The Laughter of Aphrodite:
A Novel about Sappho of Lesbos

Peter Green

University of California Press 1993 [1965]
A book review by Danny Yee © 1996
I have always been passionately fond of ancient Greek history and historical novels — I have read Mary Renault's many times — so it is bewildering that I have only just discovered Peter Green. The Laughter of Aphrodite purports to have been written by Sappho at the end of her life. This is a common device, but not one that is easy to pull off convincingly, since it requires taking a "native" perspective. Green's novel is, however, a success.

As a noted historian and classicist, he is better qualified than most to tackle the subject: he weaves historical events — what few are known from c. 600 B.C. Mytilene — seamlessly together with knowledge of the wider Greek world and fictional reconstruction, avoiding the trap of making too much of individual pieces of information whose survival must, after all, have been largely fortuitous. (A chronology and a family tree at the end of the volume clearly distinguish fictional characters and events from historical ones. They are also helpful for following the plot, since Green avoids anachronistic exposition of background material.) But it is not just attention to detail and the obvious grasp of the history which make The Laughter of Aphrodite so impressive: it is also compelling as a novel and, most importantly, the central character is convincing — when I read about Sappho now, it will be Green's Sappho who comes to mind.

January 1996

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Related reviews:
- Peter Green - The Greco-Persian Wars
- books about Greece + Greek history
- more historical fiction
- books published by University of California Press
%T The Laughter of Aphrodite
%S A Novel about Sappho of Lesbos
%A Green, Peter
%I University of California Press
%D 1993 [1965]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0520203402
%P 274pp