Diane Rayor: “Ἔρος δηὖτέ μ’ ὀ λυσιμέλης δόνει, γλυκύπικρον ἀμάχανον ὄρπετον.”
Leesa Charlotte: So, you know, as you know, we’re all from the Church of Sappho here. And so we’d like to start off with a hymn to–
LC: –an ode.
EB: If you will.
EB: To the book of Sappho.
LC: To the book of Sappho, or our other Bible, which Liv isn’t here yet, but it’s the Aphrodite, “Greek Mythology” we’ve got here. Alright, let’s do this. Are we ready?
EB: We’re ready.
[ELLIE AND LEESA SING AN ODE TO SAPPHO]
LC: A-women, I feel like. A-women.
EB: A-women. Yes. A-women.
LC: So that’s our first very important hymn. But Ellie, you worship the Altar of Disco, right?
EB: Yes, I do. So that’s what we have to do next. We’re gonna do our favorite disco tune. It is called “Eros.”
LC: Which actually is really easy to remember because it’s written on our shirts.
EB: So if you want to sing along–
LC: Please do so.
EB: It’s pretty easy to follow. We got this.
LC: I think we believe in you. We want to see dancing. If you want to get up and move.
EB: We got to get it–get it movin’.
LC: You totally can. Let’s go.
EB: Let’s go disco.
EB: Here we go.
LC: We good? It’s coming? Oh, yes.
EB: There we go. We can turn that up.
[ELLIE AND LEESA SING DISCO]
EB: It’s a fragment, so that’s how it ends. Sorry. It’s a fragment.
LC: This is the problem with some of Sappho’s work, you know, it’s very fragmented. Thank you so much. Thank you, thank you.
EB: Alright, I’ll be in the other room.
LC: Okay. Super professional.
EB: Let’s get this party started. I feel very party ready. Everyone, welcome officially to Sweetbitter’s live episode, a podcast where we investigate the truth and controversy surrounding Sappho, her life, the Isle of Lesbos, and her relevance today. We’re your hosts, Ellie Brigida…
LC: …and Leesa Charlotte.
EB: And welcome to our live season one wrap-up, where we’re going to be talking to some of our favorite guests and new guests, and talking about our favorite moments on the show.
LC: Absolutely. And as always, we’re so excited to have our resident poet here, Alyse. Hey, Alyse.
Alyse Knorr: Hey y’all.
EB: Alyse, you look so good tonight. You look like such a rocker.
AK: Thanks. You know, I was on a quest to find the perfect leather jacket, and I only just found it in time for this event. So it was all meant to be. But I am wearing my eros uniform underneath, it’s just very cold in my garage right now.
EB: It’s okay. As long as you have the uniform on, you’re still a part of this.
AK: I’m really glad I put on the t-shirt. I could’ve been fired.
EB: Very, very important. No, you’ll never be fired. You have tenure on this podcast.
AK: Music to a poor academic’s ears.
EB: Yes. We are so happy to have you here, Alyse. Do you want to introduce our first guest?
AK: I am so excited to introduce our first guest, Kristin Russo. So Kristin is a writer, educator, and consultant with a focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer issues. She co-founded the LGBTQ organizations, Everyone Is Gay and My Kid Is Gay. She authored “This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids,” which is an amazing, important book. She also worked as host and producer of “First Person,” a video series on gender and sexuality from PBS Digital and W-NET, W-N-E-T? WNET. She holds a master’s in gender studies from the CUNY Graduate Center. And of course, she’s the executive producer and co-host of the critically acclaimed podcast, Buffering the Vampire Slayer. Welcome, Kristin.
Kristin Russo: Oh, hi! Hi, Alyse. Thanks for that beautiful introduction. Also, we’re pals, you know.
AK: There’s that.
KR: Like, also, you were like, “Oh, this book, this is–this is a great book.” And I was like, “Yo, Alyse is in that book.”
AK: Oh, my god, that was so–
KR: We go back a long way.
AK: I remember working on that project. And it just felt so exciting because it’s just such a beautiful, important book that I think everyone should read.
KR: Thank you. I was very, very excited to have it out there in the world. I wish that I had it for my own mom, back in 1998.
AK: Right. Right? Me too.
KR: Sappho probably could have used it, to be honest.
AK: Absolutely. Yeah, Sappho would be like, “Hey, read this. Check this out. It’ll explain my poetry.” We’re so excited to have you, and I was wondering if you might like to read a Sappho poem with me.
KR: I mean, I have to say I, like, am very nervous. But I have a small part, thank god. Because this is like what you do, you know, like this is your jam, you read poems. So I’m gonna try to do my best in reading this with you, yeah.
AK: You know, just channel your inner Aphrodite. I know that it won’t be hard to tap into that goddess energy. So I’m going to be Sappho. Kristin is going to be Aphrodite, in Sappho’s Poem #1, the only complete poem of hers we have, but with Aphrodite. Okay, here we go. “On the throne of many hues, Immortal Aphrodite, / child of Zeus, weaving wiles: I beg you, / do not break my spirit, O Queen, / with pain or sorrow // but come–if ever before from far away / you heard my voice and listened, / and leaving your father’s / golden home you came, // your chariot yoked with lovely sparrows / drawing you quickly over the dark earth / in a whirling cloud of wings down / the sky through midair, // suddenly here. Blessed One, with a smile / on your deathless face, you ask / what have I suffered again / and why do I call again // and what in my wild heart do I most wish / would happen:”
KR: “Once again who must I / persuade to turn back to your love? / Sappho, who wrongs you? // If now she flees, soon she’ll chase. / If rejecting gifts, then she’ll give. / If not loving, soon she’ll love / even against her will.”
AK: “Come to me now–release me from these / troubles, everything my heart longs / to have fulfilled, fulfill, and you / be my ally.”
KR: I have a question.
AK: Yeah, please.
KR: Out of the gates, I have a question because–so I went back to the beginning of Sappho and my life, which is rooted in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” And you read on the podcast this poem, but you read the Anne Carson translation. And so I was looking at this document while you were reading from the past into my ear, and I was like, “This is not what happens and what happened, why didn’t I get the boot? What’s going on?”
LC: Well, so like, we were not able to interview Anne Carson for our podcast, we were able to interview Diane Rayor, and so we sometimes feel like a certain allegiance to her translations, you know. Because we know her, she’s like our bestie, she is–her voice introduces the very beginning segment of the podcast every time, so I think it might just be out of Diane loyalty. That’s very Fragment 31 of you.
KR: Where you go I go, so here we are, with Diane.
AK: My computer–like, the minute you started reading as Aphrodite, my whole audio on my computer just fell apart. So I didn’t hear a word of your reading. It was too beautiful for my computer to handle.
KR: Wow, wow.
AK: Like it shut down.
KR: I mean, you told me to channel my inner Aphrodite, so I did.
AK: Got off at the most important bullet point. Well, Kristin, you actually, as you know, inspired this whole podcast, because you had me–so the legend is, you had me on Buffering to talk about Willow tattooing Tara with this poem, by Sappho, in Ancient Greek. And then Leesa heard it and was like, “Let’s make a whole podcast about Sappho.” So, thank you for being the inspiration for our whole game here.
KR: You’re so welcome. I was delighted to learn more about Sappho then, and I’m always delighted to learn more, so I’m glad that, somehow by our conversation, the world gets to know even more about Sappho than they did.
AK: Have you inspired any other podcasts that you’re aware of?
KR: I mean, probably, just because, like–
EB: I saw Leigh raise their hand.
KR: Oh, really? So what I was gonna say is, like, I don’t think that I’ve–although maybe Leigh will disprove this right out of the gate–you’re the only podcast that I know of that, like, sort of the idea manifested inside of our podcast space. You know, like, I don’t know that had happened outside of the podcast. But I know that we’ve gotten emails from people who’ve done–who started to rewatch podcasts, because we’re rewatching “Buffy”. And so like, I think there’s a “Xena” rewatch that maybe we influenced, I think. I know, I see Bailey gasping, I know there’s a “Xena” rewatch podcast. I just am not sure if my facts are correct about it having any inspiration from Buffering, but yeah, so I guess a couple.
AK: That’s incredible. And I’m not surprised. Y’all’s “Once More with Feeling” episode was incredible. And I–you know, it was amazing.
KR: Thank you.
AK: And I feel like you are Sappho, right?
KR: That feels like a little bit of a stretch. But we did rhyme “lesbian” with “thespian.” No, I think she would be proud of that, at the very least, but, um, yeah, that was–I mean, it’s been like, to be serious for a second, very hard for me to do. But, it’s been really, really cool to get to participate in songwriting–which of course is so closely linked to poetry writing–with Jenny because, you know, I, in terms of, like, putting words to paper, that’s something that I’ve always loved to do. And–but I could never turn anything into a song by myself. And so it’s been really, really amazing. Before “Once More with Feeling,” even. But that was definitely the mammoth of it all. To be able to say, like, these are my feelings, and Jenny and I have developed a shared language at this point where I’m like, “Can you make it feel like this?” And she’s like, “So what you’re asking for is more verb?” I’m like, “Oh, yeah, mhm, yeah, yeah, yeah. That, whatever that is, yeah. A minor chord? Sure.” But it has been really fun.
AK: Wow, that’s awesome. How has it felt hearing all the great reviews and feedback and praise?
KR: It’s just been, I mean–you know, doing “Once More with Feeling,” which, you know, if you don’t know, “Once More with Feeling” is the musical episode of “Buffy.” And we wrote a musical podcast to honor it. And we did it just because we love the show, which is really like why we do the whole podcast. So I feel–I always feel like it’s less of us being like, “Look at this thing we made. You should like it.” And more like, “Look at this thing that we made, isn’t it so cool, you guys?!” And like, we’re all just like geeking the fuck out over it, you know, like, so–it was great to hear everybody be excited, but I really felt like I was also just as excited, as though it had not–like it didn’t seem like I had made it. I just, like, blacked out for six months, and then there was a musical and I was like, “This is great.”
AK: Oh my god, I wonder if, like, two and a half millennia from now, there will be like fragments of your songs–
KR: Oh, god.
AK: –left for scholars to argue over and, like, piece back together.
EB: It just says “lesbian” but not “thespian” and they’re like, “What did they rhyme lesbian with?!”
KR: It’s like if you know the Buffering song library, you know that those fragments could really go in so many directions. Like we can either be the most serious, poetic podcast in history, or like the most ludicrous, ridiculous podcast. All depends on what’s left, I guess.
AK: Look, scholars need something to argue about. So I think it’s perfect. I love this plan. I love everything.
LC: I mean, Kristin, if you’d like to join us, we’re gonna go and bury our podcast, like, with papyrus in the sand. We just try to really trick the future into thinking that we’re very important.
KR: Yes! I will join you. Listen, to anyone listening, if you ever want to bury paper, old paper of any kind in sand, I will always join you. Always.
LC: Good to know.
AK: Yeah, that sounds–I mean, yeah, that’s the perfect way to do it. Okay, what other–Kristin, what other episodes of “Buffy” that–like, what are your most favorite sapphic episodes? Or moments from “Buffy”?
KR: So there’s like a million, right. And I knew you were asking this question, so I was like, yeah, I had a journey with myself thinking about all the Sappho moments that have gone by.
AK: You’re making like a BuzzFeed list in your head.
KR: Literally. I think that, like–well, first of all, not my favorite, but definitely, I think, the most–one of the most delightful sapphic moments in the past several seasons is when Faith draws a heart in the fog in the window for Buffy. Like, that’s pretty fucking sapphic, in so many ways. I can unpack if there’s time at another point. But the–you know, we’re in season six now. So, you know, Willow and Tara–well, actually, Willow, and Tara are broken up. But, they’ve been together for a long time. And I think one of my favorite moments between the two of them–I’m so sorry to be so serious, and so sad–but it’s actually in “The Body,” which is, I believe, the first time that we see them kiss, and that’s why because, you know, their relationship is so important, just like pop culture-wise. And I think that so much of what we had seen, at least up until that point, was so, just like, you know, the one-off lesbian episode and two women kiss and one woman leaves and the other woman laughs about it. And like, that’s your lesbian episode. And so, it was clear that Willow and Tara weren’t that, already. But I think the fact that their first kiss was rooted in–or the first kiss that we saw–was rooted in a place of, like, shared grief and love and comfort is just very powerful. So that’s my pick.
AK: Wow, I love that pick. It seems so cool, that, yeah, it’s placed in the middle of this experimental, critically acclaimed, you know, work of art episode, and then that just elevates it even more to have that sapphic element.
KR: Yeah, yeah. I mean, there’s a lot. There’s a lot. So I had to at least give Faith and Buffy a little shout before I went real serious with Willow and Tara.
AK: Totally. Yeah, no, I get that. I get that. I love the heart. Yeah, that’s a great, tiny moment. Okay, so what is next for y’all with Buffering that you’re excited about?
KR: I mean, listen, as I mentioned, we’re in season six, so it’s a fucking ride right now. I mean, you know–it’s funny, every time I talk about season six in any way that gives truth to the sadness that is season six, and there’s just–it’s a really heavy season. So many people will respond on the internet and be like, “But it’s like, that’s my favorite season. That’s my favorite season.” As though like me saying that, like, “This is a really rough season,” means I don’t like it, or means that it’s not good. Which, of course, I know, most people don’t make that–you know, don’t equate it like that. But I think that season six is a doozy. Like to the point where–to the point where, like, every episode, you’re like, “Okay, so this episode is about X.” And then you watch it, and you’re like, “Oh my god, but also Y and Z, and also AA and BB all happen inside of this one episode.” There’s a lot of loss. There’s a lot of–it’s just, you know. So I’m excited–“Once More with Feeling” was like our joy for the season. It was like we got to celebrate and do the thing. And every time we would work on it, I’d be like, “This is what we get. We get this.” But the rest of the season is, you know, exciting in the sense that we are really growing up with the whole gang and, like, getting to speak to brilliant humans. I mean, we just did an episode that looks at Willow’s whole arc through the end of the series, really. And talks about the parallel of magic as, you know, a metaphor for substance use and I think it’s just really–it’s really cool to unpack big things, but do it inside of a television show about a vampire slayer, because it’s, you know, it’s like this isn’t just an episode about substance use and all of the things that go along with that conversation. It’s also about Willow, and we get to talk about that. So–so yeah, it’s a heavy season, but we’re doing it.
AK: I love it.
KR: Not as much Sappho, not as much Sappho in season six.
AK: You can never have enough Sappho, that’s the problem, you know?
KR: Yeah, that’s true. That’s true.
AK: But frankly, there isn’t a whole lot of vampirism in Sappho’s work, either. So.
AK: You know, maybe it’s her shortcoming.
KR: To your knowledge. I mean, again, you know, all of the lost fragments could be the ones about vampires.
AK: It’s just vampires. Every gap is just like, “And then he sucks her blood.”
EB: I’m loving this lore where it’s just like, this one vampire also came and, like, destroyed all of them.
EB: Like, “You can never know.”
AK: He was like, redacted, redacted, redacted.
EB: You never know. We’ll never know.
KR: Probably like set them all on fire, because vampires, despite fire being one of the few ways they can die, love to be around fire.
AK: Like this would be a great way to…
KR: You know, just set them ablaze, and left only the lesbian fragments behind, which seems like a vampire.
AK: Totally, totally. Yeah, actually, this theory is really starting to feel less like a conspiracy theory to me and more like literal fact. History.
KR: Resident fuckin’ poet, Alyse, is saying that this is valid. So, you heard it here first.
LC: It’s canon now. Sappho, vampire, canon. You heard it here first, we’ll bury it in the sand.
AK: I’m sure that Liv and Leigh can put, you know, their historical mark–stamp of approval on this, right.
Leigh Pfeffer: I mean, I’m personally stanning this, like, vampire that loves just a whole bunch of lesbian poetry enough that he’ll redact anything that could be incriminating to the vampire community. But you know what? These two bitches, just keep it. Gotta leave something.
AK: What’s hitting me right now is that, like, if he didn’t die in a fire caused by his own making, then he might still be alive.
KR: He might be listening to us right now! He might know–like he could fucking finish all of these unfinished poems for us! Listen, everybody, we just wrote a television show, so.
LP: Yeah, well, I was gonna say do we think that Angel might be this vampire?
KR: You know what’s funny, Leigh, is that I actually–
LP: He could come up across these–like obviously he wasn’t there in Ancient Greece to be like, “Wait, no, hold on. Let me censure Sappho as this is happening.” But maybe…
KR: The literal first thing that I did, Leigh, when this question came up, was think to myself, “I wonder if that vampire was Spike.” And then I was like, “I don’t think Spike would be alive.” And I was trying to do the math of, like, when was Sappho alive? How old is Spike? I’m pretty sure that they weren’t alive yet, right? Sappho predates.
LP: I don’t know that Spike would have the nerve, as a former poet, to desecrate poetry, but Angel constantly has his face stuck in some sort of book, and so I would imagine that he’d just be like, “Oh shit.”
KR: Yup. I mean, probably it was Dracula, really.
AK: He would have this like vampire-y furrowed brow and be like, “I need to be a good ally here. I’m gonna leave in all the queer stuff and, you know, like, this is good. This is what I need to do with my privilege. My immortality privilege.” Okay, well!
LP: Put that in your Shanshu Prophecy.
EB: With that…
AK: God, Kristin, thank you so much. This has been amazing.
KR: Thank you for having me. This interview went exactly how I had hoped it would. But yes, thank you for having me. It’s been a delight. I hope to be back, and Sappho forever.
LC: You’ll always be our Aphrodite.
KR: Oh, wow. That’s the best compliment I’ve gotten in my whole life.
EB: I want “Sappho forever” on a t-shirt now. Sappho forever. Thank you so much, Kristin. We are gonna introduce our next guest now. Our next guest is Leigh, who is the host and producer of History is Gay, a podcast that examines the overlooked and underappreciated queer ladies, gents, and gentle-NBs from the unexplored corners of history. They’re a big ol’ queer-mo–thank you for that, I love that, in your bio–who can’t and won’t shut up about TV, comics, and the importance of LGBTQ representation on screen and off. When not working on podcasts or roaming about academic circles, they enjoy seeing hopeful and representative queer stories reflected in media, new comic book Wednesdays, drinking tea, petting all the dogs, and fighting the patriarchy. What a bio, Leigh. Hi.
LP: Yeah, you know, you try to be comprehensive.
EB: I love the bio! It’s so good. It tells everything anyone would ever need to know about you.
EB: It’s so wonderful. So we wanted to ask you, to start, what is your favorite Sappho fragment? I know you have your Bible with you.
LP: My Carson right next to me.
EB: Yeah, so what is your favorite fragment, and would you do us the honor of reading it?
LP: Oh gosh, sure. I mean, I have many, many reasons why this is my favorite fragment, but I mean–you can’t get any better than Fragment 31, so…
LP: Yeah, so.
EB: Alyse agrees.
LP: Yeah, I mean it’s–it’s really just like the superstar, it’s the knockout. And it’s one of the more complete ones that we have.
EB: It’s like the most–I feel like the most queer content, as well, like it’s very relatable.
LP: “He seems to me equal to gods that man / whoever he is who opposite you / sits and listens close / to your sweet speaking // and lovely laughing–oh it / puts the heart in my chest on wings / for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking / is left in me // no: tongue breaks and thin / fire is racing under skin / and in eyes no sight and drumming / fills ears // and cold sweat holds me and shaking / grips me all, greener than grass / I am and dead–or almost / I seem to me. // But all is to be dared, because even a person of poverty.”
LC: This is the missing part where there’s vampires.
LP: Yes. “Because even a person of poverty loves–“
EB: “Can be a vampire.”
LP: –“can be a vampire.” Vampires are equal opportunity.
EB: When you read that, what–I know you said, like, there’s a lot of things that are your favorite about it. But what strikes you about it? Why is it, like, The Poem for you?
LP: I mean, I think it’s just one of–there’s multiple reasons. One of them, if I’m, you know, going to put on my, like, queer historian/academic hat is it’s–it’s the one that I find probably the most frequently and most cartwheelingly misinterpreted. There are so many people who, you know, try to erase the queerness in it and be like, “It’s about them having a nap.” And you’re just like, “No, this is very sexy. This is very much about a woman seeing a woman that she loves with a man and being like, ‘No, please come to me.'” And then if I’m gonna put my nerd and completely predictable hat on, it’s–it is the poem that fuckin’ Xena had Sappho commission for Gabrielle, so, I am always thinking of that episode. I’m like, “Hmm, yes.”
EB: Sounds right. That’s actually a good segue, because we wanted to talk to you more about Sappho in pop culture. So let’s talk about Sappho in “Xena.”
LP: Oh gosh, I mean–what’s funny is that, Kristin, you had mentioned the “Xena Warrior” podcast. I’m pretty good friends with all of those girls because we all–so many things come back to this, like, convention that I go to every year, which is called TGI Femslash,which is how me and my former co-host and I met. Yeah, so Sappho was mentioned in an episode of “Xena’ that’s kind of like the last hurrah episode before the finale, where Xena surprises Gabrielle with–for her birthday with tickets to go see Sappho in Thebes, and it’s a whole romp with Aphrodite, and they miss it. And then Xena surprises Gabrielle with literally a Sappho poem written for her, and it’s Fragment 31, and I just love that it’s the show saying, like, unequivocally, this is how gay we are. And also I’m really sad. There used to be–you can find the script on the internet in various places, but there was going to be a Sappho episode. If anyone is a “Xena” fan, you know that there are two musical episodes. There was going to be a third one, and Ellie, since you worship at the altar of disco, it was going to be a disco musical.
LC: No! How could they not do this!
LP: It was going to be–I can’t remember the name of the episode–but it was going to be a hijinks-y episode where you meet Sappho, and Sappho is a doppelganger of Gabrielle. And she is with her lover, who is a doppelganger of Xena. And then they meet and get mixed up and Sappho is, like, in the middle of writing a disco musical. I’m so sad that this never got made.
LC: I think we have to make it.
LP: I want so badly for somebody to do, like, a podcast like dramatic reading of it because it needs be made.
LC: I mean, we could do that.
AK: Ellie and the other Leigh, like the two Leigh doppelgangers.
LC: Oh my goodness.
LC: And then Alyse and Leesa, we could be the other doppelgangers.
AK: Oh, shit. Now you’re talking.
LC: Now we could be disco.
LP: I’ve read the script. It’s beautiful. It’s brilliant. It never made it past the script page. And I will forever be sad.
LC: I mean, we got to do a fundraiser for something. Kristin, are you in?
KR: Yeah, I was just about to text Jenny and be like, “Did you know?!” I was literally picking up my phone. So yeah, I’m in, I’m in. A thousand percent.
LP: Kristin, I’ll send you the script, to forward on to Jenny.
KR: Okay, great, perfect. We’ll get right on that. I’m sure Jenny’s gonna thrilled with me when I’m like, “Hey, can you write another? Can you just do one more musical?”
LP: “Just like one more.” And then you will have made as many musicals as the folks of “Xena” did. Yeah, it’s funny. I’ve kind of, like, become known in the Buffering Facebook group as, like, the “Xena dealer,” basically. Every time Jenny mentions it I’m like, “Hey, guys, here you go.” Yeah. So.
EB: I love it so much. I’m also curious because you did an episode of History is Gay where you talked about Sappho, and in a big part of it, you were talking about Sappho shitposting. So tell us more about–what does that mean? And like, why were you like, “Yes, let’s do this thing”?
LP: Okay, so this came about from the episode when we were going through different fragments, and just realizing that the very fragmented nature of Sappho’s poetry makes it sometimes, like, even more beautiful than if it had been completed. But other times, you look at it, and you’re just like, this has so many different opportunities for silliness. And so much of Sappho’s poetry just reads like somebody up late at night on Tumblr, writing some weird shitpost. And I mean, frankly, like one of the ones that I think of the most is just the fragment that the entirety of it is just “celery.”
LP: Or there’s–god, I’m trying to, like, remember, like, “all but different hair.” You know, there’s so many good ones. And so we made this joke about that, like, you could probably take various fragments, and smoosh them together, and see what would happen. And we had a couple of listeners actually work with me to make it, but we had like so many listeners actually write in and be like, “I do coding. I could make this.” At a point we had to be like, “We have a team working on it. Thank you.” So it’s on our website.
EB: Wait so–okay, it’s on your website. So if people want to make these things, they can.
LC: Can we do a couple now? Leigh could do a couple for us.
LP: Yeah, so it’s on, if you want to check it out, it’s historyisgaypodcast.com/sappho, and that’s also where you can listen to our initial Sappho episode. We did–we’ve done it on three Sappho episodes, because we did that one, we did one where we had Alexandra Tydings from “Xena” who plays Aphrodite on to talk about queer love and poetry and Aphrodite and Sappho. And then we did our third episode with Alyse and Leesa, to talk about Sweetbitter, and–but yeah, so it’s beautiful. One of the wonderful listeners who made it for us took an illustration of Sappho and just threw on some, like, Ray Bans, some, like, sunglasses.
EB: Yes, the sunglasses. I’m on the page right now. It’s gorgeous. I just generated a poem. Can I read it for you?
LP: Yes, please.
EB: So this is my Sappho poetry generator poem. “They became for not / we shall give, says father / spangled is the earth with her crowns.”
LP: Ooh, I like that one. Here, I’ve got one that auto-generated for me. “You burn me / daring / many skilled.”
LP: It feels like a win every time you can get, like, a horse or a celery to show up. Non-evil.
EB: I’m just gonna keep hitting “generate poem” until I get that. I just got Medea to show up. That was cool.
LP: Oh, there you go. Yeah, we’ve got “non-evil / sinful / robes, necklaces for Gorgo.”
AK: I just got one that I kind of like. It goes: “of the Muses / cloth dripping / all but different hair.”
EB: I love it.
LP: “Cloth dripping” is like another excellent one. I really love it.
EB: Yeah, you can’t go wrong.
LP: “I used to weave crowns lady, / but I to you of a white goat / and I will pour wine over.”
EB: I love “of a white goat and I will pour wine over,” that’s one of my favourite lines.
LC: That just reminded me to drink wine.
LP: What I love about it is that, like, it is, at times, nearly impossible to tell that this is a made up Sappho poem of a whole bunch of different fragments, because that’s just the nature of what we have. And so it’s kind of–I like to imagine it as, you know, just kind of like taking these pieces of papyrus and moving them around, and like cutting them out, like kind of like, you know, like creating a hostage letter. But with, like, Sappho fragments of papyrus.
LC: Oh my god, we should make Sappho fridge magnets.
EB: Oh, yes.
LC: With all the different fragments, and then you can put them into order. Ah, that’s our next merch thing. We’ve done the nail clippers, we’ve got the plectrums, we have the t-shirts. And now, fridge magnets. Go.
AK: And I like, too, that, like, you could do so much with the magnets, like you could put them on your fridge, you could dump them in a sandbox and play papyrus, you know? Or, you know, because the things, like, lose their magnetism, and then they drop off your–and you find, like, one word on your kitchen tile floor, and it’s like “spangled.” And you’re like, “Oh, yeah, I feel like Malcolm the papyrologist here.”
EB: Yes. I also love the idea of like Alyse, like that’s like your daughter, like the gift you give her. You’re like, “Here’s your toy. In your sandbox, put together these poems, child.”
LC: You know that’s how she’s raising her.
LP: That’s absolutely Alyse’s parenting style.
AK: Yes. Like, yeah, I think that sounds really, really nice. And just see what she comes up with. Like she’s got these magnets that are all the different letters. And anytime she and I are playing them, I always find myself being like, “What dirty words can I write with this combination of random letters?”
LP: I mean, what else am I supposed to do, right?
LC: I told my niece that I’m allowed to say those words and that she gets a license when she’s 18. Am I bad auntie?
EB: You said she gets a swear license?
LC: Yeah, I said, “When you turn 18, you get a license.” I’m Australian, I swear all the time.
EB: You have to take a test, like you get your driver’s permit for swearing?
LC: I mean, you know, you got a pen license when you’re, like, a certain age like–do you do that in America?
AK: A what?
LC: Okay, in Australia, when you’re like in grade four, you get a pen license. Before then you have to write in pencil. I’m not kidding!
LP: Wait, what!
AK: What are you talking about right now?
LP: It’s blowing my mind. You are restricted in your writing media.
EB: You literally can’t use a pen until you’re in fourth grade?
LC: I don’t remember exactly which grade it is. It’s grade three or four. And then you get given a pen license. I think you have to, like, have a certain level of neatness of handwriting. Okay, cool. I might just–okay, so this isn’t a thing you do in America, apparently.
LP: No, it is not a universal experience.
LC: Anyway, so he told my niece, because I just cannot–I can’t stop myself from swearing in front of her. I see her too much. So rather than me, you know, being an adult and moderating my language, I told her that I’m allowed to say it because I have a license, and that you get when you’re 18. I think it’s a good workaround, personally.
LP: You do know now that you’re going to have to like–
LC: I 100% will give her a license.
LP: You’re gonna like–you’re gonna, like, come up with some laminated, beautiful thing.
LC: Yeah, I love doing that. I made my roommate a certificate the other day, just, you know, for smashing the patriarchy.
LP: Oh, man.
LC: No? Am I weird?
LP: Can I have one of those?
LC: I will make you a certificate.
AK: And like, I’m also starting to think, like, at first I was like, “That’s weird.” And then I’m like, “Maybe it’s weird that we don’t in America.” Like we don’t regulate guns, we don’t regulate pens. It’s just every–
LP: I like that we have a spectrum: pens to guns.
EB: The most dangerous things.
LP: Somebody in the chat just put Kinder toys.
LC: We’re allowed to have both in Australia, too. But you can have guns, right? Just not Kinder toys?
LC: They seem pretty dangerous.
LP: Our priorities are super in the right place.
EB: But we’re doing great. It’s great.
EB: We are totally over time for talking about pen licenses.
LC: This isn’t a pen license podcast? Okay, my bad.
EB: But Leigh, before we wrap up our segment with you, is there any other favorite Sappho facts you want to share with our listeners?
LP: My favorite is just the whole story about, you know, Kerkylas of Andros, Dick Johnson from Penis Island. And how–I just, I love how much her legacy and entire characterization has shifted through the scholarship. And I think we’re finally starting to see some really interesting directions. I mean, especially with, you know, with what y’all are doing and like talking to so many different people who are investigating and also utilizing Sappho’s work in so many different ways. And I’m just forever sad that, like, I had to read fuckin’, like, “Catcher in the Rye,” and “The Pearl,” like, five times and never once in school was assigned to read any Sappho, so.
LC: It’s honestly just the worst.
EB: “The Scarlet Letter,” as well.
LP: I had to read “The Pearl,” like, four times in school, and every time it was like pulling teeth. It was so bad.
EB: So many.
LC: Thank you so much Leigh, that’s actually a great introduction to our next guest. So Vanessa is an independent artist and interdisciplinary scholar of classical studies. So on the art side of things, she is a professional harpist, and she composes music, poetry, lyric, and drama for the stage. On the scholarly side of things, she studies ancient myth and music, with a focus on the lyre and its transmission of myth. She received a Bachelor of Arts at Evergreen State College, and a Master of Arts at Columbia University, doing research on Greek tragedy.
Vanessa Stovall: Let me just tell you what’s happening. My lyre’s out of tune. Why? Because New York, the past two weeks, has had ridiculous weather that keeps going back and forth. And stringed instruments are terrible when that happens. So no matter how much I tune it, it just keeps slipping out. And in fact, originally, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to play it because I needed to replace the string. My paranete broke, and I finally did. And it broke again, because I was tuning too much. So, for that reason, I ended up just recording my own song and doing a sort of back vocal that I can share with you guys and talk about it and explain it, and sort of more of the process. And I can show you my lyre, and talk about it, and sort of take you through what it is, what it means. Sadly, I just cannot marry those two things and perform for you over Zoom today. And so I apologize.
LC: So you have recorded yourself singing, as well, or just a lyre?
LC: Okay, cool. That’s perfect. Okay, so I’ve made you a co-host. So why don’t you share your sound with us?
VS: Oh, yeah, no problem. Yeah. But, before I do that, I did want to explain the lyre a bit, too, because you actually won’t hear it that much on the back of the recording. I ended up switching out–it was just really coming through wonky and bad. And I’ve been working–I work on music and have been a lot more especially the past six months. I was a composer for Barnard and Columbia’s most recent production of “Iphigenia.” So I did a lot of Ancient Greek lyric stuff. And I’m actually really used to just sort of, like, hopping online and just making music really fast. So that’s what I did, actually this morning, was I just sort of re-transposed everything into harp and cello, because I was like, “Sure, why not? That seems like a good sort of mediator between the two.” I actually tried–
LC: You say that so casually, like it’s something we all do.
EB: I know. It’s very cool. It’s like, “Yeah, just quickly, quickly threw it in harp and cello.” It’s amazing. I’m so excited.
VS: Thank you. I tried ukulele actually, because I think harp and ukulele are actually the two best, like, if you’re trying to get a mediated lyre sound. And then I realized that I didn’t know how to write ukelele music. And I didn’t have time to learn how to really fast. So I instead did cello, ’cause my older sister plays cello. So I’m just far more used to that one. Um, so sorry, in case you’re like, “Cello, what?” That’s why. So as a brief sort of intro to what I’m going to share with you, ’cause it’s sort of, like, strange and confusing, and a little different–ever since last summer, I was quarantining at my older sister’s house in Seattle, just when things happened with COVID here in NYC, I was like, “Let me go hang out with my sister for a bit.” And so while I did that, most of what I did was, like, I was very lucky that I brought my lyre with me. So this is my lyre. It is missing its sad, little paranete string right now. I made it in Tarquinia as part of Euterpe school, and John Franklin was heading it. He teaches at University of Vermont, does a lot of ancient lyre stuff. Does some really interesting, fascinating composition as well with it, too. Highly encourage everyone to check them out. Email him, he loves questions. And yeah, so this is sort of like a basic ancient seven-string lyre. They’re really into the heptatonic tuning system. And so this is sort of, like, thought to be sort of one of more popular lyres right around when Sappho was cropping up, in like seventh and sixth centuries, these were really big. Sort of, like, earlier beyond that, the lyre was thought to sort of come out of Mesopotamia and Africa, different types of lyres and harps, sort of like these early stringed instruments. Four strings were really popular for a long time, then five. Seven was like, this was an intense moment. People were really into it. But actually, it ended up being eight strings, ended up being pretty, pretty standard, too, because like, once they figured out that, like, full octave, it was really great. But also, a lot of seven string tuning is the full octave, they just tend to, like, leave out one note or another. And so just some basic, fun things about the lyre. Every–all the strings tune to the middle string, which is known as meze. And so it’s basically sort of like the central core. So no matter what sort of tone it’s in, no matter what mode, you’re always supposed to tune to the middle string. In fact, they have, like, full talks about, like, you know, if one string is out of tune on the lyre, you can hear it. However, if that one string is meze, then the entire lyre sounds out of tune, like there’s just no saving it. Like you have to make sure everything is in tune, specifically to the middle string. Otherwise, it just never works. So there’s a lot of fun, like, philosophy metaphors that get taken off of that. Plato was really into it. He’s just like, “Ah, meze.” And there’s all, like, love and harmonia, we must get into that. If folks want to read more about that, I highly recommend the book “The City and the Stage” by Marcus Folch. So that’s his whole thing. He’s like, “Let’s look at music.” Because “nomoi,” the word for “laws” in Ancient Greek is also the word for the musical notes and keys for a song, as well, which is some fun punnage that Plato gets into. So yeah, this is a lyre. I’m gonna play it, it’s gonna be out. I’m so sorry. It’s just like–[strums]–cool. And usually, with it, you have like this nice little handhold that comes, and your plectrum, which is usually tied to it. So these were, like–and then actually, the way that you play a lyre is that you use your fingers to damp certain strings, and then to sort of release and let other ones, and so you get this like–[strums]–oh my gosh, this is why I’m not performing right now. You get this very guitar sort of sounding thing. Which is funny, because like, as a harpist, like I’m always just like, “Oh, yeah, I’m not like the other plucked strings that need plectrums. Like, I just use my fingers. I’m fine.” And now I’m just like, okay, fine. I’m in the plectrum life now. I understand, I feel it. But yeah, so that’s basically it. This is my lyre. I mostly just like, play chords on it and strum. It’s really good for doing, like, bluesy things or other stuff that just repeats a lot. I’m still working my way up to getting to some of the more fine shadings of, like, moving all my fingers around while I’m strumming both ways. I’m not that good yet. It’s really weird. I won’t lie, doing, like, this whole different setup, I’m so much more used to, like, both of my fingers either being independent or working in tandem. So, like, literally binding and latching one of my hands to a lyre is, like, very different. But, I like it, and I’m trying to get into it more. So okay, let me share with you–I’m actually going to share my GarageBand. This is sort of what it looks like when you mix music–who do or don’t. And so what I was doing during quarantine, when I brought my lyre home to just hang out at my sister’s, was I was reading a lot of different Sappho fragments, but also just trying to sort of fit them into music. And so the thing that I put them into most commonly was the song “PYNK” by Janelle Monáe, featuring Grimes, which is a wonderful song that has lots of sort of gaps and spaces in it. So like, during a lot of the gaps and spaces, I would just sort of interject different types of Greek or different types of–I mean, not just Sappho, actually, other female poets to end up there. Fragments were popping up, a few others, but yeah, it was just really fun to just sort of put different fragments in, but then also move them around. And so what I’m sharing with you guys is actually the end of the song that I did, ’cause this is the part that I’m still working on the most, so I’m like, I would love to hear folks’ thoughts and feedback or, like, comments in the chat, or stuff. Because what I’m doing here at the end–and so this is like this big gap where I don’t have any Greek, is that there is this large rap at the end of “PYNK,” but you actually don’t know about it, unless you watch the giant full movie that she made of it. “Dirty Computer,” that’s on YouTube, it’s free, it’s only 45 minutes long, go watch it. Where she goes on this very, like, deep, sort of intense love to talk about her girlfriend in the film then. And so this was sort of like a part that I wanna play with more, and maybe even pair with a longer Sappho poem, because every sort of part around it before going into it, and sort of at the end, it’s more of these sort of, like, fragments coming into all these gaps. So I want to share it with folks to just sort of like–since we’re all interested and loving Sappho here, to sort of even help get your minds generating to maybe help me. Like I thought about putting Sappho 1 in for a while, but then I was like 44 maybe, with like Hector and Andromache, but I like keep coming back to 2 as well, so–I would just like you guys to sort of think about it. And there’s one fragment in particular that keeps coming back around in this one which is 22, which is great. I can read it for folks afterwards, but 22 sort of opens and closes this piece. So here we go. “I just want to paint the town. I don’t want to hide my love. I just want to hold your hand and be the one that you think of. When you need a holiday, or when you want to drink rosé, I just want to paint your toes and in the morning kiss your nose. ‘Cause when I’m with you, I don’t feel afraid. Maybe this love will indoctrinate. I echo every word that you say. The way you feel, yeah, I feel the same way. Remember the night that I combed your hair? I hope I didn’t freak you out when I stared. I donate my truth to you, like I’m rich and the truth is love ain’t got no off switch. So if the walls come tumbling down then, if the ocean really does drown then, and if my memories never come back, well, I’ll still remember where we first was naked at. Y’all picture our faces and newer oases, where we made love, we left many traces, just like the blush that’s on your cheeks. Deep inside we’re all just geeks. Pink like the inside your…baby. Pink like the walls and the doors…baby. Pink like your fingers in mine…baby. Pink is the truth you can find. Pink like you’re tumbling round…baby. Pink like the sun going down…baby. Pink like the holes of your heart…baby. Pink…” That’s it, pretty much.
LC: “That’s it,” you say.
EB: Yeah, that is so–that is so great. So can you remind us–you’re doing what fragment in Greek at the end?
VS: Those are all just different bits and pieces of Sappho’s fragments. So there’s like “κυλίκεσσιν” is just from, like, Sappho 2. Then there’s like, “μαινόλᾳ θύμῳ,” which is from Sappho 1. “βρόδων κρο,” is 94.
EB: No, that’s so cool. I mean, it’s like you’re doing what Leigh did with the shitposting, but in song, right? Taking a bunch of different fragments and throwing them together. I mean, it is so cool. And we–you talked about that in the episode that we just released. You talked a lot about Sappho and how she’s actually influenced current, like, pop musicians. Could you talk a little bit more about that? I know you did talk a little bit about Janelle Monáe’s “PYNK,” we talked about “WAP,” tell us a little bit more about, like, other influences you see in music today.
VS: Oh, yeah, just like–I mean, I think even just like–I think it’s so hard, especially for classicists to talk about, like, musicians having influence on each other going forward. But even I would maybe even argue that that’s probably because a lot of classicists don’t know a lot about music. But that’s also a bit of controversial opinion that I hold, personally. But yeah, I think it’s always like that sort of difficult question of just like, “Well, how do we see these things linking up?” Because like, you know–unless people are singing about it directly in their music, and then it’s just like, “And I’m doing this, like Sappho was in 600.” Sadly, there are no songs like that, so maybe one day. Maybe I’ll write something.
LC: I was about to say, “Not yet.”
VS: Not yet. Indeed. But I think there are very fascinating parallels and patterns that you can look at. And especially in–this is sort of where my interests are with my research. Comparative music cultures, because like, there are some fascinating parallels to draw between, like, especially the 20th century going into the 21st with music, versus Sappho’s time period going into especially the fifth century Athens and, like, a lot of what they get to with theater. And so that’s sort of where I see a lot of parallels between her. But also just like the role she holds musically. A lot of the ancient music I look at is very predominantly male, very predominantly a man’s sort of occupation and like–but there are types of music that are seen as womanly, like in different ways, especially lamentation is like a big one, marriage songs, so there’s definitely genres of women’s music. And that’s part of what draws people to Sappho so much. It’s like she is playing in these genres of, like, female songs, but she’s also making them her own, like she, you know, has her own sounds, she has–you know, they remark on the different types of meters, or different tones that she uses, the ways in which she sort of takes different types of myths and makes it her own. It’s the reason why I love 44 so much, you keep trying to rework it into things, because I’m just like, “Oh, this marriage song of Hector and Andromache, like what a fascinating sort of way of looking at this and retooling a lot of different sort of ways we know about this couple,” which is mostly from epic. So very different sort of seeing them in lyric now, too. And so, yeah, there’s a lot of sort of fascinating movements that I sort of see her as, like, this very central figure around. And so that’s where I see a lot of comparison with other sort of central female singers and musicians historically, too, especially ones that draw a lot of tension. And we’re still trying to figure–like I think Billie Holiday is not an incomparable sort of person to say is within Sappho’s tradition. But at the same time, I would also say, you know, like the modern pop girls like Taylor Swift and Beyoncé also definitely sort of have some of those elements of relatability, catchiness, universality, being loved for all these multiple reasons, people defending them to the death, even when they’re problematic in some of our own eyes, like–and so I think there are some interesting parallels, not only between celebrity cultures and sort of how we ourselves engage with that, because I think there is a lot more celebrity culture in Ancient Athens than some folks may care to admit, but also these sort of patterns that happen once you get a large and diverse groups of people doing all these different types of music, and once the competition gets so high. And so I’m still researching that, sort of looking at the eighth century to the fifth century around the Aegean and sort of all the insane music stuff that happens. And I don’t mean that in an ableist way, like I mean they were really concerned with different types of sounds and the mindset that that puts you in, the mentalities that those held for you. And I think we see so many parallels with that, with like the ways that different–even just like media, or politicians–will talk about certain genres of music, the need to sort of copyright everything and like place things in specific genres, the anxiety certain artists create when they seem almost anti-genre in that way. Yeah, I think Sappho is a fascinating figure that sort of brings up all of these problems, because like, she is the problematic musician of antiquity. I mean, they’re all problematic in their own different ways. But she really does sort of reorient the narrative. So I think that’s where we can see some good parallels. Sorry, now I just feel like I’m rambling.
EB: No, that was great.
LC: Honestly, Vanessa, because, like, we’ve already spoken to you for like over an hour about this, and I honestly want to listen to you talk about this forever. And like, thankfully, you live in my city. So maybe we can have coffee one time and continue this conversation? But, in the interest of moving things forward, and like I also want to talk to you about Lil Nas right now, because it feels like that’s really relevant to what we’re talking about. But that’s a conversation for another time. In the interest of moving things forward, though, what is your favorite Sappho fragment?
VS: So I picked out two, because my favorite is literally one word. So I was like, “Oh, I should have a longer one.” So my absolute favorite is 188. It’s great. It’s–I don’t even know I’m looking it up. It’s, I mean, it’s one word, “μυθόπλοκος” or “mythweaver.” I actually prefer to translate it as “mythbraider,” but there’s the very important nuance there. First of all, I love this fragment. I’ve gotten way too much mileage out of my own research because of this fragment. But it’s specifically–she’s talking about Eros, and she says that he’s a “μυθόπλοκος,” a mythweaver, or like a lie-tricker, like someone who’s, you know, weaving together all these myths or lies or tall tales. It’s great because it’s sort of like–where we get this fragment is from, like, this guy–oh, I should know who it is. Is it Maximus of Tyre? I feel like it’s Maximus of Tyre, it’s probably Maximus of Tyre. I think he’s talking about, like, different homoerotics. So he’s talking about Sappho and Socrates in this really interesting parallel. He’s like, “Let’s look at the different ways in which, like, you know, these men loving men and women loving women talked about desire,” like, you know. Socrates, he was a sophist, which is this very pedantic sort of teacher-y type. He’s like–to Sappho, he was like the weaver of myths. And so it’s this very–I love the whole quote sort of together, because it’s just–I don’t know, like, it sort of tickled me thinking about, like, the broader queer diaspora, I’m like, I don’t disbelieve that. I love this. This is hilarious. But also, just like–both those words mean so much to me. “Μύθος,” the word for “myth,” which also sort of has these connotations of ,like, authoritative speech, especially in early epic, like that’s all Richard Martin at Stanford. His research is like, “Μύθος is an authoritative speech act,” but I love it. I love thinking about certain myths as sort of the speech act, especially in conjunction with music. Because like, to me rap, it’s such a speech act, and like a musical one as well. So like, there’s some interesting sort of links between rap and “μύθος” that I love thinking about. And then “πλοκος,” the word for weaving, which is also the root of the word “plectrum,” there’s all these sort of connotations of weaving and sort of striking at the same time. “Πλοκος” is also the word for “braiding,” which is why I like using it, too, and so that’s actually a lot of the words you use for the lyre. It’s like up-braiding the lyre, down-braiding on the lyre, sort of like all these different ways. And I also study hair, it’s like music, hair, and reception and aesthetics, are like all sort of what I study about. So I sort of love that, because they’re, like, so funny to me that, you know, the ancient word plectrum means, like, hair, and has all these interesting weaving and hair connotations. But then even our modern word for plectrum has the same, like it’s a pick, which is, like, another word for a comb, especially in America. So I love there’s sort of this like continuity even in just the very little bits of instrumentation and myth and stuff like that, that gets sort of like passed down. So that’s a very lengthy explanation of one word.
LC: And that–you are a lot of have a one-word favorite Sappho fragment. You. I mean, honestly, we all chose our favorites. And like, I have no big conversational thing to say about mine, except I like it, which is kind of how I interpret poetry. But also, it was making me think, Alyse, about our most recent lesbian poetry episode, which isn’t out yet, about Cheryl Clarke and her poem about hair.
AK: And also I’m sitting here thinking, like, “Should I go get a PhD in Classics?” And then I’m like, “No, only if Vanessa was my, you know, mentor, like only–that’s the only way.” You’re so amazing.
LC: Vanessa, so amazing. Thank you so, so, so much for joining us and sharing that with us. It’s been such a pleasure meeting you and having you on the podcast.
VS: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. This has been fun.
LC: All right. So speaking of favorite fragments, ladies, I think it’s time for us to share ours.
EB: Are you gonna start, Leesa? I can start. I also chose–well, I have one. And then I did choose another, but it’s only for the joke, and I think you’ll all appreciate it. So, my favorite fragment is a Diane Rayor translation–friend of the podcast–and it is Fragment 91: “I never met anyone more irritating, Eirana, than you.” Speaking of Sappho shitposting–what a burn. My other favorite one, like my honorable mention, is Fragment 69. And like the people who did this, they know what they did. It’s just–oh, you can’t see it, I don’t know. “Sinful.”
AK: Number 69 is “sinful”?
LC: That was on purpose. Like you cannot tell me that that was not on purpose. That was completely on purpose.
AK: The editor was in there like–
LC: They were 10, mentally, as I am.
AK: I’m just gonna take this time to tell you my fanfiction of the first fragment that Leesa read, which is that Eirana is, like, talking to an oracle/prophet figure, and they’re like, “Eirana, your name will be remembered for all of history.” And she’s like–
LC: As someone so irritating.
AK: And she’s like, “That’s awesome!”
LC: It’s just–I love it so much, and I feel it so much. And I just think it’s such a great fragment.
EB: It is, it’s beautiful. I’m gonna–I’ll share my favorite. It’s also a short one. This is Fragment 45. And it just reads: “as long as you want.” That’s it. And I love the short ones that are also just, like, so–like we’ve said this before. Sappho was the Shane of Lesbos, but she truly, like she is confident. Like, this woman is like, “I will please you as long as you want.” That’s how I interpret it. You know, like she’s confident about her napping abilities. And I just really like that about her.
AK: Ellie’s making reference to our least favorite scholarly interpretation of a Sappho poem, which is that the sexy poem is a napping poem.
EB: Wait, which fragment has “quenched” in it? I’ll read that one real quick.
AK: I think it’s 94.
EB: But this is the one that people think is a nap. I’ll just read towards the end. “and on a soft bed / . . . delicate . . . / you would let loose your longing.”
LC: Oh, I think it’s the Rayor translation that has “quenched.”
EB: But either way, people have said it means “let loose your longing–to sleep,” like for a nap.
LC: And Ellie is the only person I know who feels this way about naps.
AK: The whole first half of the poem is about, like, anointing yourself with oil and lube and perfume and, so, you know, I always do that before bed.
LC: Which you always do before a nap.
AK: Yeah, every nap I take.
EB: Just oil up and go to bed? Like, no.
LC: So Alyse, what’s your favorite fragment?
AK: Actually, Leigh already shared my favorite fragment, which is 31. And, you know, the cool Sappho kids, you know, tried to be like, “Oh, 31 that’s such a cliche, that’s her, you know, most famous one,” but I’m just like, you know, “1989” is my favorite Taylor Swift album, like you can’t–like I want the one-hit wonder, I want the, like, I’m gonna listen to it on repeat. So 31 is just so beautiful. And I remember the first time I read it, I could just relate so hard to the feeling of jealousy that all the, you know, straight girls that I had crushes on in high school were talking to men and…
LC: You know, it’s just so funny you should mention that, Alyse, because as it turns out, we wrote a song.
AK: You did?!
LC: For you, because whenever we hear about you talking to a man–
EB: We get extremely jealous.
AK: I’m sorry, y’all.
LC: Filled with jealousy.
AK: Okay, cool. Let’s hear it.
LC: Um, so we’re just gonna very smoothly move into that. And we can’t hear you now, so you must hear us.
EB: And this is our musical theater song.
LC: It’s very dramatic. And I’ve had about a couple glasses of wine at this point, so it’s going to be very dramatic.
EB: But yes, we envision this song as a duet, so it’s, you know, the two of us singing about our longing for Alyse.
LC: And also, I mean, there’s not enough women-women duets.
EB: Yeah, there needs to be more women-women duets in musical theater.
[ELLIE AND LEESA SERENADE ALYSE]
LC: Thank you so much. Thank you so much. What’s very fun about that is that Ellie and I never got to sing that song actually together, until today. So it’s been really–
EB: It is, it’s very exciting.
LC: Thank you.
EB: Hear that blend live.
AK: That was incredible. I’m shook.
LC: Well, Alyse, we–we wrote that for you.
AK: Thank you.
LC: I mean, not the words. We borrowed those. But the melody was for you.
AK: I really appreciate it. It’s amazing.
EB: Thank you. We should write a musical. Shameless plug. I am writing a musical. It’s called The Flame, go listen. Well, it’s coming out in June. But go subscribe.
LC: When I tell you I cried when I first heard the first episode of The Flame, literal tears.
EB: It’s not out yet. Only a select few have gotten to hear the first episode. Yes. If you want to listen to it, I’m like, “You can find it at The Flame, a podcast-musical, wherever you listen to your podcasts.”
LC: It’s released on June 2nd.
EB: Thank you, Leesa.
LC: Pride month, y’all.
EB: Oh, man. I love singing with you, Leesa. It’s so fun.
LC: It’s the most fun. Honestly, I don’t know–goodness me. I don’t know if any of y’all follow us on TikTok, but basically, I spent–I was stuck in Australia by myself for six months. And most of my days, I just made duets with Ellie and Alyse on TikTok. We did a quarantine “Part of Your World” that Alyse wrote and I performed globally for the World Economic Forum, as you do.
AK: I put it on my resume, I don’t know about you, but, like, “Wrote parody ‘Little Mermaid’ song for performance at World Economic Forum.”
EB: It’s a big deal.
AK: When’s my tenure application?
EB: Let’s talk a little bit, because I know some people already have mentioned this. Leigh mentioned Kerkylas, but we wanted to talk about some of our favorite and maybe more surprising Sappho facts that we learned over the season. So I will start because I love gerunds. When we talked to Diane Rayor, Diane was the first person to translate it with female pronouns, because of, like, one word towards the end of the phrase that could have been translated either way.
LC: I think it was “Ode to Aphrodite.”
EB: But yeah, there was like one gerund that turned it into a gay poem, and everyone else before then just assumed that this word had to be masculine, because a woman was writing it.
LC: Are you telling me that there’s this thing, heteronormativity? Is that–
EB: Yeah, that is something. But yeah, so that blew my mind. And I also just am really grateful to Diane for really digging in and being like, “Let’s think about this for a minute.” And, yeah.
AK: Is that the point at which, like, we started crying during her interview, Ellie?
EB: That was later, but we cried because Diane Rayor literally said to us that her life’s purpose was to translate Sappho. And she has a son, too, but Sappho. Like that’s literally what she said to us.
LC: He was an afterthought.
EB: She was like, “I guess I love my son too.”
AK: We were so moved by that and it was just like, I had chills. I just remember having chills and then I just cried, and just being like I can’t believe I’m talking to this person. This is amazing.
EB: It was quite beautiful.
LC: And now she’s like our podcast mom.
AK: Yes. Ugh, so good.
LC: She calls us, she tells us about things. It’s great. My favorite thing is the papyrology stuff. Who knew that papyrology was so great?
AK: And also not great.
EB: And so dark.
AK: All kinds of problems.
LC: Who knew? Oh my god, Eurocentrism. Colonialism.
AK: Yeah, we thought that was gonna be one quick episode about, like, where we find Sappho’s fragments, but instead it was a five–five part?
LC: Four part.
AK: Okay, yeah, yeah.
AK: Podcast within a podcast.
EB: Yeah, it was really cool, but a lot of the people who work in papyrology that we got to talk to–like Malcolm was so great. Yeah, the whole Dirk Obbink allegedly–
EB: Allegedly. You can’t wait to hear more about it. All alleged, but it’s wild. And my favorite Sappho fact from this season is just the whole Phaon myth, how like Ovid, during Roman times, wrote this made-up story about Sappho leaping to her death off of these cliffs because this ferryman, Phaon, didn’t love her, which Jane told us, Jane the actress in one of our episodes, was just like–she interprets it in her play as like, “I would never kill myself over some, like, sweaty public transit worker,” and just the indignance in that, you know, like, yeah. So that was my favorite fact.
LC: And what are your all favorite songs? I mean, I think Ellie–disco?
EB: I love the disco. But, I mean, Leesa and I have sung a bunch already, but Alyse has done some amazing songs of the season as well. One of my favorite ones is the–it’s like 90s, grunge kind of rock, right? Like, Staind. That one.
AK: Yeah. You guys remember the band Staind that they didn’t have an “e” in their name? It’s just Staind with the “d.” Yeah, it’s really obnoxious. So that was my inspiration because the fragment–it’s Fragment 4 by Anne Carson–and the last word of it is “stained.” So Ellie was like, “You should do a ballad.” And I was like, “The only ballads I understand are 90s alt/rock ballads.” And so I leaned into it really hard. And if you lean into 90s ballads too hard, you end up sounding like Andy Dwyer and Mouse Rat from “Parks and Recreation,” you know? So that’s kind of–and that’s exactly the ethos I was going for you.
EB: Yeah, I think you leaned just hard enough.
LC: So, Alyse, you have the leather jacket.
LC: Could you please, potentially, play a song for us?
AK: Let me just roll up my sleeves on my leather jacket, and do exactly that.
[ALYSE SERENADES ELLIE AND LEESA]
LC: Alyse, amazing, amazing.
EB: My face is stained as well.
KR: Am I allowed to unmute myself and say something really quickly?
EB: Yes, please.
LC: Kristin, you can say whatever you want.
KR: I just want to let everyone know that I googled Staind to see what they were up to. And they recently really disappointed everyone at the Illinois State Fair, because they canceled last minute. They were supposed to have–
AK: Oh, no!
KR: Heartbreaking news from Staind without an “e.” I couldn’t–I couldn’t survive without letting you all know. This article’s from two days ago, it’s hot. It’s big news. They canceled.
AK: What was their excuse?
KR: A scheduling conflict.
AK: Oh, come on.
LC: What else are they doing?
KR: It doesn’t say, it doesn’t say, so…
LC: What is anybody doing right now?
AK: Yeah. Yeah.
KR: Anyway, Alyse, great job. I just had to–breaking news, “Doot doot doot doot doot doot. Thank you. This is Kristin.”
AK: I’m so glad you found that out.
EB: Also, they should have booked you instead, Alyse. What were they thinking?
AK: Yeah, I can, you know, channel some Eddie Vedder, like–
LC: Alyse, thank you so much. I’m going to take your spotlight away. And I’m going to add our good friend of the podcast, Liv Albert, of Let’s Talk About–wait, Ellie.
EB: “Let’s talk about myths, baby. About Aphrodite. Let’s talk about–“
LC: Oh, I can’t even remember it.
EB: “All the”–what is it?
LC: I don’t remember.
EB: I don’t remember what we said. Sorry. “Let’s talk about myths, a little bit, a little bit.”
LC: That was just off the cuff. And that’s a problem, that’s why we shouldn’t do it. So Liv Albert has a degree in classical civilizations and English literature from Concordia University in Montreal. She is the creator, host, and producer of the popular Greek and Roman mythology podcast, Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby!, where she sings that song every single episode, which I love. She brings her modern perspective and her education together to explore the Greek myths from a casual, humorous perspective. You know, it’s an amazing podcast–and also a recently published author! Thank you for joining us, Liv.
Liv Albert: Thank you guys! Thanks for promoting my book.
LA: And for buying it local. That’s the key.
LC: So we had some great chats with Liv about Aphrodite. It was our Christmas bonus episode. We all drank a lot of wine and had a chat about Aphrodite.
LA: We did. Yeah, there was a lot cut out of that episode.
EB: Yeah, the editing was very fun, thank you all. I was like, “And, all this is going.” But I saved it for, you know, for personal use. It can be great. So Liv, why don’t you tell us–we’ve done all of our favorite fragments. What’s your favorite Sappho fragment?
LA: Okay, so I have one that’s a favorite. But then I picked a different one. Because I’m going to debut my first attempts at pronouncing Ancient Greek, because it’s my greatest shame that I don’t know it. But I’m working on it. I’m not working on it particularly hard, because I’m really busy, but I really want to know it. So regardless, I’m getting there, but my personal–my actual favorite is 52. But it has some words that are much harder to pronounce than the ones I’m going with, which is 47, which is also very fun. But it’s generally easier to pronounce in the Ancient Greek, which I think is important. This is going to be so bad. “Ἔρος δ᾿ ἐτίναξέ μοι / φρένας, ὠς ἄνεμος κὰτ ὄρος δρύσιν ἐμπέτων.” That was awful.
EB: You did great.
LA: But, in English–thank you.
LC: Do you know what? That’s way better than my Ancient Greek.
LA: You know, it’s–I’m on whole, like, day three, trying to learn it. But anyway, in Carson’s translation, it is: “Eros shook my mind / like a mountain wind falling on oak trees.” Which I just think is beautiful.
LC: Every time someone says, “Eros,” Ellie and I have to–Ellie and I to–
EB: Should I do it?
LC: You mean eros?
EB: Should I join you? Yeah, eros. So why do you love this one?
LA: I mean, I feel like I kind of feel similarly to Leesa, where I just think it’s nice. I mean mythologically, I’m a big fan of any that are gonna have a character in them. I mean, obviously eros is both a character and a concept, so a little of both there. But I just think it’s pretty. Yeah
EB: I love it. Can you tell us a little bit about Eros as a character in Greek mythology? I know we’ve talked about it before, but I still want to hear more.
LA: Yeah, well, he’s a sort of interesting character in that you can interpret him in many different ways, including just as the concept of love itself, or as the son of Aphrodite and Ares, which is my personal favorite, because it makes him the brother of Harmonia, which is one of my favorite underrated goddesses. But then also, there is the version of the mythology where he was actually just like a personified, anthropomorphized concept that sprung from chaos itself, making him one of, like, the most primordial deities, which is cool in its own right. Yeah, I mean, basically, that, you know, the common concept of Eros is going to be Cupid the, or like a cherub. But really, he’s like a kid sometimes, he’s not a kid other times, there’s a lot of sort of differing imagery and stories when it comes to him, which I just think is fascinating in itself. Like sometimes he’s a cherub-like baby–and rarely cherub-like in Ancient Greek–but sometimes he’s a baby. Though, in Greek pottery and stuff, babies tended to be just like tiny people, like as if they were just kind of shrunk down, like, complete regular proportions everywhere else, just tiny. And they’re especially funny. But yeah, so I mean, he sort of–there’s so many different kinds of concepts and interesting things to do with Eros as a character.
LC: And you were in a Sappho class this morning, you said?
LA: A Greek–yeah, so I have this–there’s a really lovely Latin, actually, professor at UVic, who just like saw me tweeting about wanting to learn Ancient Greek and was like, “I can help you.” And so we have Zoom lessons every Saturday morning, and he finds a Greek passage and the translation and then we just, like, read it aloud and go through each word. And it’s been very lovely. So I’ve just done the third of that today, and Sappho was the one this morning, mostly because I have a Sappho tattoo, and I wanted to make sure that I could pronounce it.
EB: Tell us about your tattoo, what fragment is it?
LA: It’s 52. So I was going to read it. And Carson’s translation is: “I would not dare touch the sky with two arms.” And I just think it’s pretty, and I like the–I mean, I like the sort of godliness aspect of it. And the just–I sort of interpreted it of like the danger of the gods on Mount Olympus and, like, “Don’t go near that, like, stay close to her.” Um, but then I guess there’s kind of an interpretation to have the word that gets translated as “two arms” could also be like the two arms on the top of a lyre. So it’s, like, musical as well, which I think is really sort of an added level of fascination and Sappho connection there, and kind of fun because I actually had already planned on getting a lyre added to the tattoo, because it is sorely missing an actual lyre. So that’s already happening, like, next month, and then now I’m like, “Wait, well the translation even fits it better.” So, it’s very suitable.
LC: I mean, if there’s anything I’ve learned from your podcast, it’s that I don’t want to go near the Greek.
LA: Yeah, exactly, right? It just seems like–it feels like a warning, like a beautifully told warning to me.
EB: Makes sense.
LC: And so Alyse, I believe that you recently read something that you were going to share with us.
AK: Yeah, I have to ask Liv about this link that I’m putting into the chat for y’all. Oh, yes. So I was–I was about to say I was reading The New Yorker, but I don’t read The New Yorker, my wife does. And then she pulls out the things she thinks will interest me, and sends them to me, so that’s nice. And she sent me this one because she was like, okay, so apparently there was an all-couple, male-couple army–yeah, in 338 BC, in Greece, Thebes, the Sacred Band of Thebes, and they would go and fight together. And the idea was that, like, if you had a whole bunch of couples in an army together, they would fight more bravely because they wouldn’t want to look, you know, weak in front of their beloved. And so I was thinking, like, this might be the perfect segue from our season one into our season two, which is about the untold history of pirates, and queer stuff from pirate history, and women in pirate history, and everything else. So I’m thinking, like, you know, this army, like maybe they sailed some, maybe they–like they’re this military group that’s bonded together by their love for each other. So Liv, what do you know about this Sacred Band of Thebes?
LA: So, to be honest, I kind of expected The New Yorker to have more information on it, because it kind of talks about it–and I–I didn’t have time to research beyond The New Yorker, because that’s how I roll and that’s how my anxiety handles itself, is being unprepared. But, I mean basically, like, I read it, and I would have expected some kind of explanation. Because, I mean, frankly, that sounds like a great thing to us now, but not really how they handled things back then, like, I mean, unless they’re talking pederasty, because that tended to be the most accepted form of male relationships. That said, it’s not like it’s impossible. I do like that it’s from Thebes, because Thebes is sort of one of my favorite, like, underrated Greek city-states. But I think, yeah, it’s quite interesting. And I think a lot of it, too, was based on how they were buried, like they were buried kind of together, which makes a lot of sense, when you’re talking about–
LC: They’re probably just really good friends.
LC: You know?
AK: Some of them, yeah–this image on The New Yorker is like a drawing of the ways they were all buried.
LA: There’s a lot of, like, holding hands and stuff, right?
AK: Exactly, they’re all holding hands. All the corpses are holding hands.
LA: Yeah. Well, I think there’s definitely like a lot of relationships that we–that are just so different. Like, the way to understand them is, it’s hard from a modern lens, right, because, like, a lot of them would have had relationships, and probably romantic relationships. But actual partnerships are different. Like I think, I mean, that wasn’t particularly accepted, maybe it was different in Thebes. A lot of the information we have that’s broadly available–and again, like, I only have a BA, I’m not a scholar–but it’s based in Athenian everything. So–but at the same time, like, I’m certain that if you’re, like, in an army, especially like some kind of an elite army, there, you know, you’re gonna develop bonds and relationships, especially when there isn’t the same level of, like, heteronormative normality. Like, you know–there wasn’t–like, yes, most of their, like, most accepted relationships would have been between, you know, the gender binary, whatever, not obvious, you know, like, not accepting that that’s a thing. But that would have been the understanding of how a lot of them saw their relationships. But at the same time, like when they’re off together all the time in those lives, like they might have had–they might have been married back home, but they were in a relationship with a man in their army, and so love them just as much as they would have if they were in a, you know, committed relationship with them. I don’t know totally what I’m answering with this, but just the way they understood everything was so different, right? Like, it’s just not how it is now, like, yeah.
EB: We have some comments in the chat, too. Bailey says that they thought they’d heard the story before and that the relationships were pederasty. Can you talk about what pederasty is, like in Ancient Greece?
LA: Yeah, I mean, I’m not–like, I’m not remotely a Greek historian. The absolute basic level of it is that older men had relationships with younger men, and they saw it as more of like a–I mean, I think they saw it as like kind of a growth situation, like, you know, they’re like the way that you grow into a man is by having a relationship with an older man. But at the same time–but it obviously, like now, has pretty dark connotations and I’m sure it wasn’t particularly, overall good back then, too, but it’s written about as if it was good in my knowledge, again, but I’m not–I’m not a specialist in it, or history in general. But thankfully, specifically not a specialist in pederasty.
AK: Well, this is exactly what I’ve been reading about with the queer history of pirates, is that on the ships, it was pederasty and it was, you know, nonconsensual with younger boys. But also, you know, if there were occasions where there were, you know, like consensual, romantic, or, you know, age appropriate relationships, there’s no historical evidence for it, right? So like the big book on queer piracy, the argument–the historian’s whole argument is like, “Okay, it was all male environments in a ship for three years. Of course there was homosexual activity.” And the other historian’s like, “No, we need proof.” And it’s like–just like, of course there was, and it’s just, like, taken as like a fact, just like the whole situational homosexuality. So.
LA: Interesting, I’m reading the comments on here, too. And, yeah, they were like–they were taken out by Philip of Macedon. It’s like Alexander the Great’s father, I think. And Alexander the Great was there, too, but he wasn’t great yet.
AK: That would make a great movie.
LA: Yeah, it would be better than the Alexander movie.
LC: Yeah. A lot of film ideas here. So, who knows Hollywood people?
AK: I want to roll up the vampire papyrologist first, before anything else.
LC: I feel like that’s most important. Previously, I did want “The L Word” on Lesbos. Sappho-Shane, obviously. Another–I mean, network executives, can you hear us?
AK: Give the people what they want.
LC: Yeah, snap. I’ll say, we just, you know–thank you so much, Liv, for joining us. We are so excited to cover pirates next season, the untold history of pirates.
LA: Can I make–I don’t know if you already have this in the plan, but Dionysus and the pirates should probably be there. Because it’s a good one.
LC: Ooh, I mean, could you be a guest on our podcast, Liv, and talk about it?
LA: Yeah, absolutely. Dionysus and the pirates is one of the greatest stories.
LC: We have about 10 minutes left, ish, 12. So, I’m going to spotlight all of the amazing people who have joined us today. And we have a couple of questions. Let’s do that. And then I think Alyse has a goodbye poem for us.
EB: I think also Vanessa wanted to do a quick plug, so why don’t, Vanessa, you do that quick plug, and then we’ll take questions from the audience.
VS: Cool. Okay, I just want to let folks know–I feel bad letting folks know, because it’s technically not in the most complete stage yet. But that’s not my fault, and we have the subtitles on the site to download. But if folks are interested, the most recent production of “Iphigenia in Aulis” that was done by Barnard and Columbia, I did the music for it, we shot it like a film. It’s very arthouse-y, and very, very different. And sadly, in the middle of our premiere, the subtitles cut out. So we included a document sort of in the description that has the full script, and then there’s like the program as well. But yeah, it like technically has nothing to do with gay folks or pirates. But like, you could think about it in a really roundabout way, because it’s about, like, the fleet of Greeks getting stopped on their way to Troy. And then a bunch of married women, who were still really young, come and sing and they’re, like, horny about them. Until they realize that, like, they shouldn’t be happy about horniness in marriage, because someone’s about to die, so then they get really sad. It’s just great. Um, but yeah, there’s also, I was thinking when you guys were talking about Eros earlier, there’s this sort of interesting, like, fine line between the gods Eros and Eris, the goddess of destruction and sort of them as primordial forces that gets played with a lot in the play. And it was a lot of fun. And I’m, like, kind of proud of it. So if folks are interested, definitely check it out.
EB: Amazing. We also–like I love the chaos aspect of eros, because that’s what Sappho writes a lot about, right? Eros is like painful, is like disastrous for Sappho. So it definitely makes sense.
EB: If anyone in the audience has any questions for us, or for any of our guests, we would love to hear them. If you want to put them in the chat, we will get to as many as we can, in the next five or so minutes.
Guest: Vanessa, do you use modern, fourth century, Golden Era, Athenian techniques when playing your lyre?
VS: So, like, yeah, or at least what we think. So yeah, I was, like, originally when I went to lyre school, I was like, “Cool. Yes. Teach me all the ancient techniques, like, I want to learn.” And then everyone’s like, “So, let’s all translate what this musical terminology is. Do y’all have any idea what this means?” So there definitely is a lot of guesswork still, but yes, a lot of the ways in which I play the lyre comes from mostly fifth and fourth century documents. Plato was really big on a lot of them. But yeah, just a lot of the words and techniques, some of which we don’t even know. Like, there’s a word for, like, when it whistles, and we’re like, what? We’re like, harmonics? Like, are we supposed to do maybe up-glissando? I don’t know. Um, so yeah, we’re–it is a lot more theoretical, I think, than people would actually think it is. A lot of the ancient music world, it’s a lot of–we’re still figuring stuff out. I actually thought it was a lot more–like had all of its stuff together before I got into it. And I was like, “Oh, god, we’re all still just kind of guessing.” But the ways in which we hold it, especially with our hands tied to the lyre, and our other hands strumming it with the plectrum. That’s at least, like, in iconography always how it looks when people are playing, like it’s pretty consistent with that.
Guest: So like, how do you, when you’re playing–like since Sappho was an archaic musician, do you have a different theory of that? Because like, I know archaic music is just a big question mark. So like, is that why you’re–I was just wondering your reasoning. I think it’s great reasoning, I think your music is great, like in no way a critique, but…
VS: Oh, no, no. Yeah. Like, this is literally just what I’ve started with. I really want a barbiton. I’m just like–Marco, my friend who makes all the fun lyres over in Italy–I’m just like, “Send me a barbiton, please.” Because that is like the actual lyre that Sappho would have played, and so, no, yeah, there’s different techniques for different types of lyres, as well. And this is–goes beyond lyres, too, this is all ancient instruments. The aulos players, as well, I have a few buddies who play the double pipes, and like, they’re all stressed trying to figure out, like, the different keys, the different tones, because there was such a aulos vs. lyre and cithara thing, especially in the fifth century. And all of us are trying to figure out, like, how these instruments fit in with each other. So yeah, I know, like, I definitely want to eventually actually get to a barbiton, so I can get those, like, nice long strings, like, get into it properly in the ways that she would have. ‘Cause I’m like, “Yeah, no, this instrument is a couple hundred years actually after her.” Um, but yeah, so we’re still sort of, like, figuring it all out. But there’s so many, like, it’s so big, and there’s so many moving pieces. So no, you’re not insulting me at all. I’m like, “Oh, yeah, no, I need to get on that.” Like I should, this summer, actually probably get another lyre, other than this one that I’ve made, because I did not make it that well. I need a new instrument. So no, thank you for having me.
LP: You gonna go full tortoise shell, Vanessa?
VS: Well, like, it’s not super legal in many countries.
LP: Fake one, fake one. Just paint it like a tortoise shell.
VS: Yeah, yeah. This is like–this is synthetic tortoise, actually. But yeah.
LP: Synthetic Tortoise is my new band name.
EB: Yes, Synthetic Tortoise and the Lyres. I think we have a question from Vallie. So Vallie, if you want to unmute, we would love to hear from you.
Vallie: Thank you so much for inviting me to come here. This is really cool. Um, my question is, for someone who’s thinking about starting a podcast, how do you sort of, like, get your message out there and get people to listen to you? Like, because I’m not really good at the whole social media thing, so how did you get a lot of listeners when you first started?
EB: That is a great question. I mean, we have a lot of podcasters here. Who would like to answer? Who have built their shows pretty much from the ground up, pretty much all of us. So who wants to answer?
LP: I mean, I would say that word of mouth really goes a long way. I actually–when we were starting History as Gay, I was already part of groups like the Buffering the Vampire Slayer Patreon, Facebook group. And I was also listening to, like, My Favorite Murderer at the time, I was part of a couple of queer murderino groups. Anytime somebody commented asking for podcast recommendations, I would give my own and then also say, “And by the way, like a friend of mine, and myself, are going to be starting a podcast. Like, if you’re interested at all, let me know, and I’ll post about it.” Just, you know, kind of doing like a plug, but being like, you might be interested in this, if you also are interested in these, you know, areas and groups. And that went a long way. We posted in those groups and, you know, our first episode had far more listeners than we thought it would, because we originally were thinking, “Ah, our six friends will listen to this.” And I think people are just excited to kind of find themselves in circles that have similar interests.
LC: I’d also say, like–so for Liv and Leigh and Kristin and Ellie–they all started their podcasts at a very different time from when we started Sweetbitter. And we’ve been, you know, so thankful that we’ve had so many incredible people who have–that we built relationships with, who had us on their shows. So a lot of people came to us through Buffering or History is Gay or Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby! And it was all just about, like, reaching out and being like, “Hey, you know, everyone’s always looking for a new podcast.” And I know for me when I hear someone talk on one of my favorite podcasts, I’m always, like, ready to listen to that podcast, too. And I think a lot of people came to us through there, and a whole bunch of others, but really, just like, you know, for independent podcasters, we don’t have these big companies behind us. And honestly, if you’re creating something that’s awesome to listen to, people are often happy to help. So thank you to all of you who are here, who have joined us for our final season one wrap-up, and also just for having us on, because it made such a difference to our listenership. And you’ve all been just so generous and lovely.
KR: It’s true, too, like, Vallie you said, like, I’m not good at social media. And something that I learned really quickly at the beginning of podcasting was that, yeah, social media is great to connect the people who use it who also listen to your podcast, but the listenership of a podcast is its own thing. And, you know, as a person who is using social media so much beforehand, I would often think one was the other, and it’s really not. People who are podcast people are podcast people, and they will do exactly what you said, Leesa, you know, like, “I heard this person here.” The amount of people who were like, “I heard Jenny as a minotaur on Magic Tavern,” or you know, whatever. Like and then they find her or it’s really like its own–what’s the word for math, that’s not math–algebra. It’s its own algebra. Yeah.
LP: Yeah, I think–I mean, I hate to, you know, use the dreaded word “networking.” And it doesn’t have to be scary like that. I mean, like, Leesa was saying, it’s–podcasters are not intimidating. We’re just, as you are seeing right now, a bunch of nerds in our bedrooms talking on the phone. And so you can just, you know, if there’s somebody that has a show that you admire, and their content is either similar, or you think their audience might be similar to yours, just send them a message and be like, “Hey, I’ve got this show. I really enjoy, you know, your show, like, is there any way we can chat and collaborate?” And honestly, it’s really, really easy to make friends in podcasting, because half of it is, “I really like this stuff you do! Let’s talk.”
KR: Yeah, I’m like, send them two more after that if they don’t reply.
KR: Because truly, like I think all the time about the timing of the Buffering email inbox. And it’s just like, it depends on the day. It’s like, sometimes I’m having a day where I’m like, “Oh, god, I have to get through all of these emails.” And so I don’t respond to some or whatever. And some days, I’m like, “Wow, humanity is incredible. I want to do all the replies when the daily email comes through.” So just like, yeah, send a few.
LP: And I’ll do a quick plug. If you are thinking about creating a podcast or are already a podcaster, and you are queer, or your podcast has queer content, I run a–I know Facebook is garbage, but it’s useful for some things–I run a queer podcasting Facebook group called Queer Podcasting Alliance.
LC: That’s how Ellie and I met.
LP: Exactly, which is exactly how Leesa and Ellie got together. Leesa posted a post in there and was like, “Hey, I want to do this podcast,” and Ellie commented, and Sweetbitter was born, so.
EB: Here we are.
KR: And I think though, like, just this gathering here really speaks to how radical that sense of community is among queer podcasters, like just how generous it was for, you know, Liv and Leigh and Kristin to come appear on this today, but also, you know, hosting us on their shows, and all of these, you know, kind of acts of generosity allow us to each build each other’s audiences more, and I think it’s really–it really touches my heart. Nerds for nerds.
AK: Nerds for nerds, absolutely.
LA: One person was saying in the chat there about finding podcasts via keywords, so I think it’s a good thing to note, too, that like if social media, if that whole world, is really not your thing, which is how I felt at the beginning, I felt like it was all the pressure in the world on me to, like, make sure I tweeted enough and people saw it, or like, make sure I commented on Facebook or whatever. And like I’m not a Facebook person. I hate it, even to this day, like I’m barely on my Facebook page for the podcast. But, having keyword stuff is really important. You can give yourself a really obnoxious subtitle that like no one is ever going to say because it’s too long, and it’s stupid, but it picks up and keywords. Like, my podcast title, when you look for me, it’s the longest, most annoying thing in the world. But it’s because I wanted to have, like Greek and Roman mythology, those words fully spelled out in my title. So do things like that, like, google the hell out of all of it. Like, that’s how I figured out how to do everything. It’s just googling podcast best practices.
LP: We got really lucky with our name.
LA: Yeah, definitely.
LP: We got really lucky with our name..
LA: Yeah, yeah. Yours just has it all, I think, in it.
LP: Yeah, anybody who types “gay” and “history” into Google, it’s, mwah. I have to thank my co-host for that. She came up with it, and it’s been such a blessing. Except for the fact that @historyisgay on Twitter was taken, and I was very sad. And they’ve done nothing with it. It’s just a picture of Abraham Lincoln and no tweets.
LA: You should request to get it, sometimes you can get it.
LP: That’s true. Yeah, but I don’t know. I feel like we’ve gotten our brand, with our @historyisgaypod. Like having “pod’ or “cast” in your Twitter name is such a niche, beautiful thing.
AK: How did you, Kristin, how did you come up with the name Buffering the Vampire Slayer?
KR: Well, you know, it was really hard. Um, Jenny had it. Jenny had the whole thing planned for, like, years before there was a podcast. Like, the name existed so long. But, to your point Liv, like the title of our podcasts on all of the pod apps is Buffering the Vampire Slayer, colon, a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Podcast, for exactly that reason. Because in the beginning, when you looked up Buffy podcasts, you just didn’t find us. So yeah, keywords are important. And, you know, word puns are very important, but…
LC: Mostly, the most important thing. I mean, we did that. We originally were just going to be Sweetbitter, and then we moved it to A Sappho Podcast. And then as we’re moving into season two, as much as we would love to talk about Sappho forever, we’re covering these different topics. So it will be interesting to see if people still find us, because I was looking for a Sappho podcast, which is how this came to be. Because there wasn’t one, and that’s criminal. But we are going to be moving into the untold history of pirates. And on that note, because we are at this point over time, I am going to say thank you to all of you so much for being here. It’s just been, honestly, just the most fun afternoon. I’ve just had a blast. And I’m going to ask Alyse to sing her viral TikTok sensational song, about pirates being gay. I’m asking for it.
EB: I’m asking for it.
AK: I mean, no one asked for it to go viral. That was like–I had to get off TikTok for, like, a month, because I was really overwhelmed. Okay, here we go. I’m gonna bang on the table, I think, I hope it’s not too loud.
LC: I’m just slowly removing everybody’s spotlight.
AK: “Well, in books and movies and video games, pirates always seem to be straight. And if you ask me, that’s a crying shame, because pirates all were gay. Oh, they were gay and queer and trans and pan and bi. The heteronormative pirate myth is a fucking lie. And they married each other on their pirate ship, sang, kissed with the taste of rum on their lips, and they held hands while they raided towns, because pirates all were gay. Oh, they were gay and queer and trans and pan and bi. The heteronormative pirate myth is a fucking lie. They flew a rainbow skull and crossbones flag, and they fell in love, and they dressed in drag. And when they walked the plank it was more of a sashay, because the pirates all were gay. Oh, they were gay and queer and trans and pan and bi. The heteronormative pirate myth is a fucking lie. They wore glitter on their hooks and their eye patch, and put gay bars on their treasure maps, and Blackbeard never needed a beer, because it was fine to be gay.”
EB: Amazing. What a way to end it. Thank you all so much for coming. Thank you, Alyse. I know I also love that Leigh is singing along perfectly.
LP: I might have listened to it just a couple of times.
LC: Like every single word. I was watching your lips, and I was like, I know why I know this.
LP: It was stuck in my head for quite some. And I mean, yeah, I have a soft spot for, you know, queer pirate history.
LC: Who doesn’t?
LP: It’s one of the things that started my show. So, I’m excited.
EB: I’m so excited. Thank you all so much. Have a great rest of your Saturday. Thank you to all of our wonderful guests, and everyone who came and hung out.
LC: Thank you so much, bye. Thanks for listening to Sweetbitter. This is our last episode of season one. Thank you so much for being a part of it. Our second season will come out in August.
EB: If you enjoyed the podcast, please subscribe, rate, and review us. It really helps, especially written reviews on Apple podcasts. You can also support us on Patreon by going to patreon.com/sweetbitter.
LC: Patrons have access to 11 bonus episodes. So if you’d like some more content from us while we’re on break, please become a patron.
EB: Sweetbitter is an independent production by me, Ellie Brigida, Alyse Knorr, and Leesa Charlotte. Our artwork is by Istela Illustrated. Music is by Lyre ‘n’ Rhapsody. Special thanks to Kristin Russo, Liv Albert, Leigh Pfeffer, Vanessa Stovall, and all of those who attended our live event.
LC: If you want updates on what we’re up to on the break, you can find us on Twitter and Instagram at @sweetbitterpod, or contact us on our website, sweetbitterpodcast.com.
EB: As you know, we love singing songs and we love making new songs for Sappho. But I wanted to leave you today with another song, which is from my upcoming musical, The Flame. We’ll be releasing our first episode on June 2nd. It is a beautiful story about lesbian love and chosen family and the LGBTQ communities, set in everyone’s favorite LGBTQ bar. And the song that you’re going to be hearing today is called “Maybe Today.” I hope you enjoy.
LC: And when I tell you that I cried when I listened to the first episode of this podcast, and you know me, I’m the least likely to cry on this podcast, so.
EB: I would most often not say this, but I loved seeing you cry. It made me feel so good. I’m just happy that it’s really resonating with people, and I think the first episode will resonate with a lot of our listeners, too.