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Das Meer hort zu mit tausend Ohren: Sappho und die Insel Lesbos.

In nine chapters of approximately twenty pages each the fiction writer and journalist Eva Demski enjoyably and learnedly "covers" the Greek island of Lesbos, always with the poet Sappho in central focus. From Lesbos' geologic origins through Sappho's time (sixth century B.C.) to our age of modern technology and touristic depradation, she considers all with her own vivid sensibility, German thoroughness and learning, plus a journalist's penetrating eye and strikingly simple style.

The antitheses of Lesbos itself reinforce Demski's tendency to think in opposites. The height of a central peak contrasts with low-level eastern beaches often submerged by storms, while high western cliffs bisect an only partial circumference road. Noisy, expensive resort life in the eastern harbor city differs from the lonely poverty of the western hills. On the barren cliffs sheep bells and a picturesque peasant on a mule carrying wool to market attest ancient native industry. A museum donated by a Paris fashion publisher displays modern French artists, while the beautiful new government-built Home Museum on a hilltop without guards or paybooths stands empty but for some fragments of broken crockery. The statuettes with archaic smiles were stolen centuries ago.

For millennia invaders have pirated and ruled here. Foreign rulers sent young Sappho away from her wealthy estate into political exile in Sicily. She took Homer along by memory and returned to found a hilltop poetry institute, as archeologically proven by the unearthing of Sappho coins. Demski prints her own effective translations from Greek of fragmentary stanzas by Sappho. Many tourists clattering past on motorbikes or sitting in outdoor cafes despite the pervasive smell of pollution and urine have never heard of Sappho.

With ever lively detail and quick staccato articulacy, Demski compels us in this handsome little volume to experience Sappho and her island.

Marjorie L. Hoover New York
COPYRIGHT 1996 University of Oklahoma
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hoover, Marjorie L.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1996
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