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The Shipwreck Sea

Love Poems and Essays in a Classical Mode

Jeffrey M. Duban

368 pp.  
6" x 9 1/4"
Illustrations: 12 pages of color plates

Clairview Books


Available:  January 2019


In the words of poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909), Sappho was “simply nothing less—as she is certainly nothing more—than the greatest poet who ever was at all.” Born more than 2,600 years ago on the Greek island of Lesbos, Sappho, the namesake lesbian, wrote amorously of men and women alike, exhibiting both masculine and feminine tendencies in her poetry and life. What’s left of her writing and what we know of her is fragmentary, and thus ever subject to speculation and study.

The Shipwreck Sea highlights the love poetry of the soulful Sappho, the impassioned Ibycus, and the playful Anacreon, among other Greek lyric poets of the age (seventh to fifth centuries BC), with verse translations into English by author Jeffrey Duban. The book also features selected Latin poets who wrote on erotic themes—Catullus, Lucretius, Horace, and Petronius—and poems by Charles Baudelaire, with his milestone rejoinder to lesbian love (“Lesbos”) and, in the same stanzaic meter, a turn toward the consoling power of memory in love’s more frequently tormented recall (“Le Balcon”). Duban also translates selected Carmina Burana poems of Carl Orff, frequently Anacreontic in spirit.

The essays include a comprehensive analysis and a new translation of Horace’s famed Odes 1.5 (“To Pyrrha”), in which the theme of (love’s) shipwreck predominates, as well as an opening treatise-length argument on the irrelevance of gender to artistic creation—exploring painting, sculpture, literature, and other Western art forms. (No, Homer was not a woman, and it would make no difference if it were true.) Twenty full-color art reproductions—masterpieces in their own right—illustrate and enliven Duban’s argument.

Finally, Duban presents a selection of his own love poems, imitations, and pastiches, written over a lifetime—composed in the “classical mode,” the leitmotif of this volume.

The Shipwreck Sea is a delightful and always thought-provoking companion to The Lesbian Lyre. Both books vividly demonstrate that classicism yet thrives in our time despite all the modernism marshaled against it.

  • “There are few scholars who possess the innate ability to translate ancient Greek poetry into fittingly refined English. Jeffrey Duban, in The Shipwreck Sea, masterfully encapsulates all that is Greek poetry – language, inflection, ethos, drama.”
    Constantinos Yiannoudes, founder and Director, Kyrenia Opera

    “Jeffrey Duban wears his profound knowledge of the ancient world and its languages less as erudition, more as immediate breathing presence of deeply rooted instinct and resonant cultural descent. Whether as translator of Sappho, Horace, and others, or as poet in his own right, his work lyrically and evocatively fulfills the urgent need of our souls for affirmation of whence we come.” —Christopher Lyndon-Gee, composer, conductor, and author, New York and Vilnius

    “Rich and gracefully written, The Lesbian Lyre is by turns insightful, provocative, and grumpy...” —Thomas L. Cooksey, Library Journal

    “Jeffrey Duban tries valiantly to revive the [classical] tradition in his ambitious, pugnacious, eccentric, sprawling new book The Lesbian Lyre…. Duban has a great deal to say; much of it is immensely valuable.” —Sandra Kotta, Quillette

Related Titles

  • In the Image of Orpheus : RILKE – A Soul History
  • The Lesbian Lyre : Reclaiming Sappho for the 21st Century
  • Unveiling the Mystery of Dante : An Esoteric Understanding of Dante and his Divine Comedy

    Related Titles by Subject:

    Arts & Literature: General and Arts & Literature: Poetry