iPlayer Radio What's New?
Image for Greek and Roman Love Poetry

Listen now 45 mins

Listen in pop-out player

Greek and Roman Love Poetry

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 26 April 2007

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Greek and Roman love poetry, from the Greek poet Sappho and her erotic descriptions of romance on Lesbos, to the love-hate poems of the Roman writer Catullus. The source of many of the images and metaphors of love that have survived in literature through the centuries. We begin with the words of Sappho, known as the Tenth Muse and one of the great love poets of Ancient Greece:
“Love, bittersweet and inescapable,
creeps up on me and grabs me once again”

Such heartfelt imploring by Sappho and other writers led poetry away from the great epics of Homer and towards a very personal expression of emotion. These outpourings would have been sung at intimate gatherings, accompanied by the lyre and plenty of wine. The style fell out of fashion only to be revived first in Alexandria in the third Century BC and again by the Roman poets starting in the 50s BC. Catullus and his peers developed the form, employing powerful metaphors of war and slavery to express their devotion to their Beloved – as well as the ill treatment they invariably received at her hands!

So why did Greek poetry move away from heroic narratives and turn to love in the 6th Century BC? How did the Romans transform the genre? And what effect did the sexual politics of the day have on the form?

With Nick Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Classics at Royal Holloway, University of London; Edith Hall, Professor of Classics and Drama at Royal Holloway, University of London; Maria Wyke, Professor of Latin at University College London.

  • Further Reading

    Translations

    M.L. West, Greek Lyric Poetry (Oxford World’s Classics, 1993)

    Josephine Balmer, Sappho: Poems and Fragments (Bloodaxe, 1992)

    The Poems of Catullus, translated by Guy Lee (Oxford World’s Classics, 1990)

    Peter Green, The Poems of Catullus: A Bilingual Edition (University of California Press, 2005)

    Propertius, The Poems, translated by Guy Lee (Oxford World’s Classics, 1994)

    Tibullus, Elegies, edited and translated by Guy Lee (third edition Francis Cairns, 1990); 1990 edition includes Sulpicia

    Ovid, The Love Poems, translated by A.D. Melville (Oxford World’s Classics, 1990)

  • .

    Studies

    Margaret Williamson, Sappho’s Immortal Daughters (Harvard, 1995)

    R.O.A.M. Lyne, The Latin Love Poets: From Catullus to Horace (Oxford, 1980)

    T.P. Wiseman, Catullus and his World: A Reappraisal (Cambridge, 1985)

    Maria Wyke, The Roman Mistress (Oxford, 2002)

    Duncan Kennedy, The Arts of Love: Five Studies in the Discourse of Roman Elegy (Cambridge, 1993)

    Paul Veyne, Roman Erotic Elegy: Love, Poetry, and the West (Chicago, 1988)

    Theodore D. Papanghelis, Propertius: A Hellenistic Poet on Love and Death (Cambridge, 1987)

    Mathilde Skoie, Reading Sulpicia (Oxford, 2002)

    Rebecca Armstrong, Ovid and his Love Poetry (Duckworth, 2005)

Broadcasts

Featured in...

  • Culture archive

    Popular culture, poetry, music and visual arts and the roles they play in our society.

  • Ancient Rome

    Browse the Ancient Rome era within the In Our Time archive.

  • Poetry on 4

    A selection of programmes and clips relating to poets and their poetry.

  • Ancient Greece

    Browse the Ancient Greece era within the In Our Time archive.

In Our Time Downloads

melvyn-bragg.jpg

Every episode of In Our Time - available to download to listen to when & where you want.

Free downloads

  1. Image for In Our Time Archive: Culture

    In Our Time Archive: Culture

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas as it applies to culture - from literature…

  2. Image for In Our Time Archive: History

    In Our Time Archive: History

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the people, conflicts and events that have shaped the world.

  3. Image for In Our Time Archive: Philosophy

    In Our Time Archive: Philosophy

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of philosophy - from ancient Greek thinkers to the…

  4. Image for In Our Time Archive: Religion

    In Our Time Archive: Religion

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of religious ideas - from the faith systems of…

  5. Image for In Our Time Archive: Science

    In Our Time Archive: Science

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas and the evolution of the sciences - from…

  6. Image for In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg

    In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas - including topics drawn from philosophy,…

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.