In this short story about a hypothetical romance between two unlikely heroines: Sappho, the poet, and Helen, the beautiful captive, I bring same-sex love, denial, and loneliness to the forefront. I was at first inspired by Fragment #23 of If Not, Winter, in which Sappho briefly, yet explicitly likens a lover to “yellowhaired Helen,” but much of the plot of the story, as well as many of its ongoing themes, are inspired and informed by four fragments that function as “seed texts”: #1, which meditates on forceful love; #16, which accuses Helen of intentionally leaving her family behind for Paris; #31, which describes Sappho as a helpless, enamored witness to her lover’s involvement with another man; and #94, in which Sappho laments her lover’s abandonment and recalls their time together. Though Sappho certainly achieved kleos in her lifetime, I wondered about the shape of the scars her many loves must have left behind, beyond the fragments of her poetry. Thus, I asked myself what an ill-fated infatuation between a woman without agency—Helen—and a woman who squanders hers—my reimagined Sappho—would look like. I drew Helen, eternally tortured, at once commodified and idealized, and lost in another land, into affinity with Sappho, whom she leaves questioning and in a similar state of suffering. In doing so, I drew from the Iliad and its portrayal of Helen and her captivity, as well as the The Symposium and its theory of love as two halves of a whole hoping to reunite, among others. In this fiction, Sappho builds her identity around Helen’s recognition, but does not realize that Helen’s abandonment stems from her (ironic) inability to reconcile with her reflection, which she encounters in Sappho, whom she almost certainly loved. In my interpretation of these two women, I explore what it means to move forward and change for the better with one’s own strength, despite the trauma of the past.
About the Scholar: Elizabeth Merrigan
Elizabeth Kyung Merrigan is a member of the Columbia College class of 2020. She plans to major in History and Political Science and examine the intersections of colonialism, conflict, and identity. Her writing has won a Scholastic National Silver Medal in Poetry and been published in The Claremont Review, The Apprentice Writer, and Cicada Magazine. She will study at Reid Hall in Paris as a 2017 Presidential Global Fellow.