Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Lesbos (lehz-bos). Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea, off the coast to the east of what is now Turkey. The play calls for a highly romanticized re-creation of the place. At the rear of its stage setting, the sea surrounding the island is meant to be visible, and the sea is bordered on the left by rising rocks. On the right, there are steps and a colonnade leading into Sappho’s home, which itself is imagined offstage. The center is occupied by an altar to the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite (equivalent to the Roman Venus). A grotto, or small cave, overgrown with vegetation, lies at the front, to the right; it provides a convenient hiding place for characters to sneak in and overhear and watch the actions of others. To the left is a rose bush and a grass-covered bench. Many characters reveal their innermost thoughts on this bench, which is designed to lend itself to romantic musings with its blend of the natural and the human.

As re-created in the play, Lesbos is a romantically idealized place. The comfortable attraction it holds to Sappho is clear to see. The people of its capital, Mytilene (Mitilini in modern Greek), add to Sappho’s sense of safety, an important aspect of a good home, because they love and protect her.

Phaon’s home

Phaon’s home and Melitta’s home (FAY-on; meh-LIH-tuh). Unnamed and offstage, these places are described and evoked in the lines of these characters, who speak with romantic longing for their faraway homes. Phaon’s strong attachment to his own home reflects the rise of European nationalism during the Napoleonic Wars of the early nineteenth century, shortly after which Franz Grillparzer wrote this play. Invited to Lesbos by Sappho as her young lover, Phaon also utilizes his longing for his native place as an excuse for leaving Sappho, who is too...

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Sappho Bibliography

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Coenen, Frederic. Franz Grillparzer’s Portraiture of Men. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1951. Focuses on the depiction of Phaon and Rhamnes in Sappho. Calls the former a “delightfully youthful figure” who grows in self-knowledge during the drama; asserts the latter figure is better drawn than most servants in similar dramas.

Thompson, Bruce. Franz Grillparzer. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Surveys Grillparzer’s poetry, prose, and drama. Reviews the critical reception of Sappho, and examines the author’s handling of the psychological dimensions of his heroine. Concludes the work is an example of Grillparzer’s treatment of the theme of the artist’s tragedy.

Wells, George A. The Plays of Grillparzer. London: Pergamon Press, 1969. Excellent scholarly analysis of Sappho, summarizing earlier critical opinion and providing detailed examination of character, plot, and structure. Notes the technical advancements over Grillparzer’s earlier work.

Yates, Douglas. Franz Grillparzer: A Critical Biography. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1946. Insightful study of the writer’s major works, organized chronologically to show his development as a dramatist. Chapter on Sappho examines Grillparzer’s intentions and his handling of the theme of the artist’s tragedy.

Yates, W. E. Grillparzer: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1972. Provides brief sketch of Grillparzer’s life. Analyzes his works, focusing on themes such as love, duty, and the role of the artist. Describes the genesis of Sappho and provides extensive discussion of character development, showing how the heroine achieves self-knowledge through her tragedy.