The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Sappho (play)

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SAPPHO. Following the success of his first great tragedy of Fate, ‘Die Ahnfrau,’ which was written in 16 days, Franz Grillparzer wrote a second poetic drama ‘Sappho’ (1819), also composed at white heat and resembling ‘Die Ahnfrau’ in the general character of its poetry although differing from it in form and spirit. In its conception it is half way between the tragedy of fate and the modern tragedy of character; in its form, too, it is half way between the classical and the modern. Out of the slight tradition which tells how Sappho, one of the greatest poets of her age, threw herself from the high Lesbian cliffs into the sea when she found her love for the youth Phaon unrequited and her own hand-maiden preferred, Grillparzer has made a stirring drama, with an acting quality strong enough to carry it to success on the stage when well performed. At the same time he has developed a poetic symbolism in the story, and the conflict between the spiritually gifted Sappho and the beautiful Melitta becomes, in Grillparzer's hands, the conflict between art and the pleasures of life. Although the verse has neither the dignity nor the sheer beauty of some of Grillparzer's later work, notably ‘Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen,’ it has the cumulative quality which often accompanies verse written in long stretches at a single sitting, a quality which does not detract from its distinctly dramatic value. Through the dignity and the success of his early dramas Grillparzer forged the link that bound the drama of Austria definitely to the literature of Germany.

Edith J. R. Isaacs.