like Vermeer van Delft
I speak fluent Greek
And not only with the living.

"In Praise of Dreams"
arcano è tutto
fuor che il nostro dolor.

All is hidden
except our pain.

"Ultimo canto di Saffo"
I am become a name:
For always roaming with a hungry heart.

The future
Will remember us.

First words
Where to begin my story?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 039332561X, Paperback)

"Sappho's Leap delights."—USA Today

Sappho's Leap is a journey back 2,600 years to inhabit the mind of the greatest love poet the world has ever known. At the age of fourteen, Sappho is seduced by the beautiful poet Alcaeus, plots with him to overthrow the dictator of their island, and is caught and married off to a repellent older man in hopes that matrimony will keep her out of trouble. Instead, it starts her off on a series of amorous adventures with both men and women, taking her from Delphi to Egypt, and even to the Land of the Amazons and the shadowy realm of Hades.

Erica Jong—always our keenest-eyed chronicler of the wonders and vagaries of sex and love—has found the perfect subject for a witty and sensuous tale of a passionate woman ahead of her time. A generation of readers who have been moved to laughter and recognition by Jong's heroines will be enchanted anew by her re-creation of the immortal poet.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:43 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

This fictional memoir takes the reader on a journey back 2,600 years to inhabit the mind of Sappho, the greatest love poet the world has ever known.

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