Caroline Gelmi, “‘The Pleasures of Merely Circulating’: Sappho and Early American Newspaper Poetry” (pp. 151–174)
This essay examines how early national verse cultures Americanized the popular figure of Sappho. Newspaper parodies of fragment 31, which circulated widely in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, mocked English poet Ambrose Philips’s well-known translation of Sappho’s “Phainetai moi” ode in order to address concerns over the role of Englishness in the United States. The parodies achieved these political effects by allegorizing their own conditions of print circulation and deflating the cultural associations of fragment 31 and Philips’s translation with the lyric. In this way, these poems were able to address a number of political issues, from English imperialism in Ireland to the specter of English aristocracy in the U.S. federal government. This study of Sappho’s role as a figure for American print circulation in the early nineteenth century also offers a pre-history of the more familiar midcentury association of Sappho with the Poetess. As a figure for the Poetess, Sappho came to embody anxieties over female authors in the marketplace, representing concerns that the public circulation of the Poetess’ work and the promiscuous circulation of her body were one and the same. This essay tells the rich backstory to these more familiar concepts, tracing Sappho’s earlier entanglements with print circulation and the political and cultural functions she served.
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